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On this “Next Spherical” episode, host Zach Geballe sits down with Ali Schmidt, one of many co-founders of Zuzu Drinks. Schmidt and her co-founder Greta Caruso got here collectively to develop and launch Zuzu as a brand new line of high quality RTD cocktails. In contrast to arduous seltzer, Zuzu’s merchandise are made with an agave spirit and the “wholest” substances attainable. Right here, Schmidt discusses what the flavour testing course of appeared like, and why she and Caruso in the end selected to make use of an agave spirit.

Each co-founders come from culinary backgrounds and imagine in the concept that “much less is extra scrumptious” in the case of working with high-quality substances. Schmidt is a self-described “ardour fruit tremendous freak” and emphasizes that incorporating actual ardour fruit juice was one of the crucial tough elements of this course of — however she and Caruso refused to chop corners. When others steered including preservatives, these co-founders stayed true to their model, and finally launched the Zuzu we all know as we speak.

Learn on to be taught what Schmidt says makes these drinks “hangover proof,” and what variations actually exist between an “agave spirit” and tequila.

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Zach: From Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe and this is a “VinePair Podcast” Next Spherical dialog. We’re bringing you these conversations in between our common podcast episodes with a view to focus on a spread of points and tales within the drinks world. So as we speak I’m talking with Ali Schmidt. She’s a co-founder of Zuzu, which is a brand new line of ready-to-drink glowing cocktails. Ali, thanks a lot to your time.

Ali: Thanks a lot for having me. Completely satisfied to be right here.

Z: Yeah, my pleasure. And I’ll be sincere on the get go, I’ve not but tried Zuzu. You guys are based mostly in New York, from what I perceive. And that out right here within the hinterlands in Seattle, not fairly on your distribution route, however I’ll say that the VinePair Slack has been scorching and heavy with some folks expressing their love for the drinks. In order that’s a part of how this all got here to be. And so, yeah, that is not me simply blowing smoke.

A: That’s nice, love to listen to it.

Z: So let’s begin briefly with an understanding of what Zuzu is and perhaps a little bit bit, too, in there, the way it got here to be.

A: Yeah, in fact. So the lengthy and in need of it is that Zuzu, such as you’re saying, is a glowing cocktail. It’s a light-weight cocktail, 5 p.c alcohol by quantity, and it’s made with 100 p.c agave spirit, some contemporary citrus juice, and some glowing water. So it’s actually easy and of the philosophy that much less is extra scrumptious with actually top quality substances. And Greta and I began this firm a few yr and a half in the past now. So fairly some time in the past. And as I mentioned, I’m so comfortable to listen to that you simply like the flavors and that your workforce likes it, as a result of we most likely went via like 40 iterations of each flavors as a result of we’re so obsessive about style and high quality that it’s prefer it’s so thrilling to listen to that. So I believe that’s a part of why it took us so lengthy to get this factor out onto cabinets.

Z: So let’s perhaps get into that a little bit bit about the way you got here to the formulation or the recipes. So one of many issues I believe that’s attention-grabbing to me about these is that we’ve seen loads of issues within the RTD cocktail space which might be, “right here’s a canned x or right here’s a bottle of y,” or a drink I believe persons are accustomed to. And I’m certain there’s a cocktail nerd on the market who can inform me precisely what this cocktail is. I imply, I’m a former bartender, so I’m fairly acquainted, nevertheless it feels such as you’re like we wished to make one thing that was like a glowing Margarita, however not likely. And like, was there a drink in your and Greta’s eye you have been attempting to create, or recreate? Or was this like we expect these flavors work, however we’re going to make one thing new?

