But even a modest amount of digging reveals a whole world of craftsmanship beyond the stereotypes. Today, chefs, designers, writers, and musicians are referring to their work as a craft – even farmers and mechanics and architects are finding value in the label. Food and drink, especially, has taken the modern craft movement to heart. From beer to donuts to coffee and burgers, just about everything edible has a craft version these days.
Ask a bartender when the craft cocktail movement began and you’ll get a variety of answers with the epicenter somewhere around 2007. With the rising interest in craft cocktails – cocktails that time forgot, often born in the jazz-era or calling back to the frontier medicines of the early 19th century – came the rise of craft bitters. And at the spearpoint of the craft bitters movement you'll find DRAM Apothecary.
“There’s dedication there,” said Shae Whitney, who along with her husband, Brady Becker, owns DRAM Apothecary in Salida, Colorado. “If you’re going to make what I consider a real bitters – with no dye or synthetic flavoring – it’s a slow craft.”
Bitters have been around for centuries, though not always as a cocktail ingredient.
“They originated as a medicine,” said Shae when we visited the historic Poor Farm that Shae and Brady restored, and where today the DRAM Apothecary magic happens. “Most people know Angostura bitters, or Peychaud’s. But those are all synthetic.”
To create a true bitters in the traditional sense, said Shae, it takes research, time, and a sensitive palette.
“Once you figure out your recipe," she said, "then it has to sit there for three to six months until the flavor develops.”
Of those hundreds of bitters purveyors, what sets DRAM apart is a commitment to the craft of creating unique and deeply layered flavors from organic ingredients that are sourced locally when possible. They work with farm co-ops around the world to source organic, fair trade aromatics that don't grow naturally in Colorado – things like oranges, cinnamon, and cardamom.
“Brady and I do everything the hard way,” she said with a laugh. “We’re not going to cut corners anywhere and use orange oil instead of peeling 500 oranges. It starts to drive both of us a little crazy, but we’re not going to do it any other way.”
While Angostura bitters are still used for the ubiquitous Old Fashioned, Shae said the bitters industry has exploded in the last ten years. But when she started DRAM, she was the first female owned bitters company.
“Now there are hundreds of bitters companies,” she said. “We were in the right place at the right time.”
In addition to their thriving bitters and flavored sparkling water business, Shae and Brady have opened the Poor Farm they own as an Air BnB. Built in 1895 before welfare and other social services, the Poor Farm was the place where Salida residents who had disabilities, mental illness, or other debilitating conditions would go to work in exchange for care. Today the Poor Farm is one of the only architectural gems in Salida that survived a fire that burned most of the town to the ground. Its rooms have been loving restored, and offer guests a beautiful place to relax and enjoy Salida's natural beauty.
We live in fast times. No matter the result of the craft – a chair, a painting, a sculpture, or a travel trailer – the throughline is always dedication. Time spent honing, practicing, learning from mistakes. Like Shae and Brady, today’s craftsperson sees value in trial and error, and lives by a mantra of patience. Because truly mastering a craft isn’t done overnight, or even in a week or a month or a year.
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As Airstream travels the country in search of unique Round Trip destinations, we keep our eye out for dedicated craftspeople who are passionate about manufacturing quality products. Like like the hundreds of production associates who hand-make Airstream travel trailers and touring coaches in our Jackson Center, Ohio manufacturing facility, they are committed to their craft – and to living their dreams. These are their stories.