In 2017, the mobile food movement flourished. As it grew to include more than food carts to include services like subscription boxes offering everything from daily dinners to nutritional smoothies, it had not yet infiltrated the beverage scene.
Belinda Kelly recognized this gap and established her mobile bar platform, Happy Camper Cocktail Company, which had a seasonal, garden-inspired menu. Kelly got attention for the cocktails she made with homemade syrups out of her 1975 Aladdin camper, which included a rhubarb Vanilla Bean syrup made with fruit she had convinced her sister, Venise Cunningham, to grow on her 10 acres large yard.
“Land to table is old news now, but the concept of farm to bar is still relatively new,” Kelly said, explaining that the mobile bar received sufficient attention from the community and demanded that it motivate Kelly and Cunningham to form Simple Goodness Sisters, a line with all natural, preservative-free drink mixers. “We have not seen any other mixer company in the United States do that [this]said Kelly. Cocktails are so precise, and the quality of each ingredient matters, so people understand that the blenders you use matter, ”Kelly stressed.
Although Kelly originally created the simple syrups to ensure consistency in her cocktails at the mobile bar, so for local customers to buy, the success of this in their business (the others were a tasting room, farm to table cafe and catering)) motivated the sisters to to create another access point for customers to engage with their products. In 2020, Simple Goodness launched the Sisters Cocktail Farm Club, a garden-to-glass beverage community and subscription box (the sisters refer to it as their version of a traditional farm share CSA or a cocktail mixer “wine club”) that solved certain queries from customers who wanted new flavors, recipes to work with, and recommendations for spirits to use with their purchase of Simple Goodness Sisters syrups.
“Each consignment’s special taste of small batches is always responsive to what’s harvesting well on the farm, is seasonally appropriate to the tastes you want to enjoy at that time of year, and has a combination of sweet, sour, salty or herb to. make a more balanced and exciting cocktail with minimal ingredients, “said Kelly. Previous varieties have shown berry sage, apples and lemongrass. Along with the 12 ounce seasonal syrup, a Cocktail Farm Club box contains a seven ounce microbatch available exclusively to subscribers as well as cocktail decorations such as edible flowers or rhyme salts and sugar also grown at Simple Goodness Sister Farm, and a recipe card for seasonal drinks. “It’s seasonal to eat, but through cocktails,” Kelly said.
Below, Kelly shares more about the early days of Simple Goodness Sisters, as well as about how she hopes the Cocktail Farm Club will be groundbreaking in the garden-to-glass movement.
Jillian Dara: What did you do before Simple Goodness Sisters and Cocktail Farm Club?
Belinda Kelly: We both worked in Human Resources at large tech companies before we had children. When the kids were little, we started looking for something that would give us more time close to home and spend our time in areas we felt more passionate about.
In love with the mobile food movement, I decided to start a mobile bar catering company. Meanwhile, Venise began growing garlic and reviving its 10-acre farm that had not been used for decades. As the catering business and the farm’s harvest grew, so did the demand for syrups that made the small mobile bar company so popular. So with no background in agriculture, food science or catering, we started building all three businesses.
From: How did you find the farm you work with?
Kelly: Venise owns and lives on Simple Goodness Farm, and we procure most of our ingredients from there, including dozens of herbs and edible flower varieties, spruce trees for our Huckleberry Spruce tip syrup and rhubarb. It was a functioning dairy farm in the 1970s, but had not been used as a farm for years. Everything we do not grow on the farm, primarily the berries we use in the syrups, we get from Venice’s friends in the local farming community. Most of the small farms in our area cannot afford the expensive and lengthy process of organic certification, and support for family-owned farms in the Northwest Pacific is more important to us than an organic brand, so we are looking for farmers who grow using of sustainable methods.
From: How do you choose the ingredients you work with and how do you narrow it down for each box?
Kelly: Our favorite thing about the Cocktail Farm Club box is that it helps to utilize what we grow on the farm in a more efficient way. If we have a bumper crop of an ingredient, it will be an inspiring starting point for the next syrup taste. We often test these varieties first in our brick, family-friendly bar Soda Shop and take our customers’ feedback to make them better. We pair special syrup with one of our flagship syrups that will mix well and a farm grown garnish so the number of possible combinations and drink recipes is even more robust.
From: How have you seen this garden-to-glass movement grow across states?
Kelly: In general, we see much more seasonal drinking, the idea of using what grows in each season and incorporating it into a drinking menu. You see bars starting to notice where some of the ingredients came from, as if they might be on a food menu with a credit to a farm name.
What we do not see much of yet is the full range of garden-to-glass, meaning grain-to-glass craft spirits paired with freshly squeezed juices from local fruits, syrups and bitters made from scratch from locally grown and fed ingredients, all components of a drink are pure ingredient lists starting from whole foods and no chemicals are added. But what anyone can do is grow a garden or shop at a farmers market and get creative with how to use what they grow in beverages, not just meals. Make a carrot juice cocktail called Bloody Bunny, or mud fresh thyme sprigs and plums for a gin and soda, add a squeeze of lemon. Shop spirits made in your area and ask the distilleries where they get their raw material content.
From: Can you see garden-to-glass pops up in cities you would not expect? Who do you think the movement attracts?
Kelly: It surprises us who is attracted to this, for it is not only gardeners or foodies you would expect, although they certainly respond. Cocktails are fun and there are many people who love them. Cocktails are like a gateway that can make more people worry about this fresh and seasonal food and celebrate it.
We have also seen a great response to our business from those who abstain from alcohol and are looking for high quality inventive ingredients to make non-alcoholic beverages, or families who want to be able to mix some beverages with alcohol and some without miss great taste in the experience.
From: There is a lot of noise out there, so what do you want consumers to realize about the garden-to-glass movement?
Kelly: Putting an edible flower in a cocktail is not what makes a drinking garden glass. They make a beautiful decoration [and] it is fine to do as long as the flower is actually edible and grown without pesticides, but it is not representative of the whole category. [Garden to glass] requires much more thought and careful purchasing of ingredients.
Another misconception is that having for glass only means flower drinks or only vegetable drinks. These drinks are not inherently sweet or filled with fruits and vegetables, just like any cocktail they can be sweet, sour, salty, floral, herbal, alcoholic, and hopefully the bartender balances between several of these properties.
This interview is edited for clarity and length.