From the July 2016 Distilleries issue:
Adima Aniteye needs to call me back.
She’s at her part-time job—and not the one we’re talking about.
We reconvene the next day, and within an hour she runs through her plans, her punch, her grandmother, her kinesiology degree and her rum.
“It’s a constant hustle,” she says, ticking off struggles with everything from Virginia ABC paperwork to finding her way into the world of distilling as a woman. “I don’t have my grandfather’s grandfather helping me. I wanted to expand the business … but shelved it because it was a man’s game.”
But that was years ago. Now, the daughter of Liberian immigrants is finding a way to turn her grandmother’s punch into a flavored rum, plus open her own distillery.
Like many distillers in Northern Virginia, this was not her initial path.
Pre-med in college, she worked in the health care field once she graduated, but “didn’t like how insurance companies controlled everything,” she says. “It was bothersome to me that people couldn’t get help because they didn’t have the right insurance.” Having already taken the MCAT, she ditched it all and worked behind the bar in D.C. and then Miami. But after a year of beach-all-day, up-all-night, she came home to Northern Virginia.
“I was just floating around,” says Aniteye, now 33. She took a job in data entry, and then it happened.
“One day I was like, ‘I’m going to bottle this punch.’ I can’t explain it any better. That’s what I remember thinking.” She told her parents she needed their garage and started recreating her grandmother’s recipe.
Her grandmother, Adeline M. King, moved to the United States and into Aniteye’s parents’ Georgia house when she was 7. (Aniteye’s parents moved to this country when Aniteye’s mom was eight months pregnant with her. When Aniteye was 9, the family moved to Prince William County.)
Aniteye knew this punch, a punch her grandmother made back in Liberia and would make with Aniteye as she grew up with her in the kitchen.
Aniteye started selling Queen Victoria’s Island Punch at area farmers markets. The island part of the name, of course, doesn’t have anything to do with the Western coastal nation of Liberia. It’s for marketing purposes only, says Aniteye, who wanted to impart a tropical vibe. “No one would understand if I called it Liberian punch.” Aniteye concocts three flavors, including her grandmother’s original recipe, dubbed The Queen, with grapefruit, pineapple, apple and orange.
But this was all only step one. It’s been four years since Aniteye started selling punch, and now she’s focusing on turning this juice boozy.
This is where years of chemistry come in. “The distillation process is really, in a nutshell, an extraction of one thing from another,” Aniteye says. And she is all over it.
Instead of using artificial flavorings, she is making extractions of every single ingredient that goes into the punch and sending it to a lab, which will incorporate it into the rum she’s hand-selected to make a flavored rum, Q.V.I.R. Punch (pronounced quiver). Imagine a locally made, African-inspired version of Skinnygirl.
It’s been close to an hour now, and Aniteye has to go. She’s taken a part-time job in retail merchandising to better understand the market for when she operates her distillery, which is of course why we’re on the phone. She hopes to open Queen Victoria’s by the end of the summer.
It’s been more than a decade since she graduated with hopes of being a doctor and a half-decade since she stopped bartending, moved home and tried to figure it all out. “During this time I thought I was being flaky … but it was preparing me for now.”