Made in Georgia: Cocktail’s popularity gave birth to Atlanta bottled syrup business

It all started at the bar.

When the Pinewood opened in Decatur, the most popular cocktail on its bar menu was the Old-Fashioned, which takes 5 minutes to make properly, Brooks Cloud recalled. “We simply had to learn how to make it faster, so we decided to put it on draft. That way, the quality would be consistent from cocktail to cocktail, and we could serve our customers more quickly.”

That decision made, Cloud remembers watching the bar staff prepare the batches for the draft cocktail program several times a week, and thinking they should bottle what they were making, and sell it, but without the whiskey. In essence, they would be providing a syrup, or base, so customers could add their own alcohol.

To those who said nobody would buy it, his response was that people like him would buy it. “I’m lazy,” Cloud said. “Every time somebody comes to my house, they want me to make them an Old-Fashioned. I’m having to make drinks all night. I’d love something that would make that easier.”

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Credit: Mallory Hastings

Credit: Mallory Hastings

With the growing popularity of craft cocktails, he knew his customers would agree. “People may not have fresh lemons and oranges, organic sugar and the right mixing glass,” he said. “They might not know how to emulsify the orange and lemon, when to keep going, and when to stop. I had spent eight years in the cocktail world, and that part was easy for me; I was just looking for a ‘magic potion’ to make things easier, but that turned out to be something our customers wanted, too.”

So, Proof Syrup was born in 2014, with Cloud as co-founder and CEO. The staff mixed up enough syrup to fill four cases of bottles for each of the first three flavors: pecan, maple bacon and traditional. And, Decatur Package, H&F Bottle Shop, Cook’s Warehouse and Tower agreed to put it on their shelves.

Right off the bat, the Old-Fashioned syrups were a hit. “The Old-Fashioned is a classic,” Cloud said. “Either you execute it correctly, or you mess it up. Our syrups made the process pretty foolproof.”

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Credit: Caleb Arias

Credit: Caleb Arias

Cloud said the key to success was producing a product that was consistent, but also was made with high-quality ingredients.

The bottled syrup business wasn’t a big priority while Cloud was busy running the Pinewood, and the syrups still were being made in the back of the restaurant.

Then, in 2019, Cloud left the Pinewood and began thinking about how to scale up the syrup business. “It took us a few months, and then COVID hit,” he recalled. The pandemic turned out to be a catalyst for growth, because bars were shutting down and people wanted to be able to make great cocktails at home.

The company outfitted a factory off Howell Mill Road and brought in staff from the restaurant group. “We have six chefs who work on the line,” Cloud said. “They love it. It has improved their quality of life. They have their weekends and nights back. And, it was fun for us to be able to provide jobs for some of the most fun people we’ve worked with in the last 20 years.”

Credit: Handou

Credit: Handou

The three original Old-Fashioned syrups now are part of a line of 16 year-round and seasonal flavors.

The process of developing new flavors for Proof Syrup is a collaborative staff effort, Cloud said. Pumpkin spice syrup, one of the seasonal flavors, was a surprise hit. The newest offerings are a line of botanical syrups, including rosemary, basil, mint and lavender. Other flavors include white peach, pomegranate and hibiscus. Each bottle of syrup has recipes on its label, as well as on the website, to provide inspiration for customers.

Coming next is a Manhattan syrup. “An ounce of syrup, some rye whiskey and you’re good to go,” Cloud said.

“We’re really proud to be a Georgia company,” he said, “and happy that we were able to keep restaurant people employed during COVID. There are now 51 of us.”

And, thanks to them, Proof Syrup customers can make the perfect cocktail more easily.

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