It isn’t everyday that a startup company makes national headway. And it isn’t everyday we see the owner of a recognizable local company, not only garner the attention from a funding show like Dragon’s Den but also negotiate a profitable deal.
Steve Morrier, chief alchemist and owner of Split Tree Cocktail Co., is that man. His drive and determination to provide consumers with fresh natural ingredients in his tonics, syrups and cordials are making headway influencing the way we see cocktails, thus bringing back that good ol’ charm associated with them.
When I think of timeless cocktails, images of a dark smoky bar lounge come to mind. An establishment where classy dressed ladies order their cocktails garnished with cherries and olives and dapper men in suits order theirs like it was the perfect remedy to a long hard day. The simplicity and strength behind a cocktail was all that was needed.
Over the years, the word “cocktail” has been portrayed in many ways. As far back as the 1950’s, cocktails were seen as the ‘go-to’ drink for both men and women. However, sometime in the last few decades the word “cocktail” seemed to have had a less than favourable connotation. Sadly, we saw less and less of traditional cocktails being made. Corn syrup and other preservatives replaced the work associated with a bartenders’ craft as well as the real ingredients that went into our favourite libations.
As with many things, television has a way to revitalize and sensationalize moments of nostalgia and yesteryear. Shows like Mad Men reminded us of how things were in the 1960’s. When cocktails like Martinis, Black Russians and Old Fashions were staples, and stood for something. These were classics! Good News, I am happy to say that they are coming back, albeit with a twist.
And that’s where Morrier comes in. His mission is to produce cocktail tonics and syrups with fresh local ingredients. This will take cocktails and their flavour profile to a whole new level.
Using whole fresh ingredients, no artificial preservatives, and nothing we can’t pronounce!
Morrier explained that he didn’t always have cocktails on his mind. Truth be known, it wasn’t even on the radar for him until he was laid off, once from a high-tech company and then again from a local beer company. This made Morrier see his true passion.
After being laid off from his computer lab job with a high-tech company Morrier began working with the Ottawa local micro-brewery Hogsback Brewing Co. to sell their beer. As a contractor for the company with the flexibility of setting his own hours, Morrier was loving his new found independence. Then he was hit with life changing news, his son was diagnosed with cancer.
Going through this ‘traumatic and devastating’ ordeal with his family put into perspective what was really important to Morrier. It made it easy for Morrier to see ‘what I wanted, what I needed and how I can be there for my family’. During that time, Hogsback Brewing Co. had gone on CBC’s popular show Dragons’ Den and did very well. After the show, the beer company decided to rebuild their entire business model which in turn meant they no longer needed a local business guy selling their beer. This meant another layoff and setback for Morrier.
Hogsback Brewing Co. provided Morrier with some connections at the Broadhead Brewing Co. That is where he learned priceless and valuable lessons on how to make a business flourish ‘on a shoestring budget’.
During his time with Broadhead Brewing Co., Morrier learned many aspects of running a business, especially the biggest one, that “you don’t need a million dollars to start your own business”. So, while working with the breweries and going to restaurants and bars, he noticed that something was missing.
With the increased number of local micro-breweries and wineries opening up here and there, Morrier noticed that there was a lack of distilleries and no real cocktail scene. So he had the idea of starting his very own distillery. How complicated could that be?! Well it turns out like many alcohol based businesses in Ontario, the labyrinth of red tape governing distilling was an arduous one.
But it was during that difficult time of trying to see if the idea of a distillery could even be feasible that Morrier stumbled upon the craft cocktail scene. As luck would have it, he found an old recipe for tonic and was surprised to find out that it could easily be made.
Craft spirits deserve an authentic craft mix!
Driven with ambition, Morrier made six different tonics and gathered his close friends for a huge cocktail tasting party and asked everyone to rate their favorite Gin & Tonic made from the six tonics. Tonic #3 was hands down everyone’s favourite and that’s how Tonic #3 came to be. And, it was also the first product created for Split Tree Cocktail Co.
Morrier attributes ‘luck and putting yourself out there’ as the first steps of success for his cocktail business. Attending local craft fairs and getting the word out about his products went very quickly. The proof of the success was the simple fact that he was selling out of his products.
People want to know what they are eating. They want things to taste good and not taste artificial.
Just three months into the business, Morrier happened to see a poster for Dragons’ Den and seized a welcomed opportunity. With a practised pitch and the passion and determination to see where this new break could take him, he put it all on the line to showcase his company’s products.
And it paid off.
After Dragon’s Den
Since the show aired in October 2015, Split Tree Cocktail Co. has gained obvious national exposure; thus creating a word of mouth and publicity that every company dreams for. Morrier is proud to say that with the agreement with Dragon’s Den, he didn’t have to give up any equity. His new contract ensures that all his production costs are covered and that his cash flow is taken care of. Cash flow, being one of the main factors for startup companies to close is one less stress to think of.
As a result of the national exposure it has opened up doors to working with bigger companies. Morrier has mentioned that one of the companies that he is collaborating with is Campari. Talks are in motion to have a bottle neck hanger of Split Tree Cocktail Co. product to accompany one of Campari’s products, BULLDOG Gin across all LCBO’s and SAQ’s.
