The Southern Company Inspired by a Hard-Living Grandpa

During Yahoo Y’All week, we’re celebrating the food culture of the American South. Expect profiles of cooks, makers, and bartenders, plus recipes showcasing the classics (and twists on those classics) you love. Today we’re spotlighting an artisan featured in the gorgeous book Southern MakersFood, Design, Craft, and other Scenes from the Tactile Life, by photographer and writer Jennifer Causey.

Brooks Reitz, owner of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co., learned how to bartend from “an old, surly bartender in Lexington, Kentucky,” but these days he peddles high-end cocktail accoutrements. Reitz got his start making small-batch cocktail syrups while working as the bar manager of Charleston, South Carolina’s acclaimed FIG Restaurant, running a small side business out of his Charleston home. His bitters and tonics include a not-too-sweet grenadine and the clean tonic syrup shown below (which one self-proclaimed ”professional gin and consumer” proclaimed ”outstanding.”) These days Reitz has expanded to Lexington, Kentucky, and his goods are available online.

Read on for the history of the company name: one fantastically hard-living grandpa. 


Jack Rudy was “a curious type who made his own bullets, and shot them into a dirt wall he constructed in his basement. In addition to being a ‘marvelous’ dancer, he loved to entertain and was known to overindulge in drink, smoke, and his wife’s gourmet cooking.” This memorable biographical sketch features prominently on the label of the company’s signature product, its Small Batch Tonic. Founder Brooks Reitz named the business after his great-grandfather, whom he never met but heard remarkable stories about during his youth in Henderson, Kentucky. 


Brooks was working as the general manager of FIG, a Charleston favorite, when he began making his own tonic to supplement his bar repertoire. He created a syrup made of quinine, a delicate mix of botanicals, and real cane sugar that happens to be a perfect complement to gin. He put it on the menu at FIG. And that’s how Jack Rudy got its start.

With favorable press coverage, Jack Rudy grew quickly. Brooks is now the general manager of The Ordinary, a new seafood restaurant, and runs Jack Rudy (with help from his cousin) on the side. Brooks credits the food culture in the South for shaping his career.

Photos and text excerpted with permission from Southern Makers: Food, Design, Craft, and other Scenes from the Tactile Life, by Jennifer Causey (Princeton Architectural Press, 2013). 

For more Mom, Pop, and Grandpa-inspired fare:

Don’t Mess With Mom’s Classic Recipes

When the Kids Love It, Don’t Change the Recipe

The History of MoonPies