Interview – with Joshua Cockle of Winship’s – Oklahoma City, OK

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Flavors Produced to Date

Old Fashioned Aromatic ~ Cucumber ~ Blood Orange ~ Dynamic Lime ~ Wormwood ~ Hibiscus ~ Barrel-Aged Aromatic ~ Tobacco ~ Cafe y Chicory

Founded – 2013

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Bitters Hub – What was it that motivated you to get started in the world of bitters production?

Josh Cockle – I was bartending at a cocktail bar called “ Ludivine” in Oklahoma City when the craft cocktail boom caught up there.  There was not a lot of quality bitters available in our market and as new cocktail bars were popping up the supply diminished even more.  We decided to begin making our own bitters for the cocktail program at Ludivine. After 2 years I was approached to help develop bitters for a new company.  That company never came to fruition, and as I had already developed multiple products I decided to start my own brand.

BH – What experience do you have in the culinary field, or another field, that gave inspiration to delve into the now-popular bitters products?  

JC – My craft cocktail and culinary experience really took shape at Ludivine.  It was one of the first high quality farm-to-table restaurants in OKC and I learned so much there from chef Johnathen Stranger.  We were provided a very liberating opportunity there to be creative with cocktails and fresh, interesting ingredients and were encouraged to experiment.

BH – Are you originally from Oklahoma?  If not, how did you end up there?

JC – I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah and moved to Oklahoma when I was 11 because my step father was in the oil pipeline business.

BH – How is the supply and demand going so far with your bitters, and what could be improved, if anything, knowing that bitters is for the most part, a small-batch artisanal endeavor?

JC – The demand for our products in Oklahoma City has gone up every year, and we are now getting a lot of national and even some international support.  Last July we moved to a new facility so that we can up the production accordingly. Our new facility has given the ability to produce a lot more bitters, but we expect to move again in the next year or so to keep up with our rapidly increasing demands.

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BH – Managers of restaurants, owners of bars, and hotel F & B directors. How do we open them up to our amazing world of bitters and their usage behind the bar, so bartenders eager to experiment (for the betterment of the establishment) don’t have to face such an uphill battle with gaining easier acceptance bringing them in?

JC – I believe education and inclusion are the best tools we have to help get bitters into a more mainstream and accessible position.  The cocktail craze has become something huge beyond just craft bars and speakeasy culture. The mainstream public has embraced cocktails and bitters and have a desire for them.  Educating guests, bar owners, and distribution companies about the ways to use bitters and the history of cocktail culture and bitters will only break down the barriers that exist for a “niche” product like bitters.  Inclusion is the other thing I speak about a lot when referring to this topic. The overwhelming nature of cocktail lists and exotic ingredients has become normal in our industry with bartenders looking for more interesting and dynamic ingredients for our creations.  Making guests feel more comfortable and less intimidated by products and processes they do not understand yet is key to helping our craft explosion reach its potential.

BH – How do you go about handling the various tasks of the job description when it comes to getting things done so it all comes together?  Do you have help?

JC – I have a few great people who help me and I owe so much to them.  A lot of what we do is in between work hours and on weekends and late nights so It takes the right people to adhere to such a schedule on top of their full time jobs.  I utilize their help when I can and ultimately I go about personally making sure it all comes together. With our next expansion we hope to employ 4-8 people full time in addition to myself.

BH – What is it like and what do you see from your perspective hanging out in your city/community in regards to support with your various products? And do you have pretty good reach so far with sales from your online presence?

JC –  We have a very good, loyal local presence here.  Oklahoma City is an amazing city of unbelievably supportive people.  I have been a bartender here for 20 years and people are always very enthusiastic about our bitters and supporting me.  It makes me very proud to be in Oklahoma and having my company here. Our online presence is relatively small. With our latest expansion and sales spiking we hope to be able to attack the online market aggressively this year.

