About a year ago, Craig Rudewicz told his family he was going to quit his job behind a bar to put all his time behind a business that made bitters, the highly concentrated, highly alcoholic extracts used to flavor cocktails. His start-up company would be North Carolina's first, meaning it was a concept so nebulous state regulators didn't even know what to do with it. They seemed understandably skeptical.
"I had family ask, 'Is that really a thing? You're just going to make bitters? You've got nothing else to do?'" Rudewicz recalls. "And I said, 'Yeah, we'll try it.' It was a nerve-wracking time to just dive into something that was kind of obscure, to make that your full-time job."
But it worked: In early December, Raleigh's Crude Small-Batch Bitters & Sodas will celebrate its third anniversary while marking the end of the first year for ABV, Crude's relatively new retail extension. You can now spot Crude Bitters in Oregon and California, scattered locations throughout the Midwest, in the New England area, in Washington, D.C. and New York. Rudewicz has started to increase appearances on the trade show circuit, too, and he often teaches popular classes about crafting cocktails and enhancing flavors at ABV. Crude's reputation rose quickly after the company nabbed a Good Food Award at a San Francisco gala in January. Crude is the first bitters business to win the honor, which is designed to promote quality food products that are small-batch and sustainable from community-conscious companies.
"A year ago, we were making four gallons of each year-round flavor and then dividing them into 4-ounce bottles, so each batch of each flavor was maybe about 150 bottles," Rudewicz says. "Now, for our year-round flavors, we're doing close to about 400 bottles of each flavor."
For Rudewicz, bitters have actually proven pretty sweet.