We had the good fortune of connecting with Rourke Abt and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rourke, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
Initially I was intimidated and skeptical. Scared would not be an exaggeration. I knew it would be a risk, but scores of people had mentioned to me that I should start a business, and that if my product was available, they would be interested in it. I continued about my way being a craft bartender making quality cocktails with house-made ingredients while sharing the science, history and origin of timeless cocktails and centuries old techniques and ingredients. I did not think I had an artistic bone in my body. I cant sing, dance, draw or even print my name somewhat legibly. To this day, I still don’t know whether I am right or left handed. Designing, cooking and crafting cocktails and its ingredients seemed to open up my artistic ability. I have always enjoyed experiencing other cultures cuisine and especially their beverage tradition: horchata from Oaxaca, Persimmon cider from Korea or a lime cordial from Louisiana that was popular in the 60’s. Clarified milk punch is 400 years old and the history is fascinating as well as is the process of making it properly and traditionally. I am certain I was born 100 years late. Designing cocktails, hosting demonstrations and crafting cocktails based off of conversation (no cocktail menu) gave me a lot of confidence at work and around the house. I started to complete projects at home such as a kitchen backsplash, a firepit and designing my five year old nephews first room. I also felt confident to repair things that would break and now can fix just about anything. In fact, when something breaks, it turns out to be an exciting trip to home depot. I am fascinated with how things work and why they do what they do. Understanding why and how, and breaking something down to figure it out is intriguing. History and the traditional process of crafting and cooking keeps my work very exciting. I lost my mother a couple months before the pandemic. I was devastated and lost, and then I lost my job. It was a terrible combination. I had many friends at work and that was my only distraction or sense or normality left in my life. I was collecting unemployment and eventually my spirits began to rise and I got my motivation back. I was determined to do what I love and make my mom happy. She has come down to visit with me a few times and know she is watching over me. I saved as much of my unemployment as possible and was eventually able to start a business and acquire some tools for wood working. I am very thankful to have been able to achieve my dreams. I decided to pursue my artistic ability in making small batch cocktail bitters and ingredients using traditional and centuries old techniques. I have also ventured into wood working and craft laser engraved cutting boards, butcher blocks, coasters, wine racks and things of the sort. I also make charcuterie boards that have an Italian porcelain inlay that can describe the paired accouchements with the provided chalk. Everything is made by hand using traditional and exotic wood. I branded myself as Off The Clock Bartender and will keep my brand name and logo as I venture deeper into woodworking. So don’t be surprised if you purchase a cutting board from a bartender one day.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
My business is unique because it is a blend of high end cocktail ingredients and products, coupled with wood working. The woodworking is partially bar, restaurant and kitchen inspired. I totally nerd out on bartending and woodworking so my attention to detail helps me stand out. My products are also personalized. Aside from custom laser engravings, every aspect and detail of the business is conducted by one person. (Aside from graphics design and website construction and maintenance.) Everything from design, construction, communication and shipping are all done by one person. Many products are made to order and can be customized. Take a picture of your kitchen and I will design a cutting board to match the floor, countertop, backsplash, cupboards and décor. The line of bitters is made from the best ingredients sourced from around the world. Some areas climate and topography can produce superior quality spices, roots and barks. Sri Lanka, Vietnam, South Korea, Madagascar, Columbia and Vermont, USA. These ingredients, close to two dozen, are combined to create small batch cocktail bitters such as cashew, apple and banana. If you have ever had an Old fashioned cocktail or a Manhattan, then you have experienced a cocktail with bitters. Recently, I have been most excited about making butcher blocks and wine holders. The wine holders are especially interesting because they are only made out of wood and can support six bottles of wine while being mounted on a wall. There are many interesting cuts and techniques to provide the surface area and structure needed to withstand a sufficient amount of force and weight. My favorite woods are Honduran mahogany, black walnut and padauk (bright red). I had a hard knock when I invested a lot of money into a product that did not gain the traction that I expected. I was able to recover and expand my business with wood working and more products. This was difficult, but now I feel I have found my calling and have the direction I want to go, dialed in. For me, having a business is equal parts exciting and scary. It is scary because of all the risks involved, but also very exciting to put your heart and soul into a product and see peoples reactions. I sold someone a custom cutting board and two weeks later I called to see how they liked it. They mentioned that it is leaning up against the backsplash in their kitchen and they have not used it because it is “too pretty to cut on.” That makes all the blood, sweat and tears completely worth while. I have learned to keep a tight schedule because there is so much to do. From networking, designing, descriptions of products, costing out, taxes, shipping, staying organized and most importantly, creating the product. I have learned not to put all my eggs into one basket. So then if something fails, it is only a minor setback. I am blessed with opportunity and am thankful and motivated every day. If a product carries my brand and logo, one can be certain it is made with love and attention to detail.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I think I would make a terrific tour guide. Aside from going to Mexico for chilaquiles, birria tacos and mariscos, I like to take people to site see. Maybe stop by Hungry Hanks for an delicious sandwich made from scratch. I like the Rueben with light rye, but they have around 20 sandwiches with an array of different breads, including pumpernickel and squaw. Then we would head out to the tide pools right below the Cabrillo national monument in Point Loma. This is the highest point in San Diego overlooking Coronado and the rest of San Diego. From here, you can tell that Coronado island is man made by the perfectly straight coastline and strand freeway. Look down below and Naval submarines are visible just below the water. The tide pools below are filled with animal life and beautiful rock structures. It is a wonderful place to experience sea life. Other must do’s in San Diego are kayaking with sea lions in La Jolla. Be sure to stop by the crab catcher for some rich seafood. Muy rico! Sunset cliffs in Ocean beach is a remarkable area. It is a long way down, but the ocean view and zig zag trail is full of sites to see. Raglan Public House has one of the best burgers in Southern California and believe it or not, its a vegetarian burger. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I discovered the best burger I have ever had was made from black beans. Paddle boarding in Mission beach and exploring Balboa park would also be on the list. A hidden gem in Chula Vista is a little seafood restaurant. TJ’s Oyster Bar has the best seafood just north of the border. Octopus ceviche, smoked tuna pescadillas, shrimp tacos and ahi tostadas. Esta delicioso!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
This is a tough question. A film reel of people scrolls through my head. Everyone from co-workers, bar patrons, my mother and sister to a few people I was lucky enough to run into were able to assist me on my journey. If I had to narrow it down to one person that took me to the next step, I would have to mention Clark @cclarky and Susana Vestige @susanavestige. Susana is a pinup photographer and editor. She encouraged me and gave me a lot of motivation to pursue my business. She introduced me to her husband Clark. He is an amazing graphics designer, website builder photographer and dad. He is very articulate and is better at putting your thoughts into words than your very own brain is. He designed my website, bitters labels and my brand logo. Having a brand logo, business cards and labels for my cocktail bitters was a huge turning point. I felt empowered and as if there was no way I could fail. I felt on top of the world. That was one of my happiest days. Thank you Susana and Clark!