The most common reaction that Jonathan Blitz and Mike Sinclair get when offering samples of their Mystic Bourbon Liqueur to strangers is: “I don’t like bourbon.”
But after people taste it, the men say, the reaction changes to: “I like that and I don’t even like bourbon.”
Mystic Bourbon Liqueur, a sweetened, spiced bourbon, is the work of Blitz, a Durham lawyer, and Sinclair, a Cary software engineer. They bonded over a mutual love of spirits, and this liqueur is their first foray into the liquor business. As it turns out, making a liqueur is easier than distilling their own bourbon. Their liqueur is bourbon blended with wildflower honey and a mixture of nine different spices, including anise, cardamom, vanilla and black peppercorn.
The men will be offering samples from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday at Bolt Bistro, 219 Fayetteville St., Raleigh. If you can’t make it, they will be at the Cocktails & Cosmonauts event at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham on April 10 and the Beer Bourbon & BBQ festival in Charlotte on May 10.
Blitz, 41, is a lawyer who worked for a federal judge in St. Louis, Mo., moved to the Triangle, worked as an assistant public defender in Durham, started a solar technology company and then became a stay-at-home dad. Sinclair, 32, is a software engineer and longtime home brewer whose family roots in Scotland inspired the recipe that became Mystic Bourbon Liqueur.
The two met through a mutual friend in the solar technology industry. Both were lusting over what is known as “copper porn” – photos of illegal home stills from the brand-new and shiny to those with an aged patina. Soon the men were drafting a business plan to get into the legal liquor business.
It quickly became clear that distilling their own bourbon was going to require $200,000 worth of equipment plus at least two years for the bourbon to age in oak barrels before it could go to market. Without willing investors, the men decided to make a liqueur, instead of a bourbon, which could be done with $30,000 worth of equipment and can go to market within weeks.
The men’s business was made possible in large part by Durham distiller Rimas Vilgalys of The Brothers Vilgalys Baltic Spirits, who allowed the men to use his facility and operate under his company’s federal and state permits, as well as act as a mentor.
So where did the recipe come from? Sinclair’s family is from Scotland, where on a visit to a gathering of clan descendants, he bought a bottle of a Scotch liqueur made by a small distillery. When he got home, the bottle broke by accident and Sinclair decided to make his own version using bourbon. An early prototype became the recipe for Mystic Bourbon Liqueur.
A fifth costs $25 and is available at most ABC stores in Durham and several in Raleigh, including ones at Cameron Village and on Sandy Forks Road in North Raleigh. For a complete listing of upcoming tasting events and ABC stores that carry it, go to whatismystic.com.