A: Properly, we began this entire factor by simply making this drink for ourselves. So Greta and I’ve identified one another for the higher a part of 20 years and we have been really each within the meals world earlier than we began Zuzu. She labored in California with Alice Waters on the Edible Schoolyard. I went to cooking college in Eire, of all locations, and labored as a chef for 2 years in London. So meals and actually good meals has at all times been tremendous necessary to us. And so once we began creating Zuzu, we at first thought it was going to be some kind of a meals object. We simply knew we wished to start out an organization collectively. And I imply, we appeared on the breakfast house. We checked out wholesome sweet, as if that’s even a factor. And, I believe at our darkest hour, we have been trying within the cracker market and we have been attempting to make Cheez-Its in Greta’s kitchen out of candy potatoes and dietary yeast, which I can say these have been undoubtedly our darkest days. And so in these, most harrowing trials of crackers, we began making ourselves what finally turned Zuzu. And for us, the flavour profile was at all times pushed by what was seasonal. So in fact, limes are by no means seasonal in New York, however the whole lot has a little bit little bit of a contact of citrus to it, which I believe is an actual signature of the Zuzu taste profile. At all times a little bit bit tart quite than tremendous candy, as a result of as you have been saying earlier than, I believe the issue with Margaritas is everybody’s had that sugary, deathly hangover the following day. And we might experiment with enjoyable issues, whether or not it was plums or whether or not it was persimmons or completely different sorts of grapefruit. In order that’s actually how we began desirous about our flavors. So we might simply make it for ourselves, principally. And at some point we’re like, this is wonderful. And we wish to be consuming this day by day and we have to flip it right into a product. And the query was like, how do you go about doing that? And that was all very new to us and thrilling. And we began working with somebody who was a former chef and formulator right here in New York. And we have been like, okay, let’s go vast. Let’s determine what are the perfect flavors. We all know we would like one thing with a lime profile. We’re each tremendous freaks for ardour fruit. I don’t know in the event you really feel this fashion about ardour fruit, however both you’re a ardour fruit freak otherwise you’re not. And we fell in that realm, and these have been simply the 2 that got here out as probably the most scrumptious. I believe as a result of we come from a background in meals, we solely ever wish to put out flavors which might be what we take into account to be very well-balanced and excellent.

Z: And so perhaps a little bit extra about that technique of trying to find and sourcing the substances, as a result of I believe one thing that is clear in the best way that you simply guys have positioned Zuzu and simply a number of the press supplies and whatnot, there’s loads of discuss transparency and sourcing, and so clearly, you recognize, these issues don’t seem in a press launch for no purpose. They’re clearly necessary to you and Greta. So are you able to discuss a little bit bit about how each philosophically what meaning, and additionally virtually what you probably did?

A: In fact. So transparency to us is fairly easy. It goes again to this high quality that much less is extra scrumptious. Once we began sourcing our ardour fruit, for instance, you’ll be amazed. It’s just like the juices that we have been discovering have been both bulked out with different kinds of juices. So it wasn’t simply ardour fruit. It was like they’d sneak in some apple juice and some pear juice in there to bulk it out or it had cane sugar in there to behave as a preservative. So the whole lot we did in our sourcing was to ensure that if we have been going to make use of ardour fruit, it was simply the stuff, itself. It wasn’t the rest. And meaning we had to make use of a ardour fruit pureé, which separates in our drink. However we expect it’s price it as a result of it is the actual true factor. In fact, it implies that our uncooked ingredient is frozen, which logistically is extra sophisticated and is dearer. However these are precisely the sorts of corners that we’re unwilling to chop, as a result of on the finish of the day, you attempt our ardour fruit product, and it really tastes like ardour fruit, not identical to a bizarre by-product of the factor itself, as a result of it is the actual stuff. So I believe it’s a dedication to at all times be sourcing the “wholest” variations of no matter substances we’re utilizing.

Z: So talking about substances and transparency, one factor that’s attention-grabbing to me about Zuzu is that you simply guys are utilizing agave spirit because the alcohol within the cocktails. And for lots of our listeners, I believe the excellence between agave spirit and tequila is likely to be not one thing they’re accustomed to. My understanding is we’re speaking about one thing that’s way more of a technical and legalistic distinction, versus a taste distinction that may be noticeable to the drinker. So are you able to clarify what the distinction there is?

A: Yeah, that’s precisely proper. The style might be just about the identical. All that we’re doing with a 100 p.c agave spirit is distilling it within the U.S. So we’re shopping for our vegetation from Mexico. Our distiller that we work with right here within the U.S. has a direct relationship with a multigenerational natural household farm 20 minutes outdoors of Jalisco. And since we’re distilling it within the U.S. quite than in Mexico, within the 5 areas the place tequila has its denomination, we can’t name it tequila. We will simply name it an agave spirit. And that’s what we’re doing.

Z: Yeah. Gotcha. And so I might marvel — “sourcing” tequila — we’ve talked about this on the podcast in quite a lot of alternative ways. And it’s a really sophisticated challenge that I don’t actually intend to get into in any nice depth right here. However is it extra about simply having the ability to just be sure you have a transparent supply, I suppose that you recognize and perceive?

