Bartender Shae Whitney stirs up Dram, a company that produces homemade bitters
"For so long, we've been able to go to the store and get whatever cheap things we want. And now people are becoming more interested in handcrafted, regional products," says Shae Whitney, the City, O' City bartender who founded her own company, Dram Apothecary, which creates organic, handcrafted bitters. "People aren't going to bars and ordering rum-and-Cokes anymore. They're going to bars for the experience of having a fancy cocktail again."
For Whitney, those fancy cocktails must not only meet a sophisticated standard of taste and quality, but one of naturalistic health -- which she wants to provide with her lovingly prepared bitters.
Whitney, who started Dram in the summer of 2011, today makes five varieties of bitters, which she sells to Denver restaurants including Steuben's, Forest Room 5, Cafe|Bar and Ace, as well as locations in Portland and New York. She grows most of the ingredients in her own back yard, and what she doesn't grow, she harvests in the mountains or other open spaces.
But her interest in herbs and natural foods dates much further back than that. A Colorado native, Whitney left her home state in 2006 to study herbalism, food science and agriculture at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. "I spent four years visiting farms, studying how different modes of production were affecting our health and our economy; analyzing samples from farms back in the lab and studying the standards of organically certified farming," she says.
When she returned to Denver in 2010, however, a changing economy had minimized the options for a young food scientist looking to challenge our nation's health standards. "The only job offered at the time was testing somatic cell count in cows milk at Robinson Dairy," she recalls, "which is basically testing how much pus was in the milk."
So Whitney turned toward the most profitably comfortable occupation available in a down economy: Bartending. In her free time she continued to study food and organic farming, building a substantial urban garden and raising a few chickens while also developing a name for herself with her signature craft cocktails.