Essie Quakyi Infuses Ghanaian Culture Into Her Vibrant Cocktails
Bad & Boozy offers to-go popsicles, Jell-O shots, and shooters perfect for summertime.
Long before the pandemic made portable drinks the norm, vendors were combing New York beaches selling colorful and high-octane nutcracker cocktails. This versatility in how a drink should look and be packaged inspired Essie Quakyi to launch her own cocktail brand, which has gone global since its inception in February 2020.
“I land somewhere in between bringing my story and the kind of flavors I had growing up in a more adult way to make what I like to call nutcrackers with a PhD,” she says.
Quakyi founded Bad & Boozy, a craft cocktail company based out of New York, with flavors available for local delivery on its website, including Bey’s Lemonade, a smooth blend of watermelon lemonade and Hennessy, and Guava Island made with fresh ginger, mint, rum and of course guava.
Whether you choose to receive your drink in a pouch (a popular vessel for to-go drinks over the past year-and-a-half), mason jars, regular bottles, or even light bulbs, Quakyi wants your cocktail drinking to be an experience and that starts with how you drink.
In addition to the array of drinkware options, Quakyi also offers boozy popsicles, Jell-O shots, very concentrated-shooters, and fish bowls perfect for parties and gatherings. The popsicles come in cooling summer flavors like peach sweet tea, rosé, and piña colada made with passion fruit and cognac. In the past, she even experimented with serving the drinks in a disco ball, but found customers were more interested in the clear drinkware.
“People love to see the drink, because you can see the fruit pulp in our drinks. The colors are vibrant and it just looks refreshing,” she says. “We really want people to reuse their drinkware and we found out the more elaborate it is, like the disco ball, people use it in so many ways, and so that’s how we decide to put a certain drinkware on our menu. ”
Minimizing waste is a primary focus of Quakyi’s business and before the pandemic, she had plans to create a container return program where people could bring in their empty drinkware and the Bad & Boozy team would sanitize, refill them, and offer drink discounts in return. “I don't think people would be ok with it right now, but I'm still excited about finding other ways to be more sustainable and give back as well,” she says.
The drinkware isn’t the only intentional aspect of Quakyi’s business however. The company started the process of rebranding in January and went live with the new site design last month. With her coding skills, she designed the website herself because she wanted to make sure her vision was carried out the way she wanted it to be—including drawing from her Ghanian heritage.
“When I started thinking about the rebrand, I knew that I wanted to have patterns that kind of looked like the things you see in Ghana or the nature of Ghana, the culture of Ghana, prints and people,” she explains “I hand-painted these designs. It was like mud cloth fabric and we just piggybacked that onto our existing brand. It doesn't look crazy different, it's just more of a nod to who I am and what brought me to this point where my creativity is nurtured.”
In January of this year, Quakyi launched an extension of Bad & Boozy in Ghana, where people there can purchase drinks through WhatsApp. Both her grandmother and mother have businesses out there, so she was aware of how to operate one there herself.
“The response there has been amazing for people that I initially thought wouldn’t like to drink too much,” she says. “There’s a lot of religion there and people prefer sweeter, lighter drinks and not as alcoholic, but we’ve been able to carve out a really awesome market segment there by introducing what we have in the market.”
One thing Quakyi says she likes about the Ghana market is that her team gets to test out more flavors there than in New York, including a recently introduced flavored palm wine. The team has take the local favorite a step further by infusing it with flavors like mango, coconut, and mixed wild berries.
“Palm wine is a local drink enjoyed by many, tapped from the sap of palm trees,” says Leonard Akaba, Bad & Boozy's country manager in Ghana. "Its alcohol content can be controlled through fermentation, which is the great thing about it. ”
Like on the New York menu, the offerings in Ghana also include Jell-O shots, but are made with akpeteshie, a locally distilled alcohol and traditional spirit of the West African country. “There sometimes is a stigma around that alcohol and some people stay away from it, but we’ve given it a ‘rebrand’ with our delicious Jell-O shots,” Akaba says of akpeteshie’s riddled history with prohibition. “Using akpeteshie and palm wine helps us to support local brewers in the Eastern Region of Ghana.”
Although those who order admire the colorful nature of Bad & Boozy’s drinks, Quakyi says coming up with and testing new flavors is a long process, and that when a new flavor pops up on the menu, it usually takes over a month for it to get there. But appearance also plays a key role. For example, when they were experimenting with the Guava Island cocktail, they debated whether to use Japanese guavas (more yellow) or Mexican guavas (more pink).
“We refuse to use any food coloring, so we’re always just trying to figure out that if we come up with a recipe and we develop a drink, if we take this key flavor out, will it change the color and will it change the taste and what substitutes do we have?” she says.
Quakyi says that, while Bad & Boozy is for everyone, its biggest customer base is Black women and she wants the company to represent the multitude of qualities they possess.
“The tone of our brand is cheeky. It’s a little bit sophisticated, a little bit ratchet at times, and we’re trying to find balance in all those things,” she says. “Our biggest customer base is Black women and we’re that multifaceted, right? There’s a balance of being both bad and boujee.”
Test out your bartender skills and try Quakyi’s piña colada mojito recipe below.
Piña Colada Mojito
- 2-4 lime wedges
- Mint leaves
- 1/2 cup piña colada mix (2:1 pineapple juice to coconut cream)
- 2 shots rum
- Club soda
- Shredded coconut and mint for garnish
1. Muddle 2-4 lime wedges and a few mint leaves in a glass. If you don't have a muddler use a wooden spoon!
2. Full glass halfway with ice.
3. Pour in ½ cup piña colada mix (2:1 pineapple juice to coconut cream)
4. Add 2 shots of rum and stir well.
5. Top off with club soda and add some shredded coconut and mint for garnish (optional).