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This article was published 6/5/2017 (929 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Chad and Teri-Lynn Friesen are the married couple behind Abiding Citizen, a craft beverage company that produces and sells a line of made-from-scratch, bottled bitters and shrubs.
Don’t know what those are? Neither did the overwhelming majority of Winnipeggers who stopped by the Friesens’ booth in late April, when they unveiled their wares to the world for the first time, at a downtown pop-up market.
"We had to explain what we do to pretty much every person we spoke with," says Teri-Lynn, seated next to her husband in a brightly-lit Exchange District café. "Some people had heard of bitters but when it came to shrubs, almost everybody was like, ‘Are you talking about a plant or bush or something?’"
If you’re in the dark, too, shrubs are vinegar-based syrups infused with ingredients such as fruit juice and aromatic spices. They are commonly used to kick cocktails up a notch, Teri-Lynn explains, but are also gaining in popularity as a tasty add-on for non-alcoholic offerings, especially carbonated sodas and sparkling water.
Bitters, which Chad calls "the spice cabinet of the bartending world, essentially" get their flavour from a blend of herbs, barks, roots and fruit. Like shrubs, their primary purpose is to add zest to mixed drinks but they can also be used in food preparation. (Ask Teri-Lynn about the piquant popcorn seasoning she invented using their hot pepper bitters.)
Bitters were an essential part of bartending at the turn of the 20th century, before Prohibition dealt their producers a near-death blow, Chad continues. Recently, however, thanks in part to what some have branded the "Mad Men effect," classic pick-me-ups such as an Old Fashioned, Brandy Sour or Manhattan are in vogue again, which, in turn, have resulted in a renewed interest in bitters and shrubs, he says.
In 2014, the Friesens visited San Francisco. Chad, a self-described foodie and recreational bartender, didn’t know what he was staring at when he began spotting "walls" of bitters and shrubs at almost every specialty grocery store he and Teri-Lynn popped into while they were in the Bay Area. Curious, he purchased a five-pack of various flavours to take home with them. After those ran out, he began fashioning his own concoctions by tweaking recipes he happened upon in Food & Wine magazine.
Here’s the funny thing: Chad, a realtor in his "real life," would probably have been content to keep things at the hobby-level if it hadn’t been for a poorly prepared cut of meat.
Three years ago, Chad and Teri-Lynn "failed miserably" when they smoked a beef brisket they were planning to serve to a gathering of friends. The dish was "about four hours under-cooked," Chad says with a laugh, so last August, two years after that culinary calamity, they staged a "redeem the brisket party," during which they gave the entrée a second shot.
"I got a smoker from a buddy, everybody was hanging out in the backyard and I thought it would be a nice touch to serve some fancy drinks using my homemade bitters and shrubs," he says.
When everybody began letting him know how much they were enjoying their Moscow Mules and gin martinis, "it was kind of like a lightning bolt went off," Chad says. "All of a sudden I started thinking if my friends like what I’m making, maybe other people will, too."
Chad received a second show of support a short time later, during a family affair.
"Chad and I both have Mennonite heritage and I grew up in a family that doesn’t drink, not at all," Teri-Lynn says. "Wanting to be respectful of that but, at the same time, wanting to bring something to a gathering that wasn’t punch — trust me, we drink a lot of punch — we brought Chad’s (bitters and shrubs) and made these delicious-tasting, non-alcoholic drinks for everybody in my family."
"People genuinely enjoyed them," Chad chimes in, "and that’s when I really thought perhaps we were onto something."
Chad, who graduated from the University of Manitoba with a degree in commerce, started doing his homework in last September. Besides a few major players such as Angostura and Peychaud’s, he learned there are just a handful of independent firms marketing their own lines of bitters and shrubs in Canada, none of which appeared to be from Winnipeg.
After settling on what flavours they would run with, Abiding Citizen, a tag Teri-Lynn suggested, began renting space at WestEnd Commons, on St. Matthews Avenue.
"At first, it was just us playing around at home and it wasn’t that big a deal. But when it was time to start making these mass quantities, I said ‘No more, we have to get the stickiness out of the house,’" Teri-Lynn says with a chuckle. "Plus we wanted to make sure everything was safe and clean; like anything else in the food industry, there are certain regulations."
On Saturday, the Friesens will operate a booth at Third + Bird’s spring market, which is being held in the basement of the downtown Hudson’s Bay store. Like they did for the Luckygirl pop-up shop in April, the couple has come up with a signature libation to toast Third + Bird’s latest sales event. Playing on the downtown happening’s name, they’ve come up with a drink called the Magpie. A full list of its ingredients can be found on the recipe page of their website (www.abidingcitizen.com), along with instructions how to make other alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, including a Tom Collins, a Sidecar and Bittered Soda Water.
"When we’re talking to people, we kind of walk through what sorts of things they’re already comfortable drinking," Chad says. "For instance, I love Caesars, but I don’t necessarily like the Tabasco hitting my lips, so when I make one, I add our hot-pepper bitters instead. Or, if you prefer a gin and tonic, our cranberry-rosemary bitter works really well."
This summer will mark Abiding Citizen’s first foray with Manitoba’s growing season, an opportunity Chad says is too good to pass up. He is already thinking about what he can muster together using saskatoon berries, rhubarb and dandelion leaves. He and Teri-Lynn are also tossing around ideas for sea buckthorn berries, which grow on a shrub commonly used by Manitoba farmers as a shelterbelt, he says.
"Somebody started commercializing (sea buckthorn berries) a couple of years ago; I can’t speak to their flavour, yet, but they have this really nice orange colour and I’m super-excited to play around with them. Raspberries are another thing we haven’t touched yet, as well as birch bark. Basically we’re looking forward to mashing all these types of ingredients together, to create a great, made-in-Manitoba bitter." (Besides her and her hubby’s biz, Teri-Lynn, who studied theatre at the University of Winnipeg, will also be kept busy this summer directing Time’s Fancy, a Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival entry that will feature "swordfights, epic battles and Shakespeare.")
"The one thing we want to make sure is that we keep everything enjoyable, as much as possible," Teri-Lynn says, noting she and Chad are "humbled" every time somebody posts a picture on Instagram showing a drink they made using the couple’s products. "There’s been a lot of hard work involved for sure, but we never want to lose sight of the fact this began as a hobby. And hobbies are supposed to be fun, right?"
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.