20121030jackrudy.jpg

[Photograph: Jed Portman]

Thick, sour. Musty as your grandfather's attic—appropriately, it was named for creator Brooks Reitz's great-grandfather—with hints of lemongrass and citrus. Cloves, white pepper, allspice, some proprietary botanicals. A little bit of quinine bite. This is Jack Rudy tonic syrup, and it has almost nothing in common with any of the watery, artificially-flavored tonics you've tried before.

Maybe that's why people from New York to San Francisco—myself included—sat on month-long waitlists for the 17-ounce bottles earlier this year, while Brooks Reitz, manager at Charleston's popular FIG restaurant, was adjusting to the crush of new orders spurred by coverage from Tasting Table, Garden & Gun, the New York Times, TimeOut New York, the Wall Street Journal, GQ, and Bon Appetit.

"When Tasting Table covered us," says Reitz, "I was making it out of my house. The day after the piece ran, I woke up with 400 emails in my inbox. People were saying, 'How can I get it? Tell me more. What is it?' And I freaked out. I thought, 'There's no way. I'm managing a restaurant and I'm working twelve, thirteen hours a day. I can't possibly respond to all this.' I thought that Jack Rudy was going to go under, because I needed product to sell and I didn't have it."

Jack Rudy pulled through, tough as its Depression-era namesake. It's a little bit easier to find nowadays, but Reitz, who still works full-time at FIG, is busy as ever. Though he has outsourced the production of his tonic, he markets, packages, and ships it from his dining room, no small feat now that he is filling massive orders for clients like Barney's and Anthropologie.

20121025jackrudyoffice.jpg

Jack Rudy HQ, Charleston, South Carolina. [Photograph: Sully Sullivan]

"I'll feel like I've made it when I can leave my job and do this full-time," he says. "I'm getting close, and I have the biggest smile inside all the time because of that."

For best results, says Reitz, drink his tonic with gin. "It's exciting to me to see people using the tonic in new drinks, but frankly, what I care about is how it works in a G&T," he says. "In a perfect world, they wouldn't even be drinking it with vodka." He makes his Gin & Rudy—2 ounces of gin, .75 ounces of tonic syrup, and 4 ounces of soda water, per the Jack Rudy bottle—with Beefeater or Plymouth, two gins with bright juniper flavors that complement the citrus-tinged tonic.

Want to try it? Here's a list of restaurants and stores that carry Jack Rudy. And keep an eye on Brooks Reitz. Word around town is that we might see a few new products from him in the coming months.

About the Author: Jed Portman is blogging his way to that cabin in East Tennessee, one six-pack of soda and barbecue platter at a time. Follow him on Twitter @jdportman.

Comments

Comments can take up to a minute to appear - please be patient!

Previewing your comment: