Nick Kosevich, drink mix master and co-founder of Bittercube Bitters
Photo by Joseph D.R. OLeary
Locally, he's led the the Twin Cities cocktail culture to new heights. Around the Midwest he's spreading the gospel of artisan bitters and craft cocktails. Yesterday we discussed the beginning of Nick Kosevich's career and the storied time he spent at Town Talk (catch up here ). Today we learn more about meeting his Bittercube partner Ira Koplowitz, drink spies, and how they lure their interns.
The Hot Dish: How did you and Ira cross paths?
Nick Kosevich: Ira was [working at The Violet Hour and] dating a girl in Minneapolis, and she wanted him to go to all the cocktail places in town.
Johnny Michaels [of La Belle Vie] called us and said, "Have you had this guy come in and grill you about all of your cocktails? He comes in with an entourage. No? Well, I sent him your way! Ha ha ha!"
Ha ha -- you asshole. Every night we were on edge -- every bottle was faced, place was spotless. You know, like, we're going to show this guy. We were expecting Toby Maloney from [who was a managing partner at] The Violet Hour - and now he has Alchemy consulting.
Johnny asked, "Do you know what a Jack Rose is?" I said, I um... yeah, I think so? "Well, I don't."
Finally, these two girls come in, and they're taking pictures of everything, and we're like -- they're spies! Then he comes in, and we think he's Toby. Ira and I just hit it off at the bar. We just became great friends.
HD: How did you become business partners?
Kosevich: In mid-2009 I'd just hit my ceiling. Tim and Aaron had moved on. [Town Talk's new owners] the Theros guys were good guys, but ... I'd just hit the ceiling.
Originally we'd wanted to open an apothecary. We had a business plan. A friend had sparked some interest in Milwaukee. We went there to open a place, but that didn't work out. It was in the ashes of that business that our new plan arose of working with the bitters we were making.
It started out with Ira and I just sitting across from each other on our laptops.
The first business we worked with was Bacchus [a Bartolotta restaurant]. Eat Street Social is our 10th.
HD: How did that partnership come to you?
Kosevich: This is the biggest thing that we've done. Joe [Wagner] and Sam [Bonin] are great partners. Sam called me up when I was just moving back. It had been two years of driving back and forth to see [my son] here. It was a big transition as our company expanded. They asked if I'd like to be the bar manager. I said, "It's not really what I'm doing, but we'd love to consult." That very quickly became, "How can we keep you here?" It's turned into a wonderful partnership. We're really proud.
HD: What's next?
We're also opening a place in Milwaukee in May called Blue Jacket
HD: So, you're here and Ira is going to stay in Milwaukee?
Kosevich: Oh, yes. He bought a house. It is permanent.
HD: How is Bittercube growing? You're changing the way people make their own cocktails.
Kosevich: It's exciting. I mean, there have been struggles -- starting a business on a dime. It's finally getting to a point ... we're in 10 states right now. It's getting big.
Hopefully, it keeps growing, keeps getting bigger.
HD: I was recently in Madison, Wisconsin, and having a cocktail at Merchant. The bartender J. R. said he works with you.
Kosevich: Oh, yeah! J.R. works for us.
HD: Are you still zesting and infusing everything by hand?
Kosevich: Yes, but it is getting hard. It used to be we'd make 1, 500 bottles in a batch of Cherry Bark bitters. Now it's 20,000.
HD: Does that effect the quality?
Kosevich: It does, but for some the big batches are actually better. Definitely the Cherry Bark and Orange are even better. It used to be that we had to decorticate each bean, and now we take all of those beans and make this huge mash. It imparts this incredibly intense vanilla.
With the orange, we finish it with burnt sugar. It used to be we'd just burn some sugar, now we have to find a way to burn 150 pounds of sugar.
It is such a bigger process, but we never use oils, never use extracts. We've kept the quality intact.
HD: It was my impression that when you started it was just you and some friends and family sitting around zesting a shitload of citrus.
Kosevich: Yeah, J.R. is good at getting help. We'll have six guys that come in wanting to learn about the bitters, and they end up sitting around peeling.
Tomorrow: Bacchus, Quizno's, and reinventing the wheel.