It all started at brunch, when Dallas women Nicole Craven and Alexis Smith would order an espresso martini — just the right mix of caffeine and booze for a weekend cocktail, they say. When the pandemic struck and the workout buddies turned to hosting small dinner parties instead of going to restaurants and bars, they found that making an espresso martini at home just wasn’t the same.
Why isn’t this available for sale in a can, they wondered?
They quit their jobs in public relations and formulated their own canned espresso martini, a year-long process that involved going to a “flavor house” in California to taste concoctions mixed up by people in lab coats. Their boozy-brew dream worked, and three gluten-free, dairy-free espresso martinis became available for sale online in 40 states on Friday.
Their new company Après Hours now has cans for sale in about two dozen Dallas-area retail stores like Pogo’s Wine & Spirits, Lucky’s Liquor, Buddy’s Booze and Uptown Liquor.
While most espresso martinis are mixed up with espresso, Kahlua and vodka, Après Hours’ version uses agave wine instead, making for a smoother taste, its creators say. The agave wine ingredient also makes the product eligible to be sold in Texas grocery stores, not just liquor stores.
Craven, 27, and Smith, 29, join a male-dominated RTD, or “ready to drink” industry. It’s poised to be a $35-billion business by the end of 2022, according to a study from Future Market Insights.
Launching a canned cocktail is fun, sure, but Smith and Craven said they also want more representation in the industry.
“We want to encourage other women,” Smith said.
Here’s an edited version of a Q-and-A with Craven and Smith about how they made their canned espresso martinis.
What’s in each can?
Craven: Espresso martinis are traditionally made with vodka. And it’s funny, because Alexis and I both prefer ours with tequila, actually. When we were developing our espresso martini, one, a lot of them are filled with gluten. And, two, we knew that ... people might not like a strong, tequila-flavored espresso martini.
The agave wine is a happy medium.
[Editor’s note: The ingredients are agave wine, Colombian coffee and natural flavors.]
What was the reason to make it dairy-free?
Craven: That was the No. 1 thing when going into formulation: We wanted it to be gluten-free and dairy-free. Alexis and I, anytime we are at a bar or restaurant, we ask for dairy-free espresso martinis.
The whole reason people drink espresso martinis is for that pick-me-up. We wanted people to feel refreshed after drinking it. Like they’re ready to go. A lot of canned products that are filled with dairy and sugar, even dairy substitutes, you feel kind of heavy after drinking them.
There’s caffeine and booze in these cans. When’s the right time of day to drink one?
Smith: Happy hour — and at brunch as well. A lot of people have gotten away from the traditional mimosa and [are] ordering an espresso martini instead.
Coffee and alcohol … it’s just a perfect combination.
Craven: We say it replaced the mimosa at brunch — and it replaced the Red Bull vodka for [late-night] energy.
How long does it take to create a canned drink like this?
Smith: We filed our LLC in February . We leveraged our connections within the restaurant and PR space, and they led us to other people who connected us with factories and flavor houses. I would say the longest process was creating the formula. We probably tried 20 to 25 different concoctions.
... Flavor houses?
Craven: We were like, “Is this like Willy Wonka?” It really is down to a science. We walked in and everyone’s in lab coats; it’s very strategic. You can change one small thing and it can change the way it tastes.
It was like a science project.
Après Hours’ espresso martinis come in three flavors: classic, vanilla and salted caramel. They are dairy-free and gluten-free, with no added sugar. Each 12-ounce can is 240 calories but considered two drinks. They’re sold by the four-pack via retail for $13.99 to $14.99 or as a 12-pack online for $55, not including shipping. The owners expect to expand their retail presence outside of North Texas and into other Texas cities by the end of 2022.