A: Yeah, that’s precisely proper. I believe the necessary factor to notice is we’re so small proper now that we’ve little or no shopping for energy. And so what feels good to us is to have the ability to have a brilliant pure product and know that our greenbacks are being spent straight at this one farm in Mexico. I believe we’re tremendous fascinated by increasing and trying into different sources for tequila as we develop and achieve some extra shopping for energy. The opposite factor is that tequila must be a hundred percent pure. Tequila must be bottled in Mexico. So we might be a scenario the place we’d be shopping for bottles from Mexico, importing them into the U.S., simply to dump it out right here and put it into one other bottle and name it Zuzu. And that felt like loads of waste for us. So this simply felt like the easiest way, at our scale, to get a very pure product.

Z: And I’m questioning too, again in your “darkish days” you described with candy potatoes and dietary yeast, was tequila at all times the spirit of selection? How did that turn into one thing that you simply and Greta gravitated in direction of?

A: Yeah, it has at all times been the spirit of selection for us. I believe the flavour of it is so nice. It’s a little bit bit candy, nevertheless it’s additionally the healthiest of them. It has the fewest energy. And we anecdotally appeared round and all of a sudden, it was like all people was consuming tequila sodas. And so I believe it got here from a spot of the flavour itself, and then the standard of tequila and it felt more healthy than different choices out on the market.

Z: And I’m questioning, too, you talked about the truth that Zuzu is 5 p.c alcohol, which I don’t know in positioning it, it’s clearly not no-alcohol. But it surely undoubtedly suits into this broader low-alcohol vary of drinks. And I’m questioning, I believe this isn’t a query with a proper or fallacious reply. I’m simply curious, was it extra about attending to that quantity as a result of that’s what gave you the “health” profile that you simply have been on the lookout for? Or was it “hey, we simply suppose at this level this is the place if we blind tasted 15 completely different formulations ranging in alcohol from three to 20 p.c or no matter, this is the one which we expect tasted the perfect”? That call is one thing that you simply’re making consciously in some sense. How did you make that call?

A: Yeah, we examined all completely different ranges of ABV. And also you’re proper, three p.c it was like, will we even really feel it? And 7 p.c, all of a sudden you’d have one and you’d begin to really feel you’d have two and all of a sudden you’d really feel actually drunk. And that’s not one thing that we wished. We would like Zuzu to really feel like a very nice approach to take the sting off. One thing that you could possibly have on a weeknight both alone or at a pleasant feast with your mates if we’re ever in a position to try this once more. Fingers crossed. So it’s simply the correct amount to make you’re feeling good and take the sting off, but additionally low sufficient that you simply get up and you don’t really feel like rubbish the following day and your liver has time to course of the quantity of alcohol. So I believe that “sessionable” facet of it was actually necessary for us.

Z: Gotcha. And so on that word, one factor that’s within the press launch you guys set out, which let’s say you’re going to should persuade me of one thing. Which is that Zuzu was described as a “hangover proof” consuming expertise, and I perceive that to some extent, you don’t imply, if somebody drank 20 of them, there could be no repercussions. Clearly, anybody who can suppose critically doesn’t actually suppose that’s true. However I suppose I’m questioning what does that imply? And in addition, as somebody who is in his now, sadly, late 30s and ever extra conscious of how a lot hangovers suck. Why is that particularly such a promoting level? As a result of I suppose what I imply is, I believe there are particular drinks which might be focused at sure demographics which might be like we all know you’re not going to care. Like, the following morning is not your consideration. Clearly, that’s not what you’re concentrating on right here. So perhaps additionally in the event you can discuss who you envision — clearly you’ll love everybody to drink this — however once you’re desirous about the one that is “hangover-conscious,” or alternatively not unconscious, who is that?

A: Yeah. Properly, initially, let me simply say it’s undoubtedly not hangover proof. I imply, you drink 10 Zuzus, you’ll probably really feel hungover the following day as a result of alcohol is alcohol. It’s in the end an ethanol. So what we’re doing is attempting to create the circumstances of minimal hangovers, which will get again to our elementary thesis that I spoke about earlier than, that much less substances is higher. I believe for us, what’s necessary right here is that there are not any artificial sweeteners or no synthetic preservatives or no different components that may make you’re feeling hungover or speed up your hangover. It’s simply precisely what it says that it is. And I believe that our prospects care about that as a result of she is an individual who cares about what goes into her product. She’s the one that appears at her dietary lists on the grocery store. And he or she’s the skilled person who wakes up the following day and does really feel like she must get to work, and doesn’t have time to be tremendous hungover within the morning. I hold saying “she” however my brother, for instance, is most likely Zuzu’s primary fan. So let that be identified.

Z: And I’m questioning, on that word, I suppose I’ve to inform you two questions that I wish to get to and they form of go in numerous instructions. So I apologize. The primary one there is when you’re working with out preservatives and you’re working with out all these issues, is there a discernible shelf life for this? Is {that a} consideration? Clearly, alcohol helps, and even carbonation helps to some extent. There’s precise fruit clearly in each of those, and not simply citrus. What is the shelf life on these?

A: Yeah, it’s an important query. Thanks for asking as a result of I spent a few yr in R&D attempting to determine this query and the shelf life is 12 months on this. And that’s fairly exceptional as a result of there are so few substances in it. I can’t inform you how many times along the way people push you to do what is the status quo, which is add potassium sorbate, which is a preservative, or there’s this product known as Valkyrien…

Z: Oh yeah, I’m a wine particular person so…

A: Okay, yeah you get it. You actually should put on a hazmat go well with to the touch it,and persons are like, “simply put some Valkyrien in it.” So what we do at Zuzu, and it’s low sufficient in alcohol that really the alcohol doesn’t kill off the entire micro organism. And we do have six or seven p.c of the amount of it as juice. And that’s why it tastes so good. And that implies that we pasteurize our product, so we warmth it for a sure time and at a sure temperature. And as soon as it’s been in bottles then that kills the micro organism. And I believe a part of the rationale why it took us so lengthy to get Zuzu out onto the market was discovering the suitable particular person that might manufacture this for us, that we actually trusted and cared in regards to the high quality of our substances, as a result of we have been unwilling to only throw these preservatives into it.

Z: Gotcha. After which my different query is, you talked about clearly a guiding mild for you and Greta, in designing these was citrus and “tartness.” And I might think about, like I mentioned, I haven’t tried them, however I might think about that each the Calamansi Lime and Passionfruit convey loads of that. Is there one other both particular taste or alternatively, are you pondering, “okay, nicely, two flavors is nice,” however presumably the intention is to not cease there. Like what are the opposite dimensions you’re ?

A: Yeah, we undoubtedly wish to create extra flavors. I believe we at this level are studying a lot, now that Zuzu is available in the market, about what folks like. Apparently, lime is the gateway drug and then passionfruit slowly creeps up on folks in order that they begin spinning about which one they like extra. It’s enjoyable for me to look at. However our objective proper now is we’re creating a few different flavors, however we actually wish to hear from our prospects. We wish to hear from folks which might be Zuzu drinkers which might be like, “I really like bitter cherries, are you able to please make a bitter cherry one?” Or like, “grapefruit is the one Spindrift that I drink.” And that’s what I want you guys to create subsequent. I believe we’re simply attempting to get as a lot suggestions as we will from our prospects and hearken to what they need and produce it.

Z: Very cool. And final of all, for people who find themselves , what’s the step for them to take to trace down Zuzu?

A: Properly, in the event you’re in New York State, you possibly can go onto our web site,, and you possibly can have Zuzu at the moment delivered straight to your door, or you may get it delivered via our native market, which is additionally on our web site. And there’s additionally a listing of stockists there. So you possibly can really go to the shop and purchase it in particular person. I can even say that we must always have nationwide transport within the subsequent month or so. So that you within the hinterlands of Seattle can get it delivered straight to your door, which we’re actually enthusiastic about, as a result of there are a bunch of individuals out within the nation which might be asking for it now, which we’re very, very grateful for.

Z: Superior. Properly, Ali, thanks a lot to your time. Admire it. I sit up for giving the product a attempt considered one of today. When the coated wagons make all of it the best way out right here.

A: To the Wild West!

Z: Yeah, precisely. And yeah, thanks a lot to your time. Admire it. And better of luck with Zuzu going ahead.

A: Thanks. Thanks. I actually respect it.

Thanks a lot for listening to the VinePair Podcast. Should you take pleasure in listening to us each week, please go away us a overview or score on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever it is that you simply get your podcasts. It actually helps everybody else uncover the present. Now for the credit. VinePair is produced on my own and Zach Geballe. It is additionally blended and edited by him. Yeah, Zach, we all know you do so much. I’d additionally prefer to thank the whole VinePair workforce, together with my co-founder, Josh, and our affiliate editor, Cat. Thanks a lot for listening. See you subsequent week.

Ed. word: This episode has been edited for size and readability.

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