Even with such great success, Morrier wants to continue to attract his clientele yet grow in the most organic way possible. He strives to avoid overextending himself all the while being cognizant of the potential pitfalls of landing a huge contract and not being able to deliver.
Behind The Scenes
So I had to know, how does Morrier have the time to create all these batches especially with its newly found publicity? Morrier explained that he’s responsible for all its operations; however, he was fortunate enough to find a co-packer (prior to his Dragon’s Den appearance) that he has been working with, to produce his products.
For those of you not familiar with what a co-packer does (I didn’t know either), Morrier explained it as such. After being provided with the recipes, the co-packer ensures that the products are produced and handled in a registered licensed kitchen facility, following all CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) regulations and labeling. This relationship means less overhead costs for the company to dish out, all the while ensuring that recipes are safely guarded by non-disclosure agreements and contracts.
Morrier explained that for startup businesses to land contracts from lucrative companies he knew that having a co-packer that meets all registrations, licensing and inspections is something that is needed to even be considered by a big enterprise. Morrier explained that such companies like Loblaws have such long lists of requirements that without the collaboration of a reputable co-packer, startup companies wouldn’t even be considered.
With 2016 still being fresh, Split Tree Cocktail Co. has expanded their ‘flavour family’, in regards to giving cocktails that added flavour boost that just compliments spirits so well. The new year gave introduction to the ever so popular Lavender Lemon Syrup.
Thus far, the company has 6 products:
• Tonic No.3
• Rhubarb & Elderflower Cordial
• Sour Mix Syrup
• Ginger Vanilla Syrup
• Grapefruit Cordial
• Lavender Lemon Syrup
Morrier excitedly shared that he will soon be releasing his ‘apple and gunpowder tea’ product. Made from gunpowder green tea and Russet apples, Morrier says that the flavours compliment very well Bourbon and Whiskey. He had also mentioned that works are in motion for a ‘coconut and lime’ flavour; I, for one can’t wait for it!
After talking with Morrier and having tried his products at a couple different events, I wanted more. I wanted to see him in action, in his element and in his test kitchen which is located in his house. And, that brought me to having the difficult job of drinking amazing cocktails while discovering a new FAVORITE!!
Test Kitchen Inspiration
Steve Morrier, Chief alchemist and owner of Split Tree Cocktail Co. in his test kitchen working his cocktail magic.
One can tell just by looking at Morrier that he has a genuine passion for creating cocktails. Regardless if he was making time-honoured cocktails like an Old Fashion or creating something on the fly as we talked about my liquor preferences, the joy and excitement coming from Morrier resonates and is highly contagious!
Imbibing At Its Best
The English Channel G&T
The English Channel G&T
1 oz Gin
0.5 oz of St. Germain Liquor
0.25 oz Pernod
0.5 oz Tonic No.3
2 oz of soda water
Garnish with lemon and lime wheel.
The Slow Fashion cocktail.
The Slow Fashion
2 oz of Bourbon
1 oz of Rhubarb and Elderflower Cordial
A few dashes of bitter oranges.
**Garnish with orange peel. A must garnish.
The best part of trying various cocktails is I learned that I should be more opened minded regarding liquors and spirits that I was always so scared of, let alone didn’t enjoy. I learned that by finding the right flavour notes accompanied with the right syrup or cordial that I can now enjoy them.
During our discussions, Morrier and I talked about my favourite spirits. He wanted to know what were my ‘go to’ spirits. Then he worked his cocktail magic and the creation of Dr. Julius was born!
The flavours of the peach liquor mixed with the gin amplified with the orange blossom water…sheer perfection! It’s the perfect summer cocktail. Correction: Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring and repeat!!
For those who have not had the pleasure of tasting orange blossom water, it is by far the most aromatic essence I have smelled in a very long time. For this cocktail, the ‘Clic’ brand was used for the orange blossom water (it can be found in most Middle Eastern grocery stores).
Dr. Julius cocktail.
1 oz Gin
0.5 oz Peach Liquor
0.5 oz Tonic No. 3
1 tsp of orange blossom water (‘Clic’, found in Middle Eastern stores)
Shake over ice and strain over glass with 2-3oz of soda water. Garnish with orange peel.
I must admit that I couldn’t have asked for a better way to enjoy my Friday morning…somewhere in the world it was drinking time!
All kidding aside, Steve Morrier has tapped a niche that consumers have been waiting for. Regardless if you are making cocktails at home or enjoying them at a restaurant/bar, I believe that cocktails can easily set and define the ambiance of the evening.
Consumers who would like to purchase Morrier’s products, can either order them online or purchase them at various local retailers throughout the city (Click here for the list of retailers).
With the increased volume demand and the positive response that Split Tree Cocktail Co. has been receiving, it reinstates the notion that consumers are looking at cocktails in a whole new light.
And for some, it means bringing back that nostalgic feel of what drinking cocktails used to mean.