When I caught up with Pink House Alchemy’s co-owner Emily Lawson by phone, she was headed to her Fayetteville, AR, gym to sweat out a cold. To this entrepreneur, even a fever is a project that can be conquered.
Pink House Alchemy is named for the 115-year-old pink house in Fayetteville where Emily lived when Pink House Alchemy was launched. “It also shortens to ‘PH’ which is a hook for me as a food scientist.” Behind the thoughtful crafting of syrups, shrubs, and bitters is a long love affair with food that started with Emily’s first job in a bakery. “I’m a chef by training,” Emily shared. She attended culinary school in Telluride, CO, and “cooked [her] way through [her] 20s,” seeking out culinary experiences and exploring life in storied cities like New Orleans, Eureka Springs, and Telluride.
“I really meandered in my 20s and learned a lot. I finally decided I’d better get a four-year degree under my belt, so I went to the University of Arkansas where my majors were dietetics and biology. I became enthralled with food science. I loved bartending, so there was sort of a natural segue into cocktails. Also, if you’re going to launch a business, it’s smart to spot a trend and follow it.”
We can all witness a brimming interest in specialty cocktails and freshly inspired combinations, but what factors are driving that movement? Why cocktails now? “People are paying more attention to what they’re putting in their bodies in general. The days of pounding Diet Cokes and Whiskeys is going by. People are no longer accepting additives and chemicals because they know those things aren’t good for them. There’s also a desire to learn about what we eat and drink, and to consider its composition . . . even to experiment and see if we can take an active role and even do better. Take the fresh juice movement, for example. There’s now recognition that not only is it not necessary to buy OJ in a bottle to make a screwdriver, but that the purchased product has a dominant role in the ultimate outcome of the drink. What does it mean for the taste of that drink if we juice it ourselves? What does it mean if we use better ingredients?”
Emily sees the success of Pink House as partially coming from the unique flavor combinations it brings to bars and kitchens, like the Strawberry Black Pepper Shrub and Pineapple Rosemary Shrub that are in The Savory Pantry. “There is a reason why there are food partnerships and cheese pairings; certain flavors are natural mates like orange juice with breakfast, wine with cheese, Coke with a cheeseburger. They just make sense and taste right together.”
And Pink House Alchemy is a natural mate for The Natural State. PH was able to expand its production dramatically thanks to the Arkansas Food Innovation program at the University of Arkansas, which uses a fee-based system to provide access to facilities for nascent food production businesses in the state that would otherwise struggle to comply with federal and state regulations. “We are not 100% organic,” says Emily, but we pride ourselves on ethically sourcing, working as hard as we can to source our ingredients as close to home as possible. All our berries, for example, are from Arkansas—blueberries, strawberries, elderberries. Our Caramel Black Apple Syrup is made from Arkansas black apples.”
Before she hopped on the elliptical, Emily shared what she’d tell anyone looking to get experimental with PH products. "For a solid basic bar, you’ll want a good selection of bitters and syrups; you’ll need bitters for everything you do. A good tonic. A solid grenadine. A Sodastream is a great investment to carbonate cocktails and sodas. Beyond the bar, our Lavender Syrup and our Cardamom Syrup can do everything—think breads, muffins, oatmeal, icing, ice cream. “Every four months we come out with something seasonal—right now it’s the Caramel Black Apple Syrup. For what’s going to ultimately end up on menus down the line, follow the trend of what producers are doing because we’re looking at everything and considering it all.” And after just one conversation, it’s clear that Pink House Alchemy is.
Look for Erin’s upcoming Taste.Savor.Share Blog post related to Pink House Alchemy’s Sarsaparilla bitters.