Food & Drink

These locally crafted cocktail mixers are sure to make your holidays merry

Root Elixirs founder Dominique Gonzales prepares a Winter Mule cocktail featuring her San Luis Obispo company’s Ginger Beer soda.
Root Elixirs founder Dominique Gonzales prepares a Winter Mule cocktail featuring her San Luis Obispo company’s Ginger Beer soda.

Fancy cocktails are a great way to celebrate almost any occasion — but the many ingredients, garnishes and bar tools required to make them can be daunting for home bartenders.

Enter Root Elixirs and SLO Bitter Co., two locally crafted product lines that aim to make creating tantalizing home cocktails a breeze.

“Cocktails should be fun, not intimidating,” SLO Bitter Co. co-owner Robin Wolf said.

Root Elixirs’ nonalcoholic flavored sodas, created by longtime Granada Bistro bartender Dominique Gonzales, are designed to be added to your liquor of choice for an instant cocktail.

“They have all the fresh citrus and herbs that a craft cocktail would have,” Gonzales said, plus carbonation so the drinks don’t get watered down. “It makes it so much easier to throw a cocktail party.”

The flavors — strawberry lavender, ginger beer and grapefruit jalapeño — are versatile enough to go with clear and brown spirits, even beer, champagne or sake. Gonzales also offers recipes on her website.

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San Luis Obispo bars including Granada, Novo Restaurant and Lounge and Luna Red have used the Root Elixirs mixers — brewed in a process similar to beer without the fermentation — in some cocktails.

They’re also available on tap at The Station in San Luis Obispo; sample the sodas on-site in cocktails and mocktails or take them home in 16-ounce refillable growlers.

Last week, Gonzales released 12-ounce Root Elixirs bottles, available at the Station and Re:Find Distillery in Paso Robles. She said she hopes to come out with cans soon.

Re:Find’s neutral spirits make up the base of SLO Bitter Co.’s handcrafted bitters — highly concentrated alcohol flavored with roots, spices and other botanicals that most bartenders consider an essential element of a cocktail.

Wolf and her husband, Matt Hanson, started out making the bitters for use in their own drinks at home.

“Matt and I weren’t finding the flavor profiles we wanted, so we started making our own,” said Wolf, who creates cocktails for The Hatch Rotisserie and Bar in Paso Robles.

She also has a background in the wine business.

A friend urged them to start selling the bitters. Wolf still cooks them up in small batches in the couple’s San Luis Obispo kitchen, which she described as resembling an apothecary.

With a seemingly endless array of roots, spices, herbs and citrus to play with, flavor profiles run the gamut.

Charred cedar and blackstrap, which Wolf describes as “man-cave bitters,” is perfect for a smoky Manhattan or rye highball.

Grapefruit chili brings a new dimension to margaritas and palomas.

Lavender elevates gin drinks, while sarsaparilla evokes root beer and licorice. Rose and pink peppercorn can bring a feminine touch to variations on a Moscow Mule and other classic cocktails.

“They’re a great tool to keep at the home bar,” Wolf said of the bitters. With intense flavors coming from just a few drops. “They bring out flavor complexities you otherwise wouldn’t have.”

Wolf uses them elsewhere in the kitchen, too. The lavender, she said, is great for shortbread, while the charred cedar and blackstrap goes wonderfully on grilled vegetables. She also adds a couple drops to sparkling water.

Until recently, SLO Bitter Co. bitters were found primarily behind the bar at cocktail hot spots including Granada, Hatch, Sidecar Cocktail Co. in San Luis Obispo and Fish Gaucho in Paso Robles, where Hanson manages the bar and cocktail program. They can now be purchased at Re:Find, The Station and Lincoln Market and Deli in San Luis Obispo, with more retail locations likely to follow.

While Wolf said she hopes aspiring mixologists get creative with her products, making a cocktail can be as simple as squeezing a few drops of bitters in your favorite liquor.

“Just add an orange peel, and you’ve got a beverage,” she said.

Sally Buffalo writes about wine, beer and spirits. Reach her at or on Twitter @sallybuffalo.

Holiday spirits

Root Elixirs

Carbonated drink mixers available on tap at The Station, 311 Higuera St. in San Luis Obispo ($12 for a 16-ounce growler, refillable for $8) and in 12-ounce bottles ($15 for a three-pack) at The Station and Re-Find Distillery, 2725 Adelaida Road in Paso Robles.

SLO Bitter Co.

805-459-7333 or

Flavored bitters available in 2-ounce bottles for $18 at Re-Find Distillery, The Station and Lincoln Market and Deli, 496 Broad St. in San Luis Obispo.