Five years ago, Brooks Reitz was a gin man living in the heart of bourbon country. Managing a restaurant in Kentucky with an impressive bar, cocktail culture began to percolate right under his nose. As carefully crafted, small-batch gins trickled into the market, he noticed that no mixers were coming with them.
“To me, a gin and tonic is such an English drink, and at the same time, such an American one,” begins Brooks. “There is so much romance to it.” Inspired, he began to experiment in the kitchen, after a few months ultimately producing a tonic recipe he was happy with. “Now you see house-made tonic a bit more,” he says, “but I’m fortunate that I was one of the first doing it, especially in a syrup format. It became a key part of the beverage service of the restaurant, but it didn’t even cross my mind to sell it at the time.”
Not long down the road, Brooks relocated to Charleston, where he took up at Mike Lata’s renowned eatery FIG as general manager. “We started serving the tonic at FIG, and people were loving it. I started getting a lot of inquiries; ‘Do you sell this?’ So I just started putting it in a quart container for people to take home. One day, one of my friends asked me, ‘Have you ever thought about bottling this?’ At first I thought no way, I was too busy, but he’s the reason that the light bulb went off. I really started to think about it. After that, the rest, as they say, is history.”
The most glaring distinction between Jack Rudy Tonic and what you pick up at the grocery store is that it is a concentrate. While shoppers are conditioned to expect a bubbly liquid, Brooks’s concoction is a syrup. “It gives it versatility for so many applications – particularly in shaken drinks,” he says. “We take a sticky-sweet tonic that isn’t very complex and rework it into an interesting cordial. We want to take things back to the way people drank in the forties, to drink like our grandparents.”
Named for Brooks’s great-grandfather, Jack Rudy’s name is really William. “They called him Jack because his ears were so big,” Brooks says fondly. “Short for jackass.” The company is still run out of Brooks’s dining room. Hailing from a long line of Southerners “who are all pretty big drinkers,” and inspired by the idea of reworking old-fashioned cocktails for the modern climate, Brooks is taking his philosophy and applying it to other cordials. “Take a grenadine, which we’re launching soon, and instead of making it this pink mix of ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, we bring it back to its origin; made with orange peel and rose water. Do that, and you get something bright and different.”
At 28 years old, Brooks has every intention of continuing to grow his company in the direction he feels his generation is moving. “People are becoming more aware of what they are buying and eating. They are thinking harder about its integrity, and they want things that are responsibly produced. People my age…they have a conscious appreciation for art, design and how things are made. I feel like Jack Rudy is a part of that microcosm. I’m proud of that.”