By Lorrie Baumann
Top Note tonics are attracting attention among the fans of craft beverages, most recently with a sofi Award for Top Note Indian Tonic Water, named the best new product in the cold beverages category by the Specialty Food Association this year. The company’s other products include a Ginger Beer as well as a range of other European-style tonics in Bitter Orange, Bitter Lemon and Gentian Lime flavors.
Top Note tonics are produced by La Pavia Beverage, LLC, founded in 2014 by Mary Pellettieri and her husband and partner, Noah Swanson and headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “We decided to go into this business because we were very intrigued by craft beer,” Pellettieri says. “As I was concocting and crafting some syrups for that, using traditional recipes, I found that I liked the syrups just with carbonated water.”
Pellettieri’s interest in beer was long-standing. She began her career at the Siebel Institute of Technology, a research institute and school of brewing technology founded in Chicago in 1868, where she was a chemist and microbiologist and taught sensory management. Her career has taken her from there to Silliker Labs, Goose Island Beer Company and then MillerCoors before she left the brewery giant to start her own company. After more than 20 years of working with craft beers, she was in an ideal position to recognize the potential of the beverage she’d created. “To me, it’s more than just a mixer. It could be an herbal soft drink on its own,” she said. “It’s a radler [also known as a shandy] when mixed with beer.”
Pellettieri’s experience had taught her to appreciate the tonics she’d tasted in Europe, where the category was burgeoning with many more products and flavors than were being offered to the American market, where tonics tended to have harsher flavors that could mask the rasp of alcohol when they were mixed into cocktails based on mass-marketed spirits. But after distillers of craft spirits began producing smoother liquors, there was no longer as much need to hide the harsh taste of the alcohol. Pellettieri figured that created a gap in the market for mixers with bright, clean flavors, including the herbal elixirs that she loved.
“We just saw that the category of sparkling beverage needing some innovation, some dusting up,” she said. “I just thought: Why not someone who understands bitter, who understands beer? Why not me?”
“The tonic category in the States has been sleepy,” she added. “If you go to Europe you’ll see that it’s much more of a burgeoning category and much more diverse in its offerings.”
The Top Note product line started with mixable syrups that could be added to cocktails, stirred into sparkling water to make a soda or drunk on their own. “It’s still a tonic, and there’s still some bitterness to it, so I always warn people. Tonic lovers really love it,” Pellettieri said. “It’s still true to the tradition that a tonic is a bitter, sour and sweet beverage.”
The Top Note tonics pair well with the same kind of foods that complement other bitter beverages like an IPA beer or a dark espresso, and Pellettieri has recently expanded the line by packaging the tonics in four-packs of ready-to-serve bottles and adding a Ginger Beer that can be consumed either as a mixer or on its own. “We designed it with the idea that flavor is most important,” Pellettieri said. “That’s selling out faster than we can keep up with right now.”
The Top Note tonics are currently being distributed locally in Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin, where they’re in both liquor and specialty grocery stores, but the products have also recently launched through KeHE. The Top Note Indian Tonic Water will be in the sofi Award showcase at the Summer Fancy Food Show, and Pellettieri plans to exhibit her line at the Winter Fancy Food Show in 2018. She says her production line is scalable for the orders that the sofi Award and the KeHE launch are bound to bring. “We’re ready,” she said. “We are ready. Everything’s in place.”
Led by the husband-and-wife team of Mary Pellettieri and Noah Swanson, Top Note Tonic, a three-year-old company based in Milwaukee, is introducing a line of ready-to-drink craft tonics that feature bold, notably complex flavors. The premium, non-alcoholic tonics include Indian Tonic Water, Bitter Lemon and Ginger Beer. All are available in four-packs of 8.5-ounce bottles with a suggested retail price of $6.99. Each bottle delivers approximately two servings per cocktail.
Pellettieri is a botanist and 20-year beer industry veteran who saw an opportunity to innovate in a category dominated by highly artificial, overly sweet products.
“Tonics had become commoditized. They’d deviated from their origins and didn’t taste good. I saw a need for better tonics that were balanced,” says Pellettieri. “In brewing, it’s about crafting a balance between bitter, sour and sweet. I wasn’t afraid to play with the bitter spectrum that ranges from a softer, earthier taste to a sharper, quenching hit.”
Calling on her botanist roots and knowledge of sensory science, Pellettieri developed herbal tonic recipes that pair crisp, clean layers of flavor with top notes that enhance the taste. Instead of dulling the senses by coating the tongue with sweet, all Top Note Tonic varieties begin with a forward element of bitter and finish with a soft hint of sweet/sour. The result is a uniquely modern take on classic mixers.
The Indian Tonic Water is like the IPA of tonics. It has an overall dry and refreshing taste with top notes of citrus peel and fresh grass and pairs well with premium gins. The Bitter Lemon is balanced and tart with top notes of lemongrass, lemon peel and spice and is a classic mixer for vodka. The Ginger Beer delivers a rich and earthy flavor that’s topped with notes of ginger and dried fruit and is particularly well suited for Moscow Mules and dark spirits.
Top Note is crafted with the highest quality ingredients. The line of RTDs is non-GMO and includes all-natural roots, fruits, herbs, spices and real cane sugar. No artificial colors or preservatives are used; all varieties are gluten free and contain half the sugar of standard mixers.
Talking Rain Beverage Company®, the maker of Sparkling Ice® flavored sparkling waters, has been recognized as a winner in the U.K. by the country’s largest consumer-driven award for product innovation, Product of the Year. Nearly 12,000 U.K. households responded to the survey designed to identify the top CPG products on the market, naming Sparkling Ice the winner in the “No Added Sugar” Drinks category.
Following the brand’s expansion to the United Kingdom and Ireland in 2016, Sparkling Ice has seen significant success in the marketplace, with presence in more than 15,000 stores. First year sales success has shown that the beverage market in the U.K. and Ireland present a wealth of opportunity as consumers shift away from full-calorie CSDs to healthier alternatives like Sparkling Ice.
“Since our launch in the U.K. and Ireland this past spring, we have been energized by the excitement surrounding our brand,” said Kevin Klock, President and CEO of Talking Rain Beverage Co. “This award is a special honor as it has been voted on by the U.K. consumer, and we are proud to offer a beverage free of added sugar, that delivers the bold flavor, fizz and refreshment that the marketplace demands.”
Having hit shelves in April 2016 at major grocery and drug store retailers, Sparkling Ice is now available in four flavors in the UK and Ireland: Black Raspberry, Orange Mango, Peach Nectarine, and most recently, Strawberry Kiwi.
Kantar TNS, one of the world’s leading research agencies conducted the research, offering an industry sector understanding and collating the survey from more than 11,600 people in the UK and Ireland.
For more information about Sparkling Ice, visit www.sparklingice.com.