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BH – What is the longest maceration for any of the bitters flavors you’ve produced to date?  Can you help us understand your production process?

JC – We macerate everything initially for 2 weeks to begin.  The different flavors have some differences in production but we strain the 190 proof out after 2 weeks. We then boil the solids that were strained out in water and let that sit for 3-5 days before filtering and blending.  We filter everything at least 4 times throughout the process, and add distilled water at the end to get to our final 42% abv

BH – What is the facility like in which you create your bitters?  

JC – We share our current facility with a few other food producers, as we have since we started.  The new industrial kitchen was built last year and has a lot of space, however we intend to get our own private facility up and running in the next year.  Our plans are to increase production 300% in 2019.

BH – Are the legal requirements and approvals strict and/or lengthy for producing bitters in Oklahoma?  Do you need some special license and/or certification, how does that all go for you?

JC – The liquor laws in Oklahoma went through major changes last October. This affected us in multiple different facets of the production and distribution process.  We moved facilities and changed distributors over the last 6 months, which ended up proving to be a challenge with licensing (ABLE) that had changed and inspections of new facility from health department.  We are now back in full production.

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BH – How and where do you go about sourcing the ingredients you use for your bitters?  

JC – We source as many organic ingredients as we can locally and our fruits generally come from Freshpoint. Our Kaffir limes are sourced directly from Kirkpatrick Farms in Central California. The most difficult ingredients for us to attain locally are the Gentian, Cinchona, and Wormwood, which we order and get shipped from Frontier Co-Op.

BH – What are your storage and temperature necessities that you feel equate to the best results for your bitters?

JC – We always suggest that our bitters be stored between 55 degrees and 89 degrees Fahrenheit.   We have never encountered any problems to date with quality changing due to temp.

BH – Is all of your bottling and labeling done in-house?

JC – Yes, we still hand bottle and hand label every Winship’s product in-house.

BH – How do you decide on which bottles and tops to use when it comes to eyedroppers, atomizers, dasher tops, woozy, Boston round, flask-style etc?

JC – We originally started with 5 oz. woozy with dashers because our primary target was bartenders and bars.  We are now offering 1 oz. droppers designed more for home users. We are currently looking at some more, different options for new products and markets.

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BH – How did you determine the best bottle sizes to use for your brand?

JC – I feel like different consumer bases will use different sizes, and having a wider selection will give the user more ability to get what they need due to volume and application.

BH – I love your overall label design with color usage of bright and pastels. And the logo being a Ship’s wheel or the helm, does the inspiration stem from the life of your direct descendant, a noted English brew-master and distiller in the 1600’s named Albert Edward Winship?

JC – Yes, the logo was definitely inspired from Albert Edward Winship and his journey from Europe to America. We really liked the imagery of the “Sea Captain” and the idea of clipper ships and mermaids, etc.  Phillip Danner is a local graphic designer and artist, and I asked him to help visualize our concepts. We thought the captain’s wheel was a very identifiable symbol and it went well with the classic sound of the name Winship’s.  Most of the design was Phil’s vision, including the cocktail swords, color schemes, etc. It was primarily his genius.

BH – What were the deciding factors in your flavor choices of bitters to produce?

JC – Our flavors have come about from many different places. The Blood Orange was the original, made out of necessity.  The Dynamic Lime was a result experimentation because I had some rare Kaffir limes and it just worked. The Hibiscus was a bit of an accident, due to developing something else.  The Tobacco was a request. Our flavors have come about very organically, or they have been things I have personally wanted to do or have been asked to try. I also try to make bitters that are accessible and able to be used for multiple applications. We always try to be unique and different, and that plays a role as well.  I do not want to try to reproduce existing products or flavors that others are already doing well. We want Winship’s Bitters to stand alone as a product that is incomparable to others.

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BH – I love all of the flavors you’ve come out with so far. When I got a hold of a bottle of your Dynamic Lime, I was thrilled with the flavor profile from my nose anyway, being a delightful combination of fresh lime with a little floral and cucumber tailing behind. It was perfect for me to use with variations of the Southside cocktail and other drinks with vodka, gin and tequila. Am I correct or at least close with what my culinary senses are telling me?

JC – Yes, you are pretty close.  The floral notes you are getting are primarily from the Kaffir lime peel.  There is also lemongrass and ginger, as well as some other things. This is my favorite bitters in our line and I use it in drinks with most  any lighter liquor application. I have also found it to add a new dimension to classic citrus cocktails. I like to make a people a classic daiquiri and have them taste it, then put 2 dashes of Dynamic Lime on top and taste again.  It is a great way to show how bitters can take a great drink to new amazing levels.

BH – What are the most samples and least samples of trial and error testing you had to go through to get the flavor profile you wanted with a couple of your bitters releases ?

JC – The Blood Orange and Dynamic Lime came about relatively easily, we only had a handful of trials for those.  Some of the others have taken up to 20 or so experiments.

BH – You’re one of only eight brands out of 140 that produce a wormwood bitters? Is there a special process of maceration with wormwood or is it not too different from all the other flavors produced today?

JC – We macerate the Wormwood the same as the other flavors.  We wanted to get the bitter qualities of wormwood, and complement that with fall spices, etc

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BH – I’ve hinted to Beam Suntory over the years when asked about new flavor ideas, for them to consider creating a special or limited edition whiskey with say, your Old Fashioned Aromatic, others like Smoked Apple, Charred Cedar with Cherry, Toasted Oak and Orange, or a host of other possible bitters flavors. And they’ve yet to explore the potential. What do you think about doing this with bottled spirits in the future?

JC –  I have always had a desire for this and I would welcome the opportunity to do so with great enthusiasm!  When I was initially developing the first flavors of bitters, we were also going to do a series of barrel aged cocktails bottled for home use.  I even went as far as to design packaging, began sourcing ingredients, and worked up a target for marketing. When I moved into starting the company by myself these dreams sadly drifted to the back of the stove.  Any opportunity to work with an amazing company like Beam Suntory would be incredible. We are always open to collaborating with other companies and their visions.

BH – Any other flavors you’re thinking about creating/producing for the future?

JC –  We do have a few new things in the works. I would prefer to keep them a surprise due to having had some of my ideas “borrowed” in the past. Although imitation is the most sincere form of flattery,  we like to maintain our unique portfolio and want our loyal supporters to be able to use products that do not exist elsewhere as much as possible.

BH – When it comes to ordering your bitters through your website, I noticed you have samples that can be requested, as well as ordering all flavors by case only via  5 oz. bottles that come 12 to a case or 1 oz. bottles that come 48 in a case. What is the benefit of doing business and creating sales in this very different way compared to other brands selling any amounts online? Does it have something to do with a law limitation in your state of Oklahoma?

JC –   Some of this has to do with our expansion and move last summer, in addition to the laws changing in the fall.   We were out of production for almost 6 months and our distribution deal was changing, so we only made online sales available in bulk until we had things sorted out.  In the very near future you will see the ability to order the 5 oz. bottles in any quantity online, as well as our dropper bottle gift packs. We also plan to expand our online sales through other outlets as well.

BH – Josh, thank you so much for taking the time with this insightful interview into your bitters world. I’m sure the visitors here on Bitters Hub will appreciate you sharing your knowledge on how things go in creating Winship’s and to get a glimpse into what it takes to be the multi-task master of your own brand. Cheers!

JC – Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about our company.  I really appreciate this series, it is people like yourself who are at the forefront of getting things like bitters out there in the world so thank you again!!   We are hoping to have our best year to date in 2019! Any other inquiries anyone may have can be explored on our website and messages will be answered promptly. We are always happy to send excited users samples of all our products.  Cheers!

Website – http://www.winshipsbitters.com

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