Let’s try a little verbal rorschach test before we start. I’m gonna say a short phrase. You say what comes to mind. 

“Artisanal small batch locally-made bitters” 
 
When I gave myself this test, a few choice words came to mind. Pretentious. New-age. Unnecessary. Gimmicky. 
 
However, after a long conversation with Crude Bitters & Sodas founder Craig Rudewicz, I walked away with an impression less of a character from a rejected Portlandia sketch and more of a guy who just really wants to make drinking tastier and more fun. 
After the win, Rudewicz felt validated that Crude Bitters & Sodas had a future as a sustainable business. Since then, the company has expanded into about 15 other states where they sell and distribute their products. In terms of our home state, you can find Crude Bitters in “almost every major section of NC from the Outer banks to Asheville, and everywhere in between.” 

If you’re looking to pick up a bottle for yourself, you can check your local Whole Foods stores, spice shops both in NC and NYC, bottle shops in nearly every major town in the state, NC ABC stores and of course Crude Bitters and Sodas in Raleigh. Sizes of the bottles vary from about 60-100 mL, but most products can be purchased for $11-17 a pop. 

In another vote of confidence in Crude Bitters, Rudewicz took home a Southern Living Food Award for his “Lindsay” bitters, which are an interesting mix of pecan, magnolia and habanero 

More than just cocktails 

In just a few short years, a bar stool brainstorm has turned into an award winning product—the first of its kind in the state. However, Crude Bitters & Sodas isn’t just a product-focused company. 

Rudewicz spoke with excitement about his growing cocktail-making classes, where small groups reserve a ticket to come to the Crude shop and experiment with new liquors, bitters, flavors and drinks, with each series of sessions a different theme. This weekend’s sold-out class is on shrubs and shrub cocktails, and the next series of sessions will cover frozen cocktails (which I’m desperately hoping to attend). 

He views the classes as a social event, “low key”, where you can come with friends for an afternoon relaxation and hopefully leave a little bit more knowledgeable about drink and the art of the cocktail. It’s providing a fun outing, advertising for the growing company, and a lesson in how to better understand and exist within the “growing cocktail culture in our state.” Not to mention, it sounds like a pretty incredible date night for the lovebirds out there. 

Despite a clear tonal shift towards excitement when speaking of his growing cocktail courses, Rudewicz made clear that he’s “not interested in running a bar right now”, so don’t expect to see a Crude-inspired establishment popping up any time soon. 

Crude shows the Triangle is a place for every entrepreneur 

If you take away any verbiage hinting that Craig is making a culinary product, the story is a pretty familiar “man quits day job, man makes niche product, man finds success” story so common in entrepreneurial communities. It’s been done, and it’s been done to death especially in this area. What’s so exciting about Crude Bitters & Sodas is that it’s something you imbibe; it’s not an app, a SaaS or B2B company, a biotech or pharma firm, or anything typical of the local startup scene. 

Innovation isn’t always data-driven or described in acronyms and eye-roll inducing buzzwords, sometimes it’s just tasty and gets you buzzed. Sometimes, simpler is better.