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Fairmont High School graduates create unique spirit and open tasting room in Texas

The twin brothers spent their elementary school years in Vandalia before moving to Kettering. They described their high school years as a lot of fun, from biking around the neighborhood with their friends to going out to Yellow Springs. They even remember leaving high school to get a Big Buford sandwich at Rally’s.

Their parents had both lived in California and sparked their dreams of moving to the Golden State.

“We really wanted to get out there and be on the road,” Ryan said. “California was specifically calling us when we were 18, so we both left at the same time after our senior year.”

Even though they are twins, the Gitman brothers are very different. Ryan attended recording engineering school in Los Angeles before moving to Northern California, playing in college bands and working in a record store. He then moved to Austin, Texas, where he continued to play music and work in the service industry. Jay attended a community college in Northern California before transferring to San Diego State to study business with a concentration in finance. After college, he moved to San Francisco to work in the mortgage industry and has worked for the same company ever since.

“Getting to where we are today, we couldn’t have done it if we didn’t have those complementary skills,” Jay said.

An inseparable link

The brothers have always been inseparable and in their late 20s, they stopped what they were doing to go to South America together. In 2012, they both moved to Austin, Texas.

During those first two or three years, they spent time frequenting new restaurants and bars. Ryan described this era as “the rebirth of the cocktail movement,” where there were a lot of new brands and Austin was the epicenter.

Jay opened an office in Texas for the company he worked for in California and Ryan spent his time working in the service industry and learning about craft cocktails along the way by being curious. Jay said Ryan always had a knack for connecting with people, which made bartending the perfect fit.

The beginning of Senza Maeso

Something Ryan has always enjoyed is walking down the produce aisle at the grocery store and trying fruits he’s never heard of from different countries. He remembers seeing Cape gooseberries in a container similar to the one you would buy blueberries in and he had to try them.

“It has such a flavor arc where it’s tangy and blows you with a citrus, tangerine flavor, and then it becomes melon in a way and finishes with a little bitter nub on it. Not too bitter, but just a little,” Ryan said.

He tried gooseberries at a time when he was trying different liqueurs and thought he could make a spirit from the fruit. Ryan began experimenting by making the spirit in his closet and Jay took notes in a blue spiral notebook of the different batches they were creating. The first batch was made in 2014 and it took around five years to perfect.

“We knew early on that we were going to do something with this because we started an LLC,” Jay said. “We wouldn’t have imagined we’d be doing this in 2020.”

Ryan described two crucial moments in the creation of Senza Maeso. The first was when Jay tasked Ryan with developing a business plan to show his commitment and the second was when the coronavirus pandemic hit. During the pandemic, the bar Ryan worked at closed, giving him more time to commit to Senza Maeso. The brothers hired Mark Shilling, an alcohol consultant, to help them take their spirit to the next level.

They began distributing Senza Maeso in November 2022 and opened the Senza Maeso tasting room and bar in February 2024.

What is Senza Maeso?

Senza Maeso can be described as very versatile. People can enjoy it on ice or neat, in a cocktail or as a digestive after a meal. Ryan said it was designed to be a bartender’s spirit and inspired by a Fernet or Campari, but less medicinal and bitter. He wanted it to be more accessible.

The spirit is aged for six months with herbs including damiana and epazine. It is bottled at a higher strength (40% ABV) than traditional liqueurs and without added sugars.

The taste is crisp, balanced and complex, producing notes of apricot and citrus, with a grassy, ​​bitter finish, the brothers said.

Senza Maeso can be hard to describe, which is why they use the tasting room to let people try it. Jay said they usually offer people a gooseberry and then a glass of Senza Maeso.

The name of the spirit and bar is an Italian-Spanish blend meaning “without a master.” They described the name as a perfect fit because the hand-crafted alcohol is completely unique and isn’t quite a liqueur.

Where can we find the spirit?

Senza Maeso is only available in Texas at around 30 retail stores such as Specs, Austin Shakers and Total Wine. It’s also available at 10 to 12 bars, including Central Machine Works, Swan Dive and Radio Coffee & Beer in Austin.

The brothers hope to launch online distribution in the next three to six months for those in Ohio.

If you get a chance to go to Texas, stop by their tasting room and lounge, located just outside of Austin near Wimberley. The bar has a spacey decor vibe that makes customers feel like they’ve been transported to an alternate universe. From kinetic art and vintage science gadgets to secret doors and bathrooms showing Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series on a loop, the bar is a one-of-a-kind destination.

In addition to Senza Maeso, the bar offers a variety of spirit-based cocktails as well as the brothers’ house vodka. They also offer vodka infusions, a selection of wine varietals, ciders and non-alcoholic offerings.

Remember where they come from

The brothers plan to release additional spirits and take each of them as their own. While they experiment and create in Texas, they said their connection to Dayton is real and they are proud to be from Ohio.

“We never forget where we came from,” Ryan said.


More details

Senza Maeso Tasting Room and Bar is located at 1090 FM 32 in San Marcos. For more information, visit senzamaeso.com or the brand’s Instagram page (@senzamaeso).