Meet the Maker: Pink House Alchemy’s Emily Lawson

Emily Lawson of Pink House Alchemy

Emily Lawson of Pink House Alchemy

When I caught up with Pink House Alchemy’s co-owner Emily Lawson by phone, she was headed to her Fayetteville, AR, gym to sweat out a cold. To this entrepreneur, even a fever is a project that can be conquered.

Pink House Alchemy is named for the 115-year-old pink house in Fayetteville where Emily lived when Pink House Alchemy was launched. “It also shortens to ‘PH’ which is a hook for me as a food scientist.” Behind the thoughtful crafting of syrups, shrubs, and bitters is a long love affair with food that started with Emily’s first job in a bakery. “I’m a chef by training,” Emily shared. She attended culinary school in Telluride, CO, and “cooked [her] way through [her] 20s,” seeking out culinary experiences and exploring life in storied cities like New Orleans, Eureka Springs, and Telluride.  

“I really meandered in my 20s and learned a lot. I finally decided I’d better get a four-year degree under my belt, so I went to the University of Arkansas where my majors were dietetics and biology. I became enthralled with food science. I loved bartending, so there was sort of a natural segue into cocktails. Also, if you’re going to launch a business, it’s smart to spot a trend and follow it.”

Emily's display at a Pink House Alchemy tasting in The Savory Pantry, Hot Springs.

Emily's display at a Pink House Alchemy tasting in The Savory Pantry, Hot Springs.

We can all witness a brimming interest in specialty cocktails and freshly inspired combinations, but what factors are driving that movement? Why cocktails now? “People are paying more attention to what they’re putting in their bodies in general. The days of pounding Diet Cokes and Whiskeys is going by. People are no longer accepting additives and chemicals because they know those things aren’t good for them. There’s also a desire to learn about what we eat and drink, and to consider its composition . . . even to experiment and see if we can take an active role and even do better. Take the fresh juice movement, for example. There’s now recognition that not only is it not necessary to buy OJ in a bottle to make a screwdriver, but that the purchased product has a dominant role in the ultimate outcome of the drink. What does it mean for the taste of that drink if we juice it ourselves? What does it mean if we use better ingredients?”

A Pink House Alchemy  Margarita  crafted with Pink Pineapple Rosemary Shrub

A Pink House Alchemy Margarita crafted with Pink Pineapple Rosemary Shrub

Emily sees the success of Pink House as partially coming from the unique flavor combinations it brings to bars and kitchens, like the Strawberry Black Pepper Shrub and Pineapple Rosemary Shrub that are in The Savory Pantry. “There is a reason why there are food partnerships and cheese pairings; certain flavors are natural mates like orange juice with breakfast, wine with cheese, Coke with a cheeseburger. They just make sense and taste right together.”

And Pink House Alchemy is a natural mate for The Natural State. PH was able to expand its production dramatically thanks to the Arkansas Food Innovation program at the University of Arkansas, which uses a fee-based system to provide access to facilities for nascent food production businesses in the state that would otherwise struggle to comply with federal and state regulations. “We are not 100% organic,” says Emily, but we pride ourselves on ethically sourcing, working as hard as we can to source our ingredients as close to home as possible. All our berries, for example, are from Arkansas—blueberries, strawberries, elderberries. Our Caramel Black Apple Syrup is made from Arkansas black apples.”

Before she hopped on the elliptical, Emily shared what she’d tell anyone looking to get experimental with PH products. "For a solid basic bar, you’ll want a good selection of bitters and syrups; you’ll need bitters for everything you do. A good tonic. A solid grenadine. A Sodastream is a great investment to carbonate cocktails and sodas. Beyond the bar, our Lavender Syrup and our Cardamom Syrup can do everything—think breads, muffins, oatmeal, icing, ice cream.  “Every four months we come out with something seasonal—right now it’s the Caramel Black Apple Syrup. For what’s going to ultimately end up on menus down the line, follow the trend of what producers are doing because we’re looking at everything and considering it all.” And after just one conversation, it’s clear that Pink House Alchemy is.  

 Look for Erin’s upcoming Taste.Savor.Share Blog post related to Pink House Alchemy’s Sarsaparilla bitters

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Bitters: The What and The Why

There’s an awful lot to know about the curious and storied world of bitters. We’re excited to do the research and sampling for you in the coming weeks and share what we’ve learned, a dash at a time. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the countless ways that bitters can spice up all that flows from your pantry—beyond the world of original cocktail recipes, we’ll also introduce you to incorporating bitters in your sweets and savories from chocolate truffles to soups. Stay tuned!

Let’s start our bitters journey with a brief and piquant history . . .

Tantalizing Tastes: In The Savory Pantry, good taste always comes first. Bitters result from infusing high octane spirits with an array of barks, roots, herbs, botanicals, fruits, and spices. The result is a concentrated and pleasantly pungent rush to the tongue, which is why they are meant to be used in splashes and dashes. For a sauce corollary, think of the rich result of making a reduction and how that adds depth and intrigue to your dish. With only five basic taste sensations in the human palate (bitter, sour, sweet, salty, and umami), it sure would be a shame to live without fully appreciating one! Perhaps bitter has gotten an unfairly bad rap—we certainly seek to avoid “bitter” individuals—but we think you’ll see after some exploration of this underappreciated taste sensation, bitter can be better!

Healing Elixir or Snake Oil? Bitters got their start being touted as cure-all elixirs, said especially to promote healthy digestion (a benefit that some still claim today, and about which there is abundant reading online). They could be spotted at soda fountains, where they would be combined with soda water by a soda jerk and used to disguise the liquid medicines dispensed by the often adjoining pharmacy. Prohibition nearly wiped out bitters, save a few commercial brands, but as the interest in classic cocktails has experienced resurgence, makers are crafting splashy twists on the bitters of yore. Many bitters still salute their colorful past with their apothecary-reminiscent wrappings. 

Thanks to its growing popularity, there are bitters to interest every palate, since of course what creates the best tastes is a complex and individual answer. Here at The Savory Pantry, we have a dozen available flavors ranging from whiskey-barrel aged to rhubarb to sarsaparilla, so you can select those most appealing to you.

Queue up your bitter buds and prepare to join us on a bitter adventure!

Shop this article > Bar 40 Bitters, Fee Brothers, Classic Old Fashioned Kit, Hudson Standard, Pink House Alchemy

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