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.”