By George C. Ford
The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Joanna Mourning’s tonic syrup is made with raw citrus juices, spices, real cinchona bark and other natural ingredients. While she initially made it for herself, she is now selling to the general public. So far, the response has been good! Cheers to THAT!
Joanna Mourning admits she enjoys a good gin and tonic. But when it came to the syrups she found on the market, none were to her liking,
“Food is my passion, so I enjoy very good food and good cocktails,” Mourning said.
“I do not have an affinity for overly sweet gin and tonics made with commercial tonic water. I honestly feel they just don’t taste good.”
So Mourning, a New York native who has lived in Iowa for three decades, set out about four years ago to create her own tonic syrup.
The result, initially shared with family and friends, is made with raw citrus juices, spices, real cinchona bark and other natural ingredients.
Joanna’s Premium Tonic Syrups, launched as a brand last weekend at farmers markets in Iowa City, Davenport and Des Moines, was first sold at farmers markets in 2018.
“It was a great testing ground and showed me that people liked the product,” Mourning said.
The craft tonic syrups come in two flavors — Joanna’s Original and Orange Fennel. They are prepared in her commercial kitchen at 4218 Yvette St. SW in Iowa City using Big Betty, the same large stainless steel pot she started with as she developed and perfected her flavors.
Mourning rented the use of a kitchen at a local restaurant on a day it was closed to customers, but she had to store the finished product and all the ingredients at other locations.
The positive response to her tonics at the farmers markets convinced her to open a commercial kitchen where she could bring everything under one roof.
Mourning spent more than a decade in the organic food industry, working at Frontier Herbs and Kalona SuperNatural and Frontier Herbs. She also has experience as an entrepreneur.
“I owned a pet-sitting business in the late 1990s right after I got married,” Mourning said. “I grew tired of that because I was busiest when everyone else was off.
“I sold fresh pizza dough at farmers markets. I grew up in upstate New York where you could go into Italian bakeries and buy fresh dough that was ready to use.
“There’s no such thing like that around here. I would get to the farmers market early and walk around to see what was available that day.”
Mourning had a chalk board “where I would write things that could be made with what was available. I also sold fresh pizza dough at New Pioneer Co-op when the farmers markets closed, but I got tired of doing that and working full time.”
In March 2018, Mourning began working with Meld Marketing in Coralville to develop her brand.
“I had known Melinda Pradarelli of Meld for a long time,” Mourning said. “I had worked with her on branding when I was at Kalona SuperNatural.”
While Mourning plans to continue selling her tonic syrups as the Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Davenport and Des Moines farmers markets this year, the product also is beginning to show up at various retail locations in Eastern and Central Iowa.
“Pullman Bar and Diner and Trumpet Blossom Cafe in Iowa City have had it for quite awhile, along with Bread Garden Market and Goosetown Cafe,” Mourning said. “Linn Street Dive, the restaurant that used to be Devotay in Iowa City, is adding it and we are in talks with St. Burch Tavern about adding it.”
Kitchen Collage in Des Moines has picked it up, she said, and Proof in Des Moines also has expressed interest.
“As I was preparing to go to the farmers markets last weekend, I received an email from a restaurant in Chicago that had heard about it. I would love to get the product into the Chicago market,” she said.
The market for gin has experienced a resurgence in recent years. In 2009, craft distilleries began offering different blends by adding “botanicals.”
Ingredients such as licorice and orange were distilled to create new flavors. That has helped it become Britain’s second-most-popular spirit, behind whiskey and ahead of vodka.
Gin has become so popular in Britain that the Office for National Statistics added it back to the basket of goods it uses to measure inflation after a 13-year absence.
Imports of gin from Great Britain to the United States rose by 558 percent over the past decade. As gin and tonics have become a popular drink again, Mourning believes her tonics are hitting the market at just the right time.
“Mocktails also are very popular,” she said. “Bars and restaurants are putting more effort into creating mocktails than they have ever done before.”
Craft cocktails, she added, are popular with people mixing drinks at home.
“They want to make something as good as what they had at a restaurant,” she said. “My cocktails are very simple to make.
“My tonic is a concentrate, so you only use one ounce per serving along with two ounces of gin and three ounces of seltzer water.”
Mourning said the citrus juices in her tonics make them compatible with other liquors such as tequila and vodka.
“In my Joanna’s Original flavor, I have grapefruit, orange, lemon and lime juice,” she said. “Lime is the least amount of juice, but when you mix it with tequila, you can taste the lime.
“White rum also goes very well with it due to the citrus juices. All the drinks have color as opposed to the usual clear gin and tonic.”
Joanna’s Premium Tonic Syrups do not require refrigeration and are shelf stable. She sells an eight-ounce bottle for $12 at farmers markets and restaurants purchase 16-ounce bottles.
“I’m the only one making, filling bottles, labeling and shipping the product,” Mourning said. “If I start to get crazy busy, I’m going to need to hire someone to help me meet the demand.”
For now, Mourning plans to concentrate on the retail market between Interstate 35 and Chicago. She also has a website at thisisjoannas.com.