STL PersonalitiesJan 26, 2012
The Big O-dea
Local ginger liqueur adds spice behind the bar and in the kitchen.
Story: By Christopher Reilly
Photos: Photo by Jules Brown
When The Big O first hit the St. Louis market last June, it quickly caught the attention of bartenders, restaurateurs and shops. More are signing up and carrying the unique ginger liqueur every day—including cocktail-savvy establishments like Sanctuaria (where it's on tap), Three Sixty, The Royale and more than 50 others.
This wouldn't be so extraordinary if the liqueur were produced by an established distillery or some booze baron, but The Big O is created, marketed and delivered by a couple of regular St. Louis folk, Bill Foster and Kathy Kuper. They first tried to make limoncello, but "it was terrible," so they tried experimenting with ginger, their go-to ingredient. Foster, the chef in the family, cooks with ginger often and has even pickled his own, so it seemed a natural and interesting choice to work with in a liqueur. After they got the ginger part down, they started experimenting with various spice combinations until they arrived at the perfect recipe.
Making it Big
Friends and family loved the ginger-based liqueur, but it wasn't until a new acquaintance suggested they begin selling and marketing it that the pair began considering the possibility. It proved to be a daunting task. People told them it couldn't be done. "Nobody would even talk to us about producing it for us, and doing it yourself is enormously complicated and expensive," Foster says. "There's kettles, filters…the Feds require so much—right down to the kind of locks you have to use on the building." But, eventually the couple struck a deal with High Plains Distillery in Atchison, Kansas. Now, about once a month, they drive to the distillery to make a big batch of The Big O.
The Name Game
Even now, every drop of The Big O is handmade from scratch. Does Foster really chop all of that ginger by hand? "Damn straight," Foster says. "My hand burns from chopping so much ginger." He and Kuper are currently talking with distributors to expand their reach beyond St. Louis, but want to expand slowly, so they can keep making it themselves for as long as possible—burning hands and all. Regarding the titillating name and tagline, "The Big O: Nothing Fake About It," Kuper insists it's a play on the word "organic" and the fact that the product is all-natural. Sure it is.
From Sip to Sup
While everyone agrees The Big O is delicios on the rocks, bartenders can attest that it makes some great cocktails as well. Marla Griffin, general manager at The Royale, suggests using The Big O in Strongbow apple cider with a dash of peach bitters, or in rye whiskey with a little lemon for a spicy, warm tipple on a cold winter day. People are also discovering the liqueur's versatility as an ingredient in cooking. Foster regularly uses it on vegetables and collard greens, in "oh-my-God-you've-got-to-try-it" salad dressings and even as a glaze on turkey.
Bonus Recipe: Ginger and Spice Butternut Squash
- Peel, seed and cube 1 butternut squash.
- Place in a small casserole and dot with 4 Tbsp. butter.
- Sprinkle over 1/2 tsp each cinnamon and salt, and 1/2 cup each of brown sugar and The Big O.
- Cover casserole and bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes until squash is tender, removing cover for last 10 minutes to reduce sauce and thicken. Do not burn.
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