Ethan Lazar and Matthew Kaplan grew up together in Culver City playing baseball. They've been best friends since they were 9 years old, went to college together and studied abroad in Barcelona. But four months of unhealthy eating and drinking in Spain took a toll on their young bodies.
“We were sitting on the beach with our shirts on because we were so overweight next to all these good looking girls and we were embarrassed,” recalled Kaplan.
When the friends returned to the states, they went on a keto diet with no sugar and carbs. But, at 21 years old, they wanted to have a good time with friends during the summer. But a lot of mixed drinks are heavy in sugar so “what you can drink on a diet is straight shots,” Kaplan said.
Lazar began developing a zero sugar, zero carb margarita the summer of 2018 before their senior year at University of Massachusetts.
“We were in an entrepreneurship class together and we saw there was a hole in the market,” Lazar said, who added they tested out low sugar, low carb juices for two months to find a right flavor mix.
They eventually developed Costa Brava Cocktails, a gluten-free vodka drink that is 130 calories and 6.7 percent alcohol by volume for a 12-once can.
Their first flavor, “Lemon Drop,” hit Culver City shelves and was launched in Hermosa Beach at Tower 12 in January.
Costa Brava returns to Tower 12 on Feb. 27 and March 19 for the launch of their second flavor “Vodka Cranberry.”
“We wanted to create universal cocktails,” said Lazar, of their first two flavors.
But it took a lot of trial and error through the help of other college students, on and off campus, who tested their recipes.
“We definitely tried some horrible batches,” Lazar said.
“We would make them in our kitchen late at night and they would be spiting them out by the end of the night,” Kaplan added.
They were eventually able to “hit that benchmark” of the taste they wanted, which included lowering the alcohol and carbonation content.
“The thing I don't really like about most of the cocktails is that they're overpoweringly sweet, so we wanted to be still sweet (so) we used non-artificial sweetener (Stevia)... and make it to a point where you can't taste the aftertaste,” Lazar said.
The summer after they graduated college in May 2019, Lazar and Kaplan raised more than $400,000 and launched their new company. Production of the drink began in December.
“A close family friend who worked in the alcohol industry (gave us) a blueprint to how to get this done,” Kaplan said. “So we went to a beverage chemist in Santa Ana... and basically gave them the recipes from our kitchen and turned them into TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau), government approved recipes... then we found a co-packer in Idaho.”
Costa Brava is now in 10 locations in Southern California, including Tower 12. Kaplan said they hope to expand to 75 locations by March.
For more information, visit @costabravacocktails on Instagram or costabravacocktails.com.