Written by: Gabrielle Pharms
Canned cocktails, boxed wine, and the like have gained traction in the spirits industry within the last five years. While the concept of tasty ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages is nothing new at this point, it’s brands such as Florida-based BarBox Cocktails that are taking a fresh approach to the category to ensure a legacy that goes beyond the trend. Overseen by founders and brothers, Matthias and Jacob Kozuba, BarBox endeavors to produce quality juice for craft cocktail lovers throughout the States.
Straight Out Of Poland
The Kozuba brothers grew up in Poland. Under the mentorship of their master distiller father, Zbigniew “Papa” Kozuba, the sibling duo assisted in operating Kozuba & Sons Distillery in 2005. Fun fact: Kozuba & Sons Distillery was the first privately owned, family-owned and operated distillery in Poland. In fact, per Matthias, their family company was the first established distillery in Poland after the Second World War. Initially, the distillery created cordials before transitioning into producing vodka and the first Polish single malt whisky.
The Kozuba brothers’ father earned a biochemistry degree. So, this gave the brothers insight into the chemical processes of distillation. Matthias also studied biochemistry, so he had a fairly solid background in the operative components in creating spirits. However, it was his dad who he cites as the main reason he has a more scientific approach to distillation. Matthias adds, “Everything that he does is immaculate. I really appreciate that he taught me respect towards the chemical angle and approach and how to be consistent in terms of quality.” Their father also respects tradition, but always strives to inject it with his own experimentation. Matthias says, “So, on one hand, he’s very conservative and he looks back to traditional methods of production. Then, on the other hand, he always wants to add something that he created that is unique. So, I think that’s a perfect balance between the science and the tradition.”
No doubt the Kozuba brothers’ training and wealth of wisdom inherited from their father has played an important role in the inner workings of BarBox. When the brothers decided to move the operation to the United States, they settled down in Florida in 2014. The poor economy in Poland, especially in regard to the spirits sector, was one of the motivating factors that brought the brothers stateside. Matthias mentions, “We didn’t want to quit. We didn’t want to stop doing what we were doing. So, it was a big, bold decision that we made. We were just looking for an alternative to leave our country and go to a different market that is more mature and that still has a lot of potential for companies like ours.” In 2014, the United States had merely 600 craft distilleries and the numbers continued to rise each month. “The move seemed to be the natural choice,” Matthias adds. “Besides, the American market is more open and flexible compared to other European markets that are more conservative and kind of closed. I think that was the best decision we could make.”
Though entering the American market was what Matthias says was “a piece of cake,” being successful has presented its challenges – with the foremost hurdle being part of a much more saturated spirits space in the U.S. compared to Poland. “We had a few failings in the past with product that we experimented with where they didn’t work out. Obviously, with every new product, we kind of were getting better and better with our forecasts and understanding the trends and taking an analytic approach to what’s happening right now and what’s going to happen next,” Matthias says.
Bringing The Cocktail Home
The Kozuba brothers configured a game plan that’s proven to truly set them apart from their peers. They banked on the fact that most Americans don’t want to come home after a long’s day work to create their own cocktail. “Even if you buy the gear to make cocktails at home, how often do you actually make them? How often do you reach out for a shaker, ice, and shake it, and pour it into your glass? I have all the gear at my home for like ten years probably and I’ve used it maybe five times,” Matthias states. Furthermore, with the onslaught of COVID-19, it’s changed the way we enjoy cocktails. “We wanted to give people the opportunity to enjoy their favorite cocktails, because they cannot go to their favorite cocktail bar anymore,” Matthias says. “So, we decided to take the next step and kind of let people purchase their favorite cocktails in a store or online in the future, and just bring it home with them. Then again, with one purchase, they’re good to go with 14 cocktails. So, it’s not only about the safety of that form of consumption of cocktails, but also the simplicity and functionality.”
Ready-To-Drink That Stays Ready
Most RTDs are crafted at a lower proof between 16 to 20 proof. With BarBox, nothing goes below 40 proof. Anything above 40 proof, stays fresh and with the innovative packaging, there’s no oxidation. “We didn’t want to go into the low-proof drinks. We also didn’t want to go into fermented-based beverages, because we deal with spirits. So, we were thinking in terms of creating an RTD that is based on real spirits like vodka, whiskey, and gin,” says Matthias. Currently, BarBox offers three cocktails: Negroni, Cosmopolitan, and Vodka Sour. All spirit-based ingredients in their cocktails are made in-house. They only source outside ingredients when they’ve exhausted options. For example, their Negroni has sweet vermouth, amaro bitter liqueur, and gin. Regarding the Negroni’s ingredients, Matthias says, “Believe it or not, we made all three of them. Technically we cannot make vermouth because it’s a fermented beverage that cannot be made in a distillery by a distiller. So, in that case, we sourced Pinot Grigio from California. The next step is macerating herbs and there are actually about 25 different herbs in that recipe. We made it in-house. So, we basically made vermouth only sourcing the base spirit, which is wine, and then did all the rest in-house from scratch.”
“With BarBox, we have already experimented with the bag-in-box format with our vodka. We were thinking more in terms of what will really shine – especially where we are in Florida,” says Matthias. The box format is not only about the capacity – which is at 1.75L – but is more about being eco-friendly. He adds, “The bag is exactly the same as you would find in wine in the box. It just has a different film inside because it’s in direct contact with a much higher-proof spirit, which has to stay fresh and there is a chemical reaction between the plastic bag and the spirit. So, we buy special bags and a special spout that doesn’t release any off-flavors into the spirit.” Their bag-in-box design is 100 percent recyclable and biodegradable. Furthermore, it’s shatterproof which is perfect for partying poolside, beach, or the boat.
Though the future in the “new norm” is riddled with ambiguity, one thing’s for certain: BarBox will continue to keep our palates quenched and our curiosity engaged as they release new flavorful libations.