It started with peaches. Emily Butters, a schoolteacher, was canning a summer surplus of the stone fruit in her Park Slope kitchen, when her boyfriend, Forrest Butler, asked if he could use some of the leftover liquid to flavor a simple syrup. Forrest has worked in the bar business for over a decade, but Emily soon took the reins, suggesting that Forrest add vanilla, and maybe some basil, and a quick twist of black pepper. A few days later, Forrest took a Mason jar full of the peach-perfumed syrup to a bartender buddy at Tandem in Bushwick, who employed the elixir in cocktails and exhausted the jar’s contents in under two hours. And that’s how Royal Rose was born.
In the year since, the brand has expanded from that homegrown kitchen experiment to a fully fledged, full-time operation. After a little research—“We Googled ‘high-end syrups,’ like, twice,” laughs Forrest—the couple decided there was a market for the stuff and began concocting combinations. “By the next week, we had 30 or 40 experimental batches in our fridge,” explains Forrest. “We just went wild.”
Once the duo conceptualizes a flavor together, Emily gets to work testing it. “We try to think of different fruits or herbs that will complement a specific spirit,” says Forrest. A prime example: The team wanted to create a spicy syrup that would work well with the sweetness and grassiness in tequila, the smokiness of a mezcal and the earthiness of an oak-aged rum. Trial and error lead to the Three Chiles syrup.
Today the syrups are for sale at a dozen borough specialty shops, from Bklyn Larder and Blue Apron to Spuyten Duyvil Grocery and Marlow & Daughters—plus a handful of smart stores from New Hampshire to Oregon, as well as Gilt Taste. And although they were created for cocktails, Forrest encourages creativity: “We’ve used them on ice cream, yogurt and drizzled over granola. I’ve made a glaze with the Three Chiles that I use in a Thai stirfry.” They’re stellar in seltzer, too—who needs soda?
Emily and Forrest now cook up 600-bottle batches at a time in a commercial kitchen in Manhattan Beach. (It’s still just the two of them behind the scenes, but the operation has only brought them closer: The two were wed this fall.)
The selected seasonal ingredients are given a tea-like treatment: steeped and strained, then sweetened with organic fair-trade cane sugar. They now stock a roster of six year-round flavors (Rose, Lavender-Lemon, Tamarind, Cardamom-Clove, Three Chiles and Raspberry), but experiment constantly and release seasonal specialties depending on what’s abundant at the Greenmarkets. Of course, the actual invention and manufacture process includes serious sampling: “We have to drink a lot when we’re testing syrups,” laughs Emily. “It’s a hazard of the job.”
Editor’s note: Spuyten Duyvil Grocery has closed.