Prohibition Pops - a Pandemic Pivot

MIXOLOGY TALK PODCAST #192

The pandemic has certainly forced many people in the service industry to pivot their focuses and career paths. To say this has been a difficult year for restaurants and bars would obviously be a vast understatement, but we’ve been so impressed with all the stories we’ve heard about companies and servers getting creative with new work endeavors– from hosting Zoom events to providing carry-out cocktails. 

Today, Chris is talking with the cofounders of Prohibition Pops, Cornelia Mathis and Cody Carney, who have created this new alcoholic popsicle company during these crazy times. Having previously owned a craft bar together, Cody and Cornelia took the pandemic as an opportunity to adjust their careers and forge forward with their new business.  Whether you’re looking to open a new company of your own or are just looking for tips on how to expand your current business, Cornelia and Cody have a lot of experience to share with you!

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INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • 0:54– Cornelia’s & Cory’s service background (and detailed background of the Prohibition Pops at 8:13)
  • 10:35– Opening a company during a pandemic
  • 13:45– Experience with batching (Jump to 16:56 for more on techniques and 19:53 for at-home batching)
  • 22:18– Production and packaging for Prohibition Pops
  • 25:37– Advice for bartenders starting a business right now
  • 26:37– Funny stories of cocktail development
  • 30:19– Where to buy Prohibition Pops and company expansion

MEET CORNELIA AND CODY!

Cornelia Mathis and Cody Carney are co-owners of Prohibition Pops TM, a company that was established in 2015 under the umbrella of 2 Dogs Barking, LLC. It is a partnership of two individuals who are passionate about the food, wine, & spirits industry.

Cornelia has over 25+ years experience in the hospitality industry, which includes managing restaurants and running different bar programs (such as Town Hall, Luna Park, Sociale, Bank Cafe & Bar, and La Toque). She has opened and operated her own businesses such as Cork Enoteca (which had many accolades and was featured in 7×7 Magazine several times) and Speakeasy 33 (which appeared in Travel + Leisure and Imbibe Magazines).

Cody has bartended at many of the Bay Area’s finest restaurants including Bouli Bar, Barrel House, and Goose & Gander and has been a guest bartender at places such as Delfina. He is passionate about the craft of cocktails, and his knowledge of spirits is extensive. Together with Cornelia, Cody also owned their craft cocktail bar, Speakeasy 33 before they co-founded Prohibition Pops together.

INTRODUCING PROHIBITION POPS: STARTING A BUSINESS DURING A PANDEMIC

Both Cornelia and Cody have extensive experience working in high-end restaurants and craft cocktail bars, and they even co-owned their own bar, Speakeasy 33. So when they launched their new venture, Prohibition Pops, their bar background informed how they approached these boozy popsicles.

They currently offer one flavor, the Daq 33 (a nod to their bar, Speakeasy 33), which is their riff on a daiquiri. But why a daiquiri of all things? Well, this often-looked-down-upon cocktail is a test drink that Cornelia and Cody (and Chris) use to see how good a bar is before ordering something else; so they thought it would be fun to do it well– and in popsicle form!

“Because of our background, we wanted to stay true to the cocktails that we were near and dear to, and [sic] that’s the way we created them; we wanted to make sure that they tasted [sic] the way that they’re supposed to because a lot of, you know, places you come to find the ready-to-drink products, they taste weird. There’s something not right.  And we wanted to make sure that our product tasted [sic] exactly like you would get in a bar or a restaurant.” –Cornelia Mathis

WHAT MAKES PROHIBITION POPS A UNIQUE PREMADE COCKTAIL?

Cody and Cornelia wanted to make a fresher, more natural product compared to most ready-to-drink cocktails. A majority of other brands use malt liquor and artificial flavors, which makes mass-production easier– but not as tasty and definitely a little grosser for your insides. 

But there are certainly challenges with making a popsicle with fresh citrus; for one, their first attempts with fresh lime juice exploded! But once they learned to balance the lime and rum, they were up and running with an end product that is tangy and natural-tasting while bringing through the rum… Just like a high-quality daiquiri should taste! The lesson here is that trial and error can definitely pay off.

HOW PROHIBITION POPS BEGAN

While Prohibitions Pops began under the relatable pressure of finding new work during Covid-times, the idea was actually born when Cornelia and Cody were still running Speakeasy 33. Cody and his friend and former coworker from Goose and Gander, Mark Leahy, began a contest between themselves after Mark moved to Australia. They reconnected on Instagram and did a daiquiri challenge where they each created a new daiquiri every day of the month. 

In the end, they had over 60 unique daiquiri recipes, but it was Cornelia and Cody’s idea of making a daiquiri in slushee form that eventually inspired Prohibition Pops. While this invention came towards the end of month when content creation was a struggle, something beautiful was born from it.

OPENING A LIQUOR BUSINESS

Although they worked on the concept of Prohibition Pops for a while before officially starting their business, Cody and Cornelia actually launched their company in a few short months. They were somewhat forced by the fact that the service industry took a huge hit at the beginning of the pandemic, and they– like so many others– were furloughed. 

Fortunately, they had done some of the preliminary work while still working other jobs; they had already developed their first flavor and had the packaging designed. While Cornelia jokes that they may not have embarked on this endeavor if they knew then what they know now, they’ve hit the ground running.

“Then we decided to go 110% on our business, and [sic] we found somebody to manufacture it, we got somebody to make the packaging boxes, then we had to find somebody to make the shipping boxes. So it’s a lot. And now it’s a point of where, you know, you have [50] states. Each state is completely different when it comes to distribution, so we’re [sic] still learning, and it’s evolving [sic] day-by-day.” -Cornelia Mathis

And while they would have preferred to take a little more time and raised more capital before launching a new business, their positivity and flexibility are sure serving them well. Sometimes you just have to jump off that high dive and start swimming!

TIPS AND TRICKS FOR PACKAGING SPIRITS

Prohibition Pops is a little unique compared to most spirit companies because they come in popsicle form and are therefore packaged differently. Here are some packaging tips that Cody and Cornelia learned:

  • Materials for holding acid and alcohol are susceptible to erosion: They couldn’t use a biodegradable sleeve like they wanted because the alcohol would eat away at it. Unfortunately, biodegradable packaging also doesn’t guarantee a stable shelf-life. 
  • Cody and Cornelia opted for a 100% recyclable plastic instead, as the alcohol wouldn’t eat away at it.
  • Lesson learned: Ideas of what you want (for packaging or otherwise) don’t always work with the reality of manufacturing; you have to be flexible and open to alternatives.  

HOW TO BATCH ALCOHOL FOR YOUR BEVERAGE PROGRAM

Since Cody and Cornelia have so much behind-the-bar knowledge, Chris picked their brains about batching spirits– something that comes up with beverage services, ready-to-drink spirit companies, and even throwing parties or making alcoholic gifts at home. Since batching is such an investment, we’re breaking down some tips to make the process more successful. For one, always stick to your original recipe and scale up.

“The biggest thing with batching, just make sure that you stick with your original recipe. […] A lot of times, it’s easy to work in measurements that are going to break down into a full bottle, either you’re 750 or your liters, easily. So if you have a Manhattan and you’re going to split your two whiskeys, ¾ of an oz each, that’s easily translatable into a 750.” — Cody Carney

BATCHING CITRUS JUICE

Here’s a pro tip for working with citrus juice and similar perishable ingredients: Never batch anything that is going to spoil. Add it as just before serving, if possible.

“I use the batch with syrups, and even that makes me feel a little funny; but with the alcohol content as high as it gets, you’re going to be OK with syrups and stuff like that. But anything that’s citrus, add it right before you’re about to shake it.” — Cody Carney

HOW TO BATCH WITH BITTERS

According to Cody, chances are that you won’t notice the bitters if you add it to a batch of alcohol. To really make an impact, it’s best to add bitters right before serving. 

VERMOUTH IN A BATCH OF ALCOHOL

Since vermouth is a wine-based product that does spoil within 1-2 months of being opened (and must be kept in the fridge), it’s best to only batch what you can sell. If you’re going through the batches quickly, then feel free to add vermouth to your batched cocktail. 

However, if you’re making 20 bottles of a ready-to-serve cocktail, but it takes you 20 days to get through them all, that last bottle is going to taste off if you added the vermouth when you batched it. Remember, there’s no need to batch too many pre-made cocktails if you’re not going to sell them quickly.

BATCHING ALCOHOL FOR AT-HOME USE: GIFTS, PARTIES, AND WHAT TO PUT YOUR PRE-MADE COCKTAILS IN 

So if you’re not in the service industry, how does this apply to you? Well, maybe you’d like to make some ready-to-drink cocktails for gifts or to serve at a party. What should you store your batched cocktails in to keep them fresh? Cody and Cornelia suggest using glass, such as Mason jars. They look great, and you can easily sterilize them with boiling water. 

ADVICE FOR STARTING YOUR OWN LIQUOR BUSINESS AND HOW TO SUPPORT PROHIBITION POPS

While starting any company during the pandemic is really difficult, Cornelia and Cody’s positive attitudes kept them going; their biggest advice is to just keep pushing forward, no matter what:

“Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. Just keep going. There were so many times where we thought we weren’t going to be able to do this, and you know, we thought we were at the end of our rope, whether it be lack of money, lack of ideas […], but we just kept moving forward. Just don’t give up on your dream.” — Cornelia Mathis

And if you aren’t starting your own business but just want to try Prohibition Pops and happen to be in the Bay Area or Napa, they are available in several locations like Goose and Gander and Town Hall in Oakland. Although they’re expanding distribution to states such as Michigan, Washington, and Florida, you can visit their website in the meantime to place an order. And be sure to keep an eye on what they’re up to… Maybe we’ll get a Negroni or Old Fashioned pop soon!

So what would be your ideal cocktail in popsicle form? Do you have any business ideas that you’re trying to launch during the pandemic or any tips on batching ready-to-drink spirits? We want to hear all about it over in our Craft Cocktail Club. And, of course, our shop has everything you need to create your own liquid cocktails, so make sure to check out our barware. Until next time, friends… Cheers!

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Melanie Tornroth

Melanie Tornroth

A former English teacher, Melanie optimistically embraces the struggle that is work-from-home parenthood as the in-house writer for A Bar Above. When not responding to “Mom” and writing articles for ABA, she also runs Goodnickels Photography, loves to cuddle her cats, and is perfecting the art of keeping her pandemic “fermentation babies” alive.

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