Building a bar is more than just your favorite bottles of booze and some canned mixers. Getting into the territory of cocktail enthusiasts and professional bartenders, the liquor shelf starts swelling with amaros, bitters and liqueurs—we nerds need to have all the right flavors and components on hand.
Frustrated with the artificiality of sugar-laden liqueurs, D.J. Riemer started making his own from scratch to use in the bars that he worked at. Like anything else scratch made, the goal was to have more control over the quality of ingredients he used.
“I’ve been behind the bar for 23 years at this point,” Riemer says. “I spent a lot of time tweaking recipes behind the bar and finding that some of these ingredients I could make myself for bartending worked just a little bit better in certain cocktails.”
Fresh oranges, organic sugar and non-GMO spirits pack a huge punch in the liqueur, with an emphasis on the natural flavors. Riemer said that there is at least one whole orange worth of zest and peel in each bottle of the liqueur, lovingly zested by hand.
“(Zesting oranges) is so insanely tedious and boring, I haven’t learned how to love it yet,” Riemer says with a laugh.
The effort is worth it, he explains, to never use dried ingredients. Helping out the process, Riemer says his girlfriend designed a pair of rotary lathes that bring much needed efficiency to the zesting process. Preparing 1,200 oranges is now just a morning’s work, instead of a day or two.
As Riemer found more interest in his liqueurs from other bartenders, ideas started percolating and he reached out to his friends at the now-closed Still Cellars in Longmont. The distillery offered up some space for Riemer to start making his orange liqueur in greater capacity and soon after, Grove Street Alchemy was born.
Grove Street’s portfolio has grown in that time too. In addition to the orange, Riemer has added an amaretto, hatch chile and a chai spice to the year-round selection, with Meyer lemon and cranberry varieties available seasonally.
When Still Cellars closed a few years back, Copper Sky took over the space and production license. Riemer kept up the contract partnership with the new owners and his alchemical creation carried on. Now that Copper Sky has relocated to a larger space, Riemer saw a need and an opportunity. Coming full circle, Riemer took over the space Grove Street Alchemy started in almost five years ago.
“One of the bigger challenges has been the physical space,” Riemer says. “All of this has come from demand for the product. We’re only available in Colorado, but we’ve had enough success and enthusiasm from people that really enjoy the product, I’m very grateful.”
Riemer hasn’t done much marketing for Grove Street Alchemy, he explains. The brand has spread by word of mouth and a dedicated following, supported by all the people and partnerships that helped Riemer grow over the years. Beyond the orange liqueur, Riemer is reluctant to take credit for the recipes and flavors, he says, attributing more to the partners he’s had at other distilleries.
The liqueurs themselves are well-worth seeking out, sweet without feeling syrupy or cloying, packed with nuanced flavors that sip just as well on ice as they do mixed into a cocktail.
“They’re all supposed to be very pliable, accessible tools to work with,” Riemer says. “You can mix them with just one other ingredient, like the chai spice goes well with lemonade.”
Riemer’s goals as Grove Street Alchemy expands into its own space are still focused on quality of production, scaling up as demands require. He has plans for a few more liqueur varieties in the near future, as well as some other product lines in development.
For the curious and inspired bartenders, Riemer was kind enough to share one of his cocktail recipes with Boulder Weekly’s readers, a delicate take on an Amaretto Sour.
Alchemy Amaretto Sour
1.5 oz Grove Street Amaretto
.25 oz rye whiskey
.66 – .75 oz fresh lemon juice
Orange peel for garnish
“Combine all ingredients (minus the orange peel) in a shaker with ice and shake hard,” Riemer says. “Dump everything into a glass, squeeze your orange peel and enjoy with a smile.”