Kathy Kuper and Bill Foster, founders of Big O Ginger Liqueur.
Kathy Kuper and Bill Foster started Big O Ginger Liqueur out of necessity.
"The market crashed in 2008, and we were too old for people to hire," Foster explains. "They didn't want to employ us because they thought we would be too expensive and they'd have to pay health insurance. A friend of ours said we should bring Big O to market. We thought he was joking and then a few days later, he showed up with the paperwork."
For years, the husband and wife team had been playing around with recipes, giving their wares away as gifts to friends and family. Inspired by their first taste of limoncello on a family trip in London, the pair returned stateside and tried to recreate the recipe.
"We'd always drank Sambuca and Grand Marnier, but our Italian waiter asked if we wanted limoncello," Kuper recalls. "We'd never had something like it. It was unbelievably delicious ice cold and topped off our meal. When he told us we could make it ourselves, we were floored."
"That's when I got the elbow," laughs Foster.
Foster, the chef of the family, got to work trying to make his own limoncello, but admits it was terrible. "We just couldn't get it right," he says. "It was hot and bitter. We threw it out twice."
Kuper, however, was not discouraged. You know how to make liqueur, she told Foster. Why not try ginger — something sweeter and easier on the stomach? After a year and a half of research and development, they finally had their recipe. "It took that long for me to come up with something that Kathy would serve," Foster says. "She's our arbiter of good taste."
After the incessant prodding of their friend, Kuper and Foster filled out the paperwork, increased their batches and got Big O to market in two years. They thought they would sell seven cases their first year. They sold twelve their first month and twenty the next — and they haven't looked back.
Now, the ginger liqueur is found behind St. Louis' top bars and receiving national recognition, something that still floors Kuper and Foster.
"We just wanted something that would be a pleasurable drinking experience for us and to give away as gifts," Kuper explains. "That's still how we see it — we both still love drinking it."
Kuper took a break from the distillery to share her thoughts on her rituals, the person who secretly cooks her dinner, and her dream meal — with drink pairings of course.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
I’m shy until I get to know you.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Morning coffee on the sofa with Bill — and the dog between us getting petted.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
To get all my work done while being relaxed.
What is the most positive thing in food, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
St. Louis has upped its game in terms of the number of talented, innovative, and dedicated chefs and bartenders.
Who is your St. Louis food crush?
Rex Hale. Have you tasted the ceviche at Boundary? I didn’t think I even liked ceviche!
Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene?
OK, I have to admit — I don’t know my way around a kitchen. I have to rely on others to deliver tasty food. If Bill’s not cooking, Matt Borchardt at Edibles & Essentials keeps me fed.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
Ginger, of course.
If you weren’t working in the spirits business, what would you be doing?
Traveling and dining.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen.
High fructose corn syrup.
What is your after work hangout?
Usually it’s home, but I get to Planter’s House when I can.
What’s your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
Sea salt caramels from Kakao. Fair Shares CSA carries them, so if I don’t get by Kakao, I’m assured to get them at least once a week.
What would be your last meal on earth?
Rack of lamb, awesome vegetables drizzled with tarragon butter, and oven-roasted mashed potatoes, paired with a stellar Rioja or Bordeaux. For dessert: St. Angel, manchego and Baetje Farm Bloomsdale cheese plate (might as well finish that bottle of wine — it will be my last meal after all.) And for the digestif, a glass of 2014 Big O barrel-aged Reserve. Oh, also this meal should be enjoyed at water’s edge in Lyon, France, or at the beach in Barcelona, please.
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