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Two years ago, Maria Littlefield and Jennie Ripps left their jobs in marketing to start a company, and they began with a vision of making tea cocktails. The duo began a tea cocktail lab a floor above their marketing firm to get their idea got off the ground, and eventually, an idea for a tea cocktail mixer was born.
Today, the partners have a successful line devoted to that concept called Owl’s Brew, good for crafting complex and inventive cocktails that happen to contain the benefits of tea, including vitamins and antioxidants.
We caught up with the pair, who chatted about their motivation and what makes their product distinct. They also divulged two cocktail recipes.
What inspired you to mix tea with alcohol?
Ripps: We were just really tired of what was on the market. When we were entertaining at home, we were either spending 15 minutes making an awesome cocktail or just splashing soda into vodka; there was no in-between. Maria and I thought, what if instead of cranberry juice, we use a cranberry tisane in our vodka? What if, in a Manhattan, we used rooibos instead of a sweet vermouth? It has less calories and less sugar. It has a flavor profile that feels more modern. We were frustrated with what we were drinking, and we love tea.
What is Owl’s Brew?
Ripps: Owl’s Brew is a tea that is designed to be paired with spirits. It’s fresh-brewed in micro-batches. We only use whole, real ingredients. We’re brewing whole tea leaves, fruits, and spices to create three differently flavored brews. One is the Coco-Lada, which is a black tea with chai spices, coconut, and a little pineapple juice. That’s delicious with a spiced rum or champagne, which makes a great brunch cocktail. Another is the Pink & Black, which is a Darjeeling hibiscus strawberry base, and that’s awesome with tequila or bourbon. We also really love it with a pilsner or lager. Our third brew is The Classic, and that’s an English breakfast with lemon and lime. It has a very similar flavor profile to an Arnold palmer. We love that with vodka or gin. It’s also terrific as a Shandy with a wheat beer.
Were you two friends before the business started?
Littlefield: We used to be coworkers at a marketing firm, and we were creating tea cocktails on the side. We launched Owl’s Brew in July of this year. It’s just the two of us out of a tiny, tiny office. We have a loose-leaf tea company as well that we launched in 2011 called The Teaologist. We’re re-branding as Brew Lab Tea. That company specializes in custom blending for restaurants and coffee shops in the city.
Ripps: I left the marketing company in 2011 to start our loose-leaf tea company. We always wanted to do the tea cocktail company, but it took so much longer. It’s easier to sell tea by the pound than to have an entire packaged line. It took us a year and a half to get Owl’s Brew off the ground.
Did either of you have a background in tea or anything similar?
Ripps: I worked with tea for a few years just for fun, but I had no formal background.
Littlefield: It was hobby at first and then took off from there.
What inspired the name Owl’s Brew?
Ripps: So many mixers on the market have flavors that are fake with ingredients you don’t understand. And they taste fake. Maria and I really value knowing what you put into your body. At Owl’s Brew we say, “Drink wise.” You should know what you’re drinking. Knowledge is really important to us. The tea’s fresh-brewed. It still has antioxidants in it. You get 40 percent of your daily vitamin C in one serving, in one cocktail. It’s about knowing what you’re putting into your body.
Where can people find Owl’s Brew?
Ripps: We’re in local Fairways, a couple of local Whole Foods, and we’re on the west coast as well. Quality Italian and Pure Food and Wine are doing cocktails with us in New York.
Why do you think the concept has been so successful?
Ripps: People want to drink what we want to drink. It’s been pretty exciting. We think it’s time for people to start reconsidering what they’re mixing with. People should have an at-home bar and not be stuck looking at a juicer wishing they had another 45 minutes or ordering tonic from the minimarket down the street.
Check out autumn-inspired recipes from Owl’s Brew on the next page, including a riff on a hot toddy.
2 parts Owl’s Brew The Classic
1 part Whiskey
In a saucepan, combine Owl’s Brew The Classic, whiskey and apple slices. Heat until the desired tempurature, do not bring to a boil. Pour into a mug and garnish with a cinnamon stick.
2 parts Owl’s Brew Coco-Lada
1 part vodka
1/2 part Domaine de Canton ginger liquor
Shake all ingredients together and pour into a champagne glass. Garnish with fresh pineapple.