ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Nestled on Portland Avenue lives The Fee Brothers. It’s a humble façade, but the inside is bigger than the outside would lead one to believe.
It’s one of the world’s biggest distributors of bitters; the acrid addition to many cocktails.
But The Fee Brothers isn’t just steeped in business, they’re rich in tradition. With ownership that traces back over 150 years, and now they’re looking to take the next step.
The Spacher Brothers, Jon and Benn, are taking over the business from their Aunt Ellen and Uncle Joe. Their uncle, Joe, passed away unexpectedly earlier this year. Their aunt gave the Spachers the reins not too long after, marking the fifth generation of Fees to run the bitters business.
When the Spacher brothers took over, it was the first time either one of them had entered into a business like this, but charting a new path is something the Fee family is used to.
“We have reinvented ourselves a number of times,” Jon said. “We started out as wine and whiskey, moved through Prohibition making cocktail mixes to help bootleg liquor taste better.”
That’s not even mentioning their multiple moves. A fire forced them out of their Water Street location, and before their current Portland Avenue location, they were on St. Paul, but this move couldn’t have been better timed.
This building may have a modest shop and front desk area, but step through the back doors and one can see the full breadth of the 25,000 square foot facility.
And yet somehow, that’s still not enough.
Jon is fond of saying that they are “bursting at the seams,” despite the appearance of negative space. Inventory continues to turn over. The pandemic may have sparked a large increase in sales, but pace has since been topped again so far in 2021.
Though part of the appeal of The Fee Brothers’ is their old-timey appeal, despite the mass production. Benn, who now handles the operation, breaks it down.
“We have tanks in the back that range from 50 gallons all the way up to 1,500 gallons, and in some cases we’re making double batches of 3,000 gallons at a time of product,” Ben said. “We have really tight standards that we always follow to make sure that we’re hitting it every single time.”
Jon and Benn are also very grateful to their dedicated staff, who have been with the company for longer than they have. They also credit their workers from ARC of Monroe, who expertly apply the iconic wrapper on the bitters bottles.
That’s certainly some pressure, with the weight of four previous generations.
“As Benn says, it’s very humbling, and as our aunt says, if we mess up, we’ll be the ones who will be disappointing our ancestors — not her,” Jon said.
While they may be going at a huge clip now, Jon and Benn say that right now — more or less — are still settling into their new roles as “the brothers Fee.”
The company has some new ideas on the horizon, like pumpkin spice products, or even a a vegan mix to replicate the foam that comes from beaten egg whites in old school cocktails.