On the Tuesday afternoon before Winter Storm Landon unleashed its frosty havoc on our fair city, the most glorious thing appeared on my front porch. A small, red plastic tub, lined with red-and-white-patterned tissue paper was propped on the doormat the way you'd think someone might drop off a stray kitten. Only this basket contained no furry friend, but a bouquet of glittery hearts on sticks wrapped with baby's breath and seven liter-sized bottles whose contents contained the essentials for two snowbound days: a batch of old-fashioneds, some sidecars, a jug of hot toddies, various bourbon cocktails, mocktails — and enough hibiscus-infused margaritas to fuel an evening binging the Princess Switch One, Two and Three.
This flawlessly timed care package was not the handiwork of some secret admirer or dear friend, but that of Tiffany Kaltenbach, owner of the Wandering Sidecar Bar Co. (thewanderingsidecarbarco.com) and who shall hereafter be referred to as the Fairy Boozemother for the provisions that made two days at home feel like a night on the town. For nearly two years now, this ambassador of joy has been bringing the crafted cocktail experience into her clients' homes, a service that began when the pandemic turned her mobile bar's events business upside down and forced her to rethink her business model.
Prior to March of 2020, Kaltenbach was enjoying great success with the Wandering Sidecar, which she'd launched roughly four years prior. A veteran bartender and event-planning professional, Kaltenbach got the idea for the business after seeing an article about a New Zealand-based camper bar while flipping through a magazine. Instantly intrigued, she found herself plopping down $600 cash and hauling a vintage Airstream back home from Alton, Illinois, determined to make a go of owning her own traveling bar.
And she did. It didn't take long for word of the Wandering Sidecar to spread through the St. Louis metro events community, and she quickly found herself booked with festivities ranging from weddings to corporate events to birthday parties. And 2020 was shaping up to be Kaltenbach's biggest year ever; not only was she nearly booked solid for the entire calendar year, she was also slated to be involved with larger community events, like the St. Patrick's Day parade and the St. Louis Cardinals' opening-day celebration.
By March, those events — both the larger-scale public festivals and private parties — began to drop off. As the cancellations piled up, Kaltenbach knew she had to get creative if she hoped to sustain her business, so she reached out to her colleague, Southside Alchemy founder Todd Brutcher, and devised a plan: If people couldn't go out for drinks, they would bring the drinks to them. The program was such a success that Kaltenbach branched out on her own and developed her own recipes for her cocktail boxes, which she continued throughout lockdown and well into when people began to get comfortable going out again.
By autumn of 2021, business was picking up enough steam for her traditional Wandering Sidecar operation that she decided to discontinue her cocktail boxes. However, come December, that picture changed dramatically thanks to omicron and a daily case rate that called to mind the early days of the pandemic. When the omicron crisis hit close to home for Kaltenbach, she realized it was time to break out the to-go bottles and packaging materials and relaunch her specialty cocktail boxes in order to do her part to keep people safe and happy.
And keep people safe and happy she does. For those who might wonder why you'd bother ordering in cocktails when you can just mix a drink yourself, Kaltenbach has gone out of her way to make sure she's providing an experience that goes beyond simply throwing a lime wedge on a gin and tonic. Each of her cocktails has a special element — whether an infused syrup, a shrub or fresh herbs, for instance — that the average imbiber would likely not have lying around the house. She also serves her selections in themed packages of two or three drinks, allowing her clients to try out different flavors and concoctions as if they were sitting behind an actual bar.
Currently, Kaltenbach is offering three different Valentine's Day-inspired packages — two alcoholic and one booze free — that center around a unique theme. The Baby (or Bestie) Loves Bourbon package includes three different bourbon-centric cocktails, each using products from the local distillery Switchgrass Spirits. The Hot in Herre Peach Japapeño Smash pairs Switchgrass' whiskey with japaleño simple syrup and peach juice, resulting in an equally sweet and spicy beverage that evokes grilling stone fruits while noshing on fiery salsa. On the nose, you think the jalapeño will overpower the drink, but the natural brown-sugary flavor of baked peaches mitigates the heat. Similarly, the Get Outta My Dreams...Get Into My Sidecar is a stunning mix of sweet and savory; using Switchgrass' bourbon as its base, Kaltenbach softens the spirit with blackberry-sage simple syrup and fresh lemon and lime juices. The citrus flavors are forward and the blackberry juicy, but the sage underscores the earthiness of the bourbon and gives the drink a smoky, savory finish. The final cocktail of this package, the Sticky Buns Ol' Fashioned, is a decadent nightcap, made with Switchgrass bourbon, maple, brown sugar, cinnamon simple syrup and orange bitters that gives you the maple sweetness of tawny port with a substantial backbeat of baking spice. It was the perfect sipper for sitting by the fire and watching the rain turn to snow.
Kaltenbach paired up with the local Big Heart Tea Company for her Big Heart Duo offering, which features two different drinks. The first, the Hibis-Cuz You Cute margarita, pairs tequila from a local company, Una Vida, with hibiscus simple syrup made from Big Heart's Big Love hibiscus tea and fresh lemon and lime juices. The hibiscus takes the tart punch of a traditional margarita and rounds it with a lovely floral sweetness and makes for a drink that is dangerously quaffable. The other part of the duo is the Honey Bee Mine hot toddy, a stunning, citrusy riff on the wellness staple that blends honey, chamomile and mint simple syrup with Switchgrass whiskey. A more perfect sleep aid has never existed.
Kaltenbach even has non-alcoholic libations for those not imbibing. Dubbed the Anti-Valentine's Day Duo, this mocktail delight includes the Pineapple No-Jito that tastes like eating a pineapple upside-down cake in a mint field, and the Rosemary Faux-Loma that pairs grapefruit soda and juice with herbaceous rosemary. Both are as sophisticated of offerings as you'd expect from a craft cocktail containing alcohol.
Each of Kaltenbach's batched cocktails serves six to eight drinks (with the exception of the old-fashioned, which contains four) and comes with a sweet treat from a local bakery. She's also donating a portion of proceeds from her Valentine's Day boxes to STL Against Sexual Assault, which makes you feel good about downing a liter of hibiscus margaritas while eating French onion dip and Ruffles on your couch.
Oh the times we live in. Thank goodness for noble patriots like Kaltenbach making them a little more joyous.
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