Welcome to our Happy Hour Question & Answer series, where we ask questions to interesting people in the alcohol world.
This week’s spotlight is on Andrew Solis, artist, entrepreneur and founder of Cut Above Zero Proof Spirits. Solis spent nearly two years working with mixologists and flavor specialists to create a portfolio of four spirits, including a Gin, Agave Blanco, Mezcal and Whiskey, that replicate the flavor profiles, nose, mouthfeel and finish of the original premium spirits allowing consumers to either reduce or replace the amount of alcohol in a cocktail; all without sacrificing the enjoyment and experience of a properly crafted cocktail.
Hops & Spirits: What drew you to the alcohol world?
Andrew Solis: I have always had a fascination with cocktails and spirits, so I have been a consumer for a long time. What drew me into the alcohol world was a desire to give consumers a choice of a no and low alcohol cocktail alongside the only choice we ever had which was full alcohol. Forever, whatever the bartender slides over the bar is the strength we got. My vision is being able to enjoy that same well crafted and thoughtful cocktail, but if I want them a little lower ABV, I’ll ask for a “cut” and, on the occasion I want it alcohol free, I will ask for a “zero”. It’s about preserving the craft of cocktail making, while giving consumers choice without sacrificing the experience.
HS: What was the process like to craft these spirits?
AS: It started with a goal which was to really try to bend the mind, so when someone has a cocktail made with Cut Above, they would think: “this tastes just like a cocktail with alcohol.” That meant we had to pay attention to aroma, taste, mouthfeel, finish, and how it interacts with other ingredients in a cocktail. Over the course of more than a year, we worked to combine various natural ingredients to produce all the things we like about a balanced spirit. We would taste the combinations neat, in various cocktails made in various ways, with classic spirits and without, and even look at how they performed over time as ice melted. All that work went into each spirit we make; all without ever having alcohol added at any point of the process.
HS: Why these four – Gin, Agave Blanco, Mezcal and Whiskey?
AS: There are so many cocktails you can make with these four spirits. From light and refreshing to full bodied warming creations, these spirits give the overwhelming majority of people a chance to try Cut Above. The first spirit I really fell in love with was a London Dry Gin. Agave spirits are so loved we had to include those, especially the Mezcal, which I am completely infatuated with. Like many others, the Old Fashioned reigns as the most frequently order over the years, so a Bourbon style whiskey was a must.
HS: How important was it for these to replicate the feel, taste and experience of their alcoholic counterparts?
AS: It is very very important. The test isn’t to make one cocktail with, and another cocktail without alcohol and not have someone tell the difference. We as humans are keen perceivers of ethanol and it’s the wrong frame of mind. What we created was the closest you can get to the feel, taste, and experience of their alcoholic counterparts using pristine filtered water and natural ingredients. Both of those cocktails should be enjoyable, make me want another, and allow me to imbibe with those around me without having to settle for something less than the cocktail menu offering.
HS: Why is it important you all never have any alcohol in the mash during any stage?
AS: For some, it is important that alcohol does not play a part in the process, even if it is later removed; in particular, if the alcohol originally served the purpose of being an intoxicant. Our desire was to be as inclusive as we could so anyone could use Cut Above.
HS: These are meant as cocktail mixers, how simple is it for folks? Just swapping out the liquor?
AS: We like to say Cut Above is for Cocktails Without Compromise. What we mean by that is you shouldn’t have to drastically adjust a recipe to get to the same taste as a full strength cocktail. Cut Above is designed to be a simple swap. If the cocktail calls for a two ounce pour of Gin, then use a two ounce pour of Cut Above Zero Proof Gin. All the steps of making the cocktail stay the same as well. People all the time ask us to try our product neat. Unlike some other brands we have heard about, we never shy away from this. However, what we immediately do right after is make a cocktail. That’s where we shine. After all that’s what it all comes down to, enjoying a great cocktail however you want it.
HS: These can also be used with other spirits to make a low-alcohol cocktail too. How does that work?
AS: Yes they absolutely can. I placed extreme importance on this as what I saw was the existing players in the NA spirit category were only catering to those who were drinking no alcohol whatsoever. While we do value our friends who have made this choice (for whatever duration and reason), I had an inkling that there were many more others out there like me, looking for a way to drink a little less; or to be put another way; to have choice throughout the evening to control my alcohol intake, while not giving up the experience. So that cocktail above that called for a two ounce pour of Gin. What I do for a “cut” (low alcohol) cocktail is put in one ounce of my favorite classic Gin, and one ounce of Cut Above Zero Proof Gin. Just like that I’ve lowered the ABV and still get to enjoy the cocktail.
HS: You’re an artist and entrepreneur, I feel like Cut Above is the perfect mix for you.
AS: I have loved the creative part of building Cut Above. Everything from the name, the logos, label design, packaging are all very close to my original concept almost two years ago. One of the things I think draws me into mixology is there is an absolute artistry to what the bartender and cocktail creators do. You know it when you see it. You can tell they not only had to have high technical skills to bring out the flavors, but they also placed just as much importance on the presentation and experience of consuming it. It’s exactly what artists do.
HS: How can folks try Cut Above?
AS: Right now, they can order from drinkcutabove.com and have it delivered right to their doorstep. We are expanding weekly into more and more nonalcoholic retail shops, and we just started our on-premise strategy so consumers can find us where they eat and drink. Following us on Instagram at @drinkcutabove is the best way for folks to see where we become available. We would also love it for people to let us know where they want to see Cut Above. They can always drop us a note via the contact form on our site.
HS: What’s next for you all?
AS: Our focus now is growing the brand and sharing our message to consumers and the trade. Next is taking the platform and reach we have as we grow to open people’s minds (one cocktail at a time) to the future of hospitality. That no matter your choice on alcohol consumption, you feel valued as a patron by the offerings so much so that you can focus on what’s really important; the conversations, cheers, toasts, roasts, and whatever else we talk about over these rad cocktails.