A couple of local entrepreneurs are hoping that upscale bars will find room on their top shelves next to the high-end liquors for some premium fruit mixers.
Bungalow 23 is the project of Central Floridians Rick Ferrone and Chris Henderson. Its product line currently consists of three fruit blends: Prickly Pear Margarita, Pear Ginger Martini, and Blueberry Lemon Drop. Of course, fruit juices for use in cocktails isn’t exactly a novel idea, but what Bungalow 23 brings to the table, or the bar counter, if you will, is a higher quality product specifically designed to be blended with the likes of Patron Silver tequila or Grey Goose vodka.
Ferrone says the idea came to him -- as ideas have come to so many throughout history -- when he was ordering a drink in a bar. The former chief strategy officer for Attorney’s Title Fund Services in Orlando was in the mood for a cocktail and didn’t mind springing for an expensive call brand. But when he considered what else would go into the drink, he realized his only options were juices made with lots of sugar and concentrates. Either that or try to get the bartender to muddle some fresh fruit, which isn’t always practical.
So Ferrone decided the world was ready for a whole new category of cocktail mixers, with all natural ingredients, real fruit juices and purees (not concentrates), fresh herbs, and no added waters.
The flavor descriptions include such phrases as “well balanced,” “full bodied,” and “fruit forward.” If those sound similar to wine descriptors, that’s not a coincidence. In fact, the juice blends are packaged in 750-ml wine bottle-sized containers, and the labels mimic those you might find coming out of a California winery. (Indeed, Ferrone says they hired a San Francisco graphic designer with wine label experience to develop their packaging.)
What’s more, the labels go so far as to indicate where the ingredients were sourced -- blueberries from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, prickly pear fruit from Salinas Valley in California, and pears from Washington’s Wenatchee Valley.
I had a chance to taste all three blends recently. The interesting thing was that each one was sippable by itself, without adding alcohol. You know, if that’s your thing. But then I tried them with either Patron tequila (for the margarita) or Grey Goose vodka. And I could tell the cocktails were made with the high end liquors. That’s not always the case, as Ferrone had mentioned before. I think a lot of people, including me, figure there’s no use in ordering good liquor if you’re just going to cover it up with cheap mixers. These juices enhanced the fineness of the premium booze.
Also, the flavors were smooth and didn’t have that cloying aftertaste that you’d get if you were to sip a standard mixer.
My favorite was the Pear Ginger Martini. The ginger added a different dimension to the slightly tangy pear, and it wasn’t at all sweet. The Prickly Pear Margarita was my second favorite -- would have been better with a salt rim. I’m not a big blueberry fan, but with it blended with the citrus flavors of the Blueberry Lemon Drop it became less fruity, if you know what I mean.
The company's name, by the way, comes from Ferrone's house, a circa 1923 bungalow near Leu Gardens. There is a drawing of the house on each label.
Ferrone and Henderson are shopping the blends around to some of the area bars that specialize in handcrafted cocktails. They’re also getting them into retails spaces for the home imbiber. You can find them at the Meat House on Orange Avenue and at Ancient Olive on Park Avenue, both in Winter Park. Ancient Olive’s St. Augustine shop will be carrying Bungalow 23 as well. The suggested retail price is $14.95.