BRUNSWICK — In a nook of Fort Andross, tucked in a space underneath Frontier Cafe, sits a producer of simple syrups that has already gained praise on a national level and may soon gain even more.

Royal Rose, started by Emily Butters and Forrest Butler, produces several different syrups in small batches. Started in 2010 in Brooklyn, New York, the company has been recognized by the Good Food Awards once already for its Three Chile syrup, and is now in the final running for its Rose Syrup.

It wasn’t always awards. At the start, the husband and wife team had to climb the initial hurdle of getting people to understand what it is, exactly, they make.

“The first time we went to sell a bottle, we walked into this upscale grocery store called Foragers in New York,” said Butters. “Forrest had like, a black trench coat on and the bottles in his pockets. It took some convincing.”

The syrups are intended for use in anything you’d use a typical simple syrup, though the core of its use is in cocktails. Butler was, at the start of the business idea, bartending to make ends meet.

“Because of the crash of 2008, I couldn’t get another job,” he said. Before that, he worked making high-end furniture.

Not satisfied with simple syrups available at the time, Butler made his own concoctions with fresh fruits and spices, and real cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.
“I didn’t want to use any of the store-bought crap that was on the shelf at the time,” he said.

The core of the idea is pretty straightforward: If you’re paying good money, sometimes into the hundreds of dollars, for a high-end spirit, why would you add bottom-of-the-barrel mixer made with dyes and who knows what?

The real push to start the business came from friends when Butler would make cocktails with his own syrups for house-guests.

“It just all happened this one summer,” said Butters. The classic this-is-a-good-idea-why-don’t-we-make-it-a-business talk blossomed into a fully-fledged startup, working out of an incubator kitchen.

Things weren’t exactly easy. New York City, as anyone can tell you, isn’t the cheapest place to live. Butters lived in a one-bedroom apartment that didn’t have a counter in the kitchen and had chain-pull light bulbs as the only fixtures.

“Forest and his friend made me a counter out of plywood that sat next to the sink,” said Butters. “We knew we needed to leave in order to really grow, because we didn’t have the money to do it there.”

They then moved to Maine, initially to a mill in Biddeford and now at their current location in Fort Andross. Since then, they’ve branched into multiple flavors of syrup, from a raspberry inspired by recipes from the Prohibition Era, to Cardamom-Clove and Lavender-Lemon.

At the core of the business is the idea that small batches, made by hand with real ingredients, will produce a superior product.

“That’s something that really distinguishes us from other companies; we actually do make it by hand, we see every bottle,” said Butters. “When you see people say ‘small batch,’ they don’t usually mean as small batch as we are.”

A 40-gallon steam kettle produces every single ounce of syrup they make, when most other syrup makers use kettles measuring in the hundreds of gallons.

Emily Butters, left, and Forrest Butler make each bottle of their simple syrup by hand. Photo courtesy of Royal Rose

“Maybe we’re the fools because we’re still doing it this way, but it really tastes better,” said Butters. “I don’t think we could maintain the integrity of the product and scale up to that extent.”

The Good Food Award, at its core, is all about businesses that function in ways similar to Royal Rose. Nominees are all producers that promote sustainability, work with local farmers and producers, and also create a quality product.

“It’s especially nice because I think the Good Food Award looks at everything that goes into your product; it’s not just tasting your product,” said Butters.

The winners of the award will be announced on Jan. 19, 2018. For more information on the Good Food Award, visit goodfoodawards.org.

For more information on Royal Rose, visit royalrosesyrups.com.