Two years ago on a chilly October day around Halloween, Mark Tinus launched Simple Times Mixers. He had a good feeling about this venture; for those who like to enjoy a cocktail every now and then, who wouldn’t want an easy alternative to the sickeningly sweet mixes designed to hide the taste of bottom-shelf liquor?
“What we always say is our drinker, or the person that would turn to us, has already made the decision that they’re going to drink a slightly better alcohol, if you’re not already at least at medium quality,” he said. “You’ve at least graduated to a glass bottle, let’s put it that way.”
Now, Simple Times Mixers has carved out a space for itself in the vibrant local spirits and craft cocktail scene in Columbus. Its mixes can be found at a slew of local bars and restaurants, and its products are available at various grocery stores and online. In a world where everyone seems to be focused on the alcohol, Simple Times has reimagined the rest of the cocktail equation, and they’re just getting started.
Tinus began working on the spirit side of the cocktail business, launching a saki-based spirit called Karate Cowboy that he ended up making in-house with Middle West Spirits once they came to town. He says they were constantly in need of excellent mixers, particularly when they were serving large events and needed to create, say, 10 kegs worth of a mule.
“We were juicing everything ourselves and we were like, ‘this is a real pain in the ass.’”
On top of that, Tinus said selling spirits felt like giving people homework assignments, asking them to go find a collection of additional ingredients so they could use their liquor to make a drink. Flip it around, and selling a mixer is much easier; the customer only needs to dump in the liquor, and they’re good to go.
Tinus started asking his friends who worked with craft cocktails and local spirits if he could develop high-quality, easy to use mixers for them, and after that he fully committed to switching to that side of the business.
“The brand and products all evolved from working in this industry and viewing the non-alcohol side as important as the spirits side, and everybody could make these quality cocktails at home,” Tinus said.
Along with recognizing a need for mixers that didn’t compromise quality for convenience, Tinus realized Columbus also happened to be a great place to start a mixers company. It has a burgeoning craft cocktail market, and across the spectrum, the city is known for its spirit of collaboration. Plus, he said, unlike those other “cool” cities that have already made a name for themselves in the mixers world – Austin, Portland, L.A., Brooklyn, San Francisco – Columbus is also geographically close to a wide range of produce that Tinus says has been instrumental in crafting his mixes.
“We wanted to build a brand not just because we’re from Columbus, but you know, truly because we’re from Columbus, meaning there’s something that they wouldn’t have,” he said. “We have a really cool agricultural scene here in Ohio that to make a mixer company using super good ingredients makes a ton of sense to be from here.”
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So maybe it makes sense that the first Simple Times Mixer was sold at a farmers market in Granville, and perhaps it’s no surprise that farmers markets have become a primary location for not just sales, but also consumer research and product development.
There, he can see which of his mixes are fan favorites, versus others that might be less appealing to a wider audience. He’s also literally surrounded by local farmers, with whom he can network to understand what’s in season and identify possible ingredients to incorporate into his mixes. Blood orange, for example, is surprisingly in season from about January through March, though Tinus says he tends to get requests for that ingredient during the summer.
Simple Times is now using various combinations of 28 ingredients to create their drinks, from a blueberry basil lemonade to a cranberry cold-brewed tea to a chai apple mule. Their staple, however, and a drink that holds a sentimental place in Tinus’ heart, is the pineapple mule. The summer before he sold his first mixer two years ago, he sold the mule at a beer fest, and it was a smashing success.
“We were like, ‘Dang, this thing is awesome. We just need to make this,’” he said. “I still remember that day like it was yesterday. So to me, almost the rationale to starting the company was on that flavor, so it’s always going to be a really soft spot in my heart.”
Developing mixers is a science for Tinus that has three key parts: ethanol content, sweetness and pH. Building a good mix means finding the perfect balance between those, but he gives himself an added challenge. Unlike with food, people tend to strongly prefer certain spirits over others, with one person who describes themself as a bourbon drinker, while another may be into tequila. That means, to create a business with wide enough appeal, Tinus develops each Simple Times Mixer to fit with a few different kinds of liquor. And, all of the mixers are meant to pair with liquor at a 3 to 1 ratio.
“We know we’re going to balance the pH, balance the sweetness and balance the alcohol every single time. It’s about repeatability for us and simplicity for the user,” Tinus said. “That’s the difference between our company and juice companies, which should be making stuff that tastes really good on its own, that balances the pH and the sweetness. We actually make an out of balance juice because we make the pH too low and the sweetness slightly too high.”
Simple Times moved into a new production facility this year, and Tinus says his next goal is to expand the company’s presence in other Ohio cities, namely Cincinnati, Cleveland and Dayton, and continue to grow from there. But until then, he’ll keep drinking his pineapple mule with bourbon, while his wife drinks it with vodka, and his friends drink it with tequila or rum. Check it out with the poison of your choice. Cheers!
Learn more and order at simpletimesmixers.com.