Jennifer Tyldesley has spent her life behind the controls of aeroplanes: in the Air Force, flying search and rescue and most recently for Air North. I imagine her in a crisp white shirt with epaulettes gleaming, watching the Klondike Valley sweep away beneath an old Hawker Siddeley when she is struck by an epiphany: “One day, I’m trading it all in to make cocktail bitters.”
Okay, so that’s not exactly how it happened – but it would have made a good story.
The real deal is that although Tyldesley loved her job, she wanted more time for her family.
“I didn’t have a plan,” she tells me frankly about her decision to leave flying in 2015, only that she wanted to give herself that most precious of gifts: time.
“I filled it with foraging, gardening and tinkering in the kitchen – baking, cooking, mixology,” she says. “It was like an intensifying of my hobbies.”
She goes on use the word alchemy, which I think is appropriate for someone who has managed to combine a host of passions into producing tiny bottles of plant extracts.
“It was a really organic process,” she confesses, saying she had no inkling where it was going – although one might think that her nickname – Free Pour Jenny – could have been foreshadowing the career change.
“One day I realised I was making a lot of bitters – more than enough for Christmas gifts for all of my friends.” The natural next step was a pilot run to test the waters of the retail market.
Consumers bit hard. Free Pour Jenny’s flew off the shelves at the Cranberry Fair and are still available at the boutique liquor store Corked in Horwood’s Mall. If you prefer to have someone else do your mixing, look for them at the Woodcutter’s Blanket and the Wheelhouse Restaurant on Second Avenue.
Let’s back up for a moment for those who have missed the bitters bandwagon. Bitters are made by steeping plant materials in alcohol, including, you guessed it, bitter ingredients. They have traditionally been used to stimulate the appetite and are often a key ingredient in aperitifs, cocktails to imbibe before a meal.
Tyldesley’s research into the history of bitters suggests that bitter herbs were infused in wine in ancient Egypt, and were certainly in common use by Roman times as medicine.
“They aren’t limited to cocktails,” she adds, “You can use them in cooking in place of extracts or in non-alcoholic drinks.”
Her bitters are made by infusing plant material in high-proof spirits including vodka, bourbon and rum. While she currently buys retail, she does hint at an interest in distilling in the future or getting involved with one of Yukon’s entrepreneurial distillers to compound the local nature of her product.
“I made a commitment that each flavour would have at it’s core a Yukon ingredient,” she says, “Even my orange bitters, they use spruce tips I collected last spring and froze.”
The locality of the artisanal creations is one of the reasons that Tyldesley thinks they are so appealing: “I love how engaged Yukoners are with their food and drink, it’s so important to know where your food comes from, and it’s surprising how many things can grow in the Yukon!”
Nor does she neglect the tourist market potential, describing her bitters as “the essence of the Yukon in a 100ml bottle.” It reminds me of Uncle Berwyn’s Birch Syrup – a whole forest condensed into a tiny bottle of liquid Yukon.
While still in the business planning phase, Tyldesley has already launched an elegant, simple website that she hopes to use for online sales in the near future, and is enthusiastic about the encouragement she has received from the Economic Development Branch of Yukon Government.
“They’re really supportive of small businesses,” she tells me, explaining her plans for expansion beyond the Yukon.
So far, reaction from those close to her has been as supportive and encouraging as that from her excited new customers, once they get over the surprise.
“I didn’t ever think it would be a career shift either!” she says with a laugh, “But now it’s definitely something I want to pursue.”
I’ll drink to that.
For more information go to www.FreePourJennys.com for a complete list of products and recipes.