It turns out happy hour can fuel the entrepreneurial spirit. Amanda Sussex and Shayla Hamlin, who both work for the D.C. government, love going out after work to bars along 14th Street and the U Street corridor. “She likes the finer things, I like the finer things,” says Hamlin. “ Craft cocktails are our thing.”
One morning, Sussex was in her office drinking a fresh-pressed juice, when Hamlin walked in and had a eureka moment. What if they created bottled cocktails held to similar standards? In that moment, Bring Your Own Cocktail was born. The bold venture is one of the first bottled cocktail companies in the country and it took the tippling twosome nearly a year of navigating both federal and District regulations to get properly licensed.
Though neither has a bartending background, the pair began experimenting with recipes using fresh juices and natural ingredients. Nothing from concentrate. No artificial color or flavors.
And they added a local twist -- Don Ciccio & Figli’s mandarinetto appears in one libation, while District Distilling’s vodka and gin power others (they’ll also use the distillery’s agave-based spirit when it’s released later this year).
After getting feedback from more-than-willing friends and family members, Sussex and Hamlin ultimately devised five cocktails. There’s the perky and peppy C-Suite Margarita (tequila, mandarin liqueur, lime juice, sweet and sour and agave nectar), the deeply refreshing District Mule (vodka, lime juice, mint simple syrup and ginger simple syrup), the smooth sipping Gin & Juice Cucumber (gin, cucumber juice, lime juice and simple syrup), the cheekily titled Water my Melon (vodka, watermelon juice, lime juice and mint simple syrup) and the sweet ‘n’ savory Rose Found Paradise (rum, pineapple juice, lemon juice and rosemary simple syrup).
The cocktails are produced at Mess Hall in Brookland and are packaged in plastic bottles, so they can be brought to ‘glass-free zones,’ such as beaches, pools and sports venues. “We want to be in places where you can’t take a bottle of wine,” says Sussex.
The duo is aiming to get their first two releases – the District Mule and the C-Suite Margarita – on the shelves of local liquor stores in the next few weeks. (The price tag should be around $9 for a single bottle and four-packs will be available.). Then they’ll target fast casual restaurants, like &pizza. They have a lofty goal of being in Nationals Park by next season. If they meet that objective, Sussex and Hamlin will definitely have something to toast when the two go out for happy hour.