As any entrepreneur will confirm, the best ideas tend not to come whilst starting at a blank sheet of paper entitled “Masterplan”. Nietzsche’s most profound inspirations were awakened by long walks in the mountains, Archimedes had his big revelation whilst taking a bath, and Woody Allen arouses his creativity in the shower. We spoke with co-founded of On The Rocks, Maria de la Peña, who shares that this innovative liquor company was first conceived after an enjoyable dinner with friends, in the town of Vimbodi near Tarragona, in 2014. As the meal ended, some liquors were brought out. However, none of them quite what anyone wanted… and perhaps there are more people out there who would like something a bit different? A gap in the market was identified, and over the next few months action accompanied inspiration until a final product was created.
Artisan liqueurs have very different values and methodology to mainstream liquor brands. Most crucially of all, On The Rocks only use natural products. “Our limoncello is made with real lemons. Many brands use colourings and lemon aroma, but since there’s a fruit which tastes of lemon and is yellow, we think it makes sense for us to use this,” says Maria, adding that the lemons are even all peeled by hand. “We take care of the quality of primary materials, as this is what will give our products flavour.”
When would be the right moment for an On the Rocks drink then? “Normally people have them after dinner. They can also be used for marinating, for example the “Fire” is delicious with ceviche.”
Their liquors range from classic herb or fruit flavours, to specialised ones such as apple pie. “Everyone makes green apple liquor, but we came up with a recipe that gives a touch of cooked apple with cinnamon,” says Maria. Other innovative concoctions include “Fire”, an old recipe from Venice made of spiced wine with a touch of chilli pepper, and a seasonal magnolia liquor, which last year was limited to 64 bottles. “Magnolia is a flower that only blossoms for a few days in June, so we only make it then,” she explains. Lactose intolerance won’t hold anyone back from their milkshake liquor, which is the only one currently approved by the Adilac Association. Their strongest liquor is a love potion – a recovered 15th century recipe with aphrodisiac properties, flavoured with orange and spices.
Sounds good? The judges at the Catavinum festival certainly think so. This prestigious international event recognises achievement in all drinks categories that aren’t wine or champagne. The first year in 2015 On the Rocks won four awards, and this year they scooped five for their herb liquors, Brindis champagne liquor, vermouth and others.
Coming soon, a special edition drink called El Jardin de las Delcias, inspired by the Garden of Eden, aims to tempt more “fitness conscious people” with its floral touches of rose and jasmine, and natural estevia sweetness.
In just over a year a solid distribution is already well underway. On the Rocks currently sell to specialist shops and some restaurants, as well as offering tastings in some markets and trade fairs. Bottles are also available online. Plans for the future include expansion into the international market and consolidating their current bases in Spain and Andorra.
An interesting collaboration with the Barcelona chocolatier Cacao Sanpaca (Consell de Cent 292), sees these exquisite tipples paired with equally tantalising gourmet chocolate.
Made with grapes and exuding a champagne flavour of celebration, Brindis accompanies white chocolate with strawberry and rose. An orange-lemon liqueur goes rather nicely with any of Cacao Sampaca’s dark chocolate, and the spicy Fire with either the dark chocolate and chilli, or white chocolate with spicy lime. Look out for the window display that is being prepared at Cacao Sampaca in June, with even more combinations.