FLEAKIN' OUT WITH Strongwater spirits

Kelsey Riley has always had an affinity for botanicals. The launch of Strongwater Spirits with partner Nick Andresen allowed her to showcase a variety of herbs and ethically-sourced ingredients—like turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger root—in a lineup of bitters and sipping shrubs that benefit your health and your evening cocktail. 

Words by Sam Alviani // Photos by Rachel Adams

What does STRONGWATER SPIRITS mean to you?




The name Strongwater is an old name for gin. Gin originated as an herbal tonic in apothecaries as an aid for digestion and since it looked like water—but gave people a buzz—they referred to it as strong water. Being that gin has its roots in herbalism and that I am an herbalist, I have a strong passion for creating unique, botanical products that can be enjoyed for their health benefits or added to your favorite cocktail to create a cleaner, more apothecary-style cocktail. This—paired with a penchant for good gin—led us to start Strongwater.



Herbal bitters that are dynamic in flavor. 


Sipping shrubs for your morning ritual and your evening cocktail.  


New shrub flavor to be released at the Summer Flea. 

Did you always have a natural inclination towards herbal medicine?

I've always turned towards alternative medicine for healing and always had a close connection to plants. I owned an organic skincare line for 10 years prior to starting Strongwater with Nick, so I've been immersed in the natural products world for years. A lot of my passion comes from ethical sourcing and the actual craft that goes into curating small batch products, which goes far beyond the actual taste of the products themselves—I truly enjoy all the pieces that are put together along the way, and the integrity that goes into creating a product. 

With that in mind, what is your intention with your products—cocktail depth or health?

The intention of our products is to demonstrate versatility. So, if you would like to wake up and take a shot of our sipping vinegars or shrubs you can do that and get all the health benefits. You also have the flexibility of making a cocktail later that night that won’t give you a hangover, alongside the botanical benefits of our products. They also make for really unique mocktails, which are fun to make and a great alternative to sodas and juices. Same goes for the bitters—they can completely change the flavor profile of an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan, or they can be enjoyed in bubble water and taken around meals to help support the liver, gallbladder and kidneys. The overall idea is that it makes things light and fun, yet still healthy.


What's your sourcing process like?

Sourcing is a huge component when you're creating a small batch, craft product. We get all of our fruit from a small, family run orchard in California, so we have consistency and quality. As for the honey we use in the shrubs, that’s local, raw and organic. We get all of our bulk herbs from a zero-waste farm in Oregon that has won numerous awards for their environmental awareness. I've studied with the farm in Oregon for years and have personal connections to them. If we could source everything from Colorado and have consistency for our products, we certainly would. We plan to do a few seasonal products down the line featuring Colorado ingredients—we have a friend who has a clump of plum trees, so keep an eye out for a seasonal product after plum harvest. 

Any favorite botanicals you're drawn to?

I love pairing herbs with fruit for our shrubs and experimenting—you never know how things will mix once infused over time, so it’s fun to play with. I also love using herbs that are less familiar, branching out beyond your basic culinary herbs. There is a long list of bitter herbs and a lot that you wouldn’t think fall into the category of bitter, like chamomile and yarrow flowers, since a lot of bitter herbs are roots and barks.


I’ve always turned towards alternative medicine for healing and I’ve always had a close connection to plants.
— Kelsey Riley