Happy Hour with 18.21 Bitters
The Atlanta start-up's co-founders Missy and Kristin Koefod talk Atlanta, booze, and bitters
Since launching their "Prohibition-era" bitters-and-cocktail-mixer company 18.21 Bitters, cocktail enthusiasts Missy and Kristin Koefod have made it their mission to make the vodka cranberry a thing of the past. When the couple first started 18.21 last December in Old Fourth Ward, their aim was to make a range of interesting, small-batch cocktail enhancers with local ingredients whenever possible. It took half a year of research, development, and fundraising before they were ready to bottle and sell their products. Today 18.21 has 10 types of flavored bitters (including Spicy Creole or Tart Cherry and Saffron), 10 flavored simple syrups (such as Georgia Peach With Salted Pecan), five shrubs, three tinctures, tonic water, a ginger beer, and cold brew coffee (under the 18.21 Coffee brand).
Before 18.21 Missy worked as an attorney, but she tended bar during college and previously owned a bar. Kristin was a full-time interior designer (and still maintains a few clients). Now, both have turned their enthusiasm over mixing cocktails for friends into a full-fledged business. "Life is too short to not pursue your passions," Kristin says. You can find 18.21 products at discerning shops such as H&F Bottle Shop and Decatur Package Store and bars such as the Pinewood or the Albert. Barrel-aged bitters are coming soon, and 18.21 hopes to have cocktail kits and subscription boxes available in 2015. Just in time for 18.21's first birthday, Creative Loafing caught up with the Koefods and had a chat about Atlanta, booze, and bitters.
What drink best expresses your personality?
Kristin Koefod: Gin and anything herbal and citrus — light and easygoing.
Missy Koefod: Something dark and salty laughs, probably one of the more complex bourbon cocktails we make. We have one called the Pumpkin Patch — with bourbon, brandy, our Pumpkin Spice Shrub, and ginger beer, maple syrup, lemon juice, Ancho Reyes chili liqueur and our Tart Cherry and Saffron Bitters — it has some spicy, some sweet, and is delicious.
Who, dead or alive, would you most like to meet and make a drink for?
MK: The Bangles. All of them. They are my all-time favorites.
KK: Gwen Stefani. I have her shoes; she should have my cocktails! I think it is amazing that she has had a career that has lasted so long, and is a talented businesswoman with a successful clothing line and television show, and is a mom. I can't imagine how full that plate is, and I bet she could use a tasty drink!
What's the last great drink you had?
MK: The last great drink I had I am actually drinking now. We call it the Hanz — it has mezcal, our Charred Lime, Jalapeño and Peppercorn Syrup, Grand Marnier, our ginger beer, and Baltimore Bitters, some lime juice, and sumac.
OK, I'm getting the picture that you both like drinks with lots of flavors in the mix. What do you reach for when you want something simple?
MK: My secret guilty drinking pleasure isn't all that secret if you ask the guys at the Albert. Every Sunday I like to sit there, drink PBR out of the can, and eat hot wings while watching football.
KK: And I'll go for an Allagash White, but only when I'm out.
What comes to mind when you hear the words. ...
Describe your relationship with Atlanta.
MK: I have been in Atlanta for 18 years. I love the people here — they are a warm, welcoming, kind people who know how to have a good time. We have such a vibrant city, and the people give it such a homey feel.
KK: I'm a Northerner and never thought I'd like the South, let alone live here. But I've been here on and off for five years now, and this is home. I love the seasons and all the pockets of neighborhoods. Atlanta is a great mix of big city and small town. There's so much to do, and I think living on the Beltline has made me appreciate Atlanta even more.
How would you characterize Atlanta's cocktail scene?
KK: Atlanta is definitely up-and-coming, especially when you get beyond the well known cocktail spots like Kimball House, Paper Plane, 4th & Swift, Sound Table, and get places like Sweet Auburn Barbecue, the Albert, or Bad Dog Taqueria — places you may not think to go for a great craft cocktail but you sure can get one.
MK: I think it's moving in a lot of great directions. You have so many incredibly talented barmen and barwomen crafting incredible and inventive cocktails all over town. I can walk to four of them within five minutes of our place. I think there is so much room for growth, and I can't wait to see where it goes.