The story of Qi Spirits is the story of three men who share a common love of authentic, robust flavours and craft-distilled spirits: Lance Winters, the distiller at St. George Spirits; Brian Backus, an entrepreneur with a love of small batch hand-made spirits; and John Scharffenberger, the founder of Scharffenberger Sparkling Wines and co-founder of Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker.
In 2002, Brian Backus brought an idea he had been nursing for years to John Scharffenberger - why not update the ancient tradition of herbal liqueurs?
In the West, the tradition dates back at least as far as that great doctor of antiquity, Hippocrates, who made a medicinal liqueur of fermented honey and cinnamon called Hippocras that was still popular during the reign of Louis XIV.
'Most digestive liqueurs were created in the monasteries of France and Italy, and none had been created in the last hundred years, much less in the United States,' says Brian. 'And yet the world of flavor has exploded since then, and the average palate is wildly more sophisticated than it was a hundred years ago, much less in medieval times.' Brian reasoned, 'Why not update this tradition,
with the whole new world of fruits, herbs and spices on hand?' John was intrigued, and encouraged Brian as he infused milk thistle, nettle, angelica root, and dozens of other medicinal herbs and spices, blending them in a wide variety of formulas. John laughs, - While the results were interesting, they were never going to win a popularity contest. Some were so bitter they would curl your hair!' He recognised that to get to the next level and make something not only digestive and original but also enjoyable, it was time to approach an experienced distiller.
In early 2003, John introduced Brian to Lance Winters, distiller at St. George Spirits in Alameda, perhaps the finest craft-distillery in the Americas. John explains, 'Lance is somewhat of an alchemist, with a background as a nuclear engineer he understands the technology and chemistry unlike most distillers. And he is truly an artist of flavour, with a great love and appreciation for the myriad of aromas and flavours plants provide, and the ability to blend those flavours to create exceptional spirits.'
'I get really energized working with like-minded people,' says Lance, - Brian and John had me at herbal liqueurs.'
Lance and Brian went to work, tasting through hundreds of herbs, spices and flowers, with John tasting the blends and suggesting subtle changes. Somewhere along the way, Lance had the inspiration to include tea, that quintessential Eastern herb with a rich history of its own, and an incredible variety of mature flavours. The team finally arrived at the exotic flavour profile of Qi late in 2005.