After two years in the making, a new locally developed, hand-crafted ginger-based liqueur is gaining ground in some of St. Louis' notable restaurants and grocery and liquor stores.
With the final state license approved a couple weeks ago, the couple behind the product - Bill Foster and Kathy Kuper - has been working with local chefs, bartenders and retailers to leverage the smooth, balanced liqueur's versatility.
The list of Big O carriers so far includes: Taste Bar, The Royale, Local Harvest, Starr's, Straub's in Clayton, Lukas Liquor in Ellisville, The Wine and Cheese Place, The Wine Press, Jazz at the Bistro and The Rebecca Grille in Springfield, Mo.
"We have a host of others asking for us; we'll meet with them next week and on," Foster says. "It's getting really exciting."
Taste Bar's Ted Kilgore has become a fan of the not-too-sweet liqueur and plans to experiment with it.
"It's not just the ginger," Kilgore says. "There are a lot of interesting nuances [in it]. [It tastes] more fall-ish to me. It's put together well, with a lot of fresh flavors that aren't synthetic - and subtle herbs and spices."
The story behind Big O goes back decades to a southern Missouri kitchen. A then-12-year-old Foster was presented with a set of five international cookbooks after his mother tired of him making potions from her toiletries. Foster recalls, "She told me to go in the kitchen and do something productive."
Foster's love of cooking has grown steadily since then, aided and abetted by his wife, who challenges Foster to try unusual flavor combinations. This adventuresome collaboration has served the pair well as they've jumped through the myriad hoops of bringing an alcoholic beverage to market.
Developing a formula for a 100-gallon batch was one of the first steps in gaining federal approval. It was a nearly two-year journey with abortive shortcuts (freezing ginger is a bad idea) and "a lot of false starts," Foster says. "The solution was a lot simpler than we thought; it's how you handle the materials, the accuracy."
With the formula finalized, federal approval was the next step, followed by applying for state licenses that would allow them to distribute and sell the product. In all cases, the approvals took months longer than anticipated, the result, Kuper says, of "one thing, and then another thing. We just went with it."
Through it all, the couple's maintained a go-with-the-flow attitude. "We've learned that the journey is most important thing," Foster says. "That keeps us going on frustrating days."
Daunting and expensive requirements for setting up a production facility thwarted efforts to make the product locally. The search for a distillery led them to Lawrence, Kan., where they now travel several times a month to handle all aspects of production, from making the base syrup to filling, labeling and capping bottles.
About that naughty-sounding name: Kuper was playing with the word organic (a designation that turned out to be cost-prohibitive) when she hit on a much sexier alternative. The tagline, "nothing fake about it," doubles as a reference to the fact that the ingredients are all natural.
One bartender, clued into the name's meaning, paid cash for a bottle on the spot, saying, "I can sell that."