Scent of a Candle
Couple Gives Second Life (and Light) to Empty Wine and Liquor Bottles
Some people care only or what’s poured from a liquor or wine bottle, but Jason and Shelby Scarlatta enjoy looking at the craftsmanship of the vessels.“These are like little pieces of art,” Shelby says, holding up an empty liquor bottle molded with a garden design. “Do you know what I mean?”
“We will go to a liquor store and be there for two hours,” Jason adds, laughing. “It’s like an art gallery.”
“[Jason] will look at some of the bottles and say, ‘I can’t believe someone would throw these away,’” Shelby says. So the Frederick couple have set out to change that. They have been collecting disposed spirit bottles and re-purposing them into unique containers to house their homemade, hand-poured soy candles. Whiskey Bottom Candles features a variety of traditional and unique scents to perfume the air and brighten a room. “We make sure we have something for everyone,” Shelby says.
The business was born in the fall of 2012 after a back injury prevented Jason from returning to a 20-year career in the pipe-fitting industry. “We had talked about doing an online business and we went through a bunch of different ideas,” says Shelby, who works for a local biotech company. “He called me [one day] and he said, ‘I want to have candles as a part of our business.’” Jason chose to use soy instead of paraffin because they would be able to support U.S. farmers. They also cite environmental factors such as a cleaner burn and an easier cleanup if the wax is spilled. “And, as far as making it, I don’t have to wear a bio suit,” Jason adds.
But trying to figure out how to actually make the candles proved tricky. “If you were to Google how to make soy candles … ” Jason says. “It’s all lies,” Shelby adds, laughing. “If you can find anything at all, it’s [not true],” Jason says. “We had to learn everything.”
They tested many fragrance oils from different manufactures. Some had a good smell when the candle was unlit but they were not fragrant when lit. Some oils are not manufactured to work with soy and the aromas were too light. Different types of wicks were also tried. “It’s a science,” Jason says, “especially with soy wax” to get the perfect combination. The couple estimates they made 1,000 test candles.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
When it came time to think of a name for the company, the couple went through several ideas while looking at a Maryland map. Chesapeake? Clover Hill? Sugarloaf? All were vetoed. The pair sat in silence for 10 minutes.
“Then he’s like ‘What about Whiskey Bottom?’” Shelby recalls. Jason had done construction jobs around the historic road in Laurel and says the name always stuck out to him. She loved the name and thought the candles could be poured into the bottom of recycled wine and whiskey bottles.
Wanting to stay local, the Scarlattas contacted local businesses asking if they could have their empty liquor and wine bottles. The Wine Kitchen in Downtown Frederick provides the majority of the bottles recycled by Whiskey Bottom. “Our whole concept is driven from sustainability,” says John McCain, the restaurant’s general manager. The Scarlattas take the bottles, McCain recycles the restaurant’s paper and the kitchen staff transport scraps to a local farm for compost.
“We get such a nice variety of bottles,” Shelby says. Anything they don’t use, they recycle. Picking up bottles from the businesses every day, Jason estimates they are taking between 500 and 1,000 pounds of glass to be recycled.
But making the bottles ready for candles is an involved process. Jason hand washes every bottle five times in a process that includes soaking, scraping the labels off and fighting with the remaining glue. He started in the family’s standard size kitchen sink but decided to upgrade to an 8-foot-long, threebin restaurant sink. Their Spring Ridge home’s unfinished basement serves as his office space where the storing, washing and bottle cutting and grinding take place.
The candle labels and website (www.whiskeybottomcandles.com) were created by the Frederick-based Octavo Designs. Jason told Octavo owner Sue Hough he wanted the labels to give the feel of an old whiskey bottle sticker. Hough says the company was able to come up with a unique custom label. “We believe in [the product},” Hough says.
Picking names for the 30-plus candles they create has been fun. “Sweet Dreams” features a lavender and sweet orange aroma. “We wanted [a name] that was cute so ‘sweet’ from the sweet orange and ‘dreams’ because lavender is supposed to relax you and help you sleep and wind down,” Shelby says. After being asked to create a leather fragrance, the couple could not come up with an accompanying name until one day Shelby suggested “50 Shades” as a wink to the best-selling book series.
The couple created their own recipes to make candles named after drinks, including “Spiced Rum,” “Mango Tango,” and “Mulled Wine” by playing around with different amounts of fragrance oils.
“I get [Jason] to smell because he’s always like, ‘Oh that’s terrible’ or ‘Oh, that’s good,’” she says. “So if he likes it, it’s usually good.”
STARTING A BUSINESS
Having never previously owned a business, everything is new for the couple. They not only had to learn about candle making, but updating the website, shipping and even understanding different taxes. “It’s been fun,” Shelby says. “We’ve met some really cool people.”
The website officially went live in July and features a variety of standard and seasonal 12-ounce candle selections, tarts that are chunks of soy wax mixed with fragrances to be placed in a warmer and 14- to 24- ounce special reserve candles that are made to order with customers picking the bottle and scent. Standard candles are $28 each, tarts are $7 and $14, depending on size, and special reserves go for $48 each.
A day after the website launched, Hallie Burrier, owner of Relish Decor in Downtown Frederick, asked to carry their candles. “Given that we are a kitchen and table-top hostess gift store, I thought they were a perfect fit for us,” Burrier says. “I love the fact that they use re-purposed bottles from local restaurants and that they are made here locally. I try to support as many small businesses and local artists as possible in my store.”
In November, Tickled Maroon in Parkton asked to carry the candles as well. Whiskey Bottom was also a vendor at the Maryland Christmas Show at the Frederick Fairgrounds and they have also done several tent shows and fundraisers.
When asked their favorite scents, Jason immediately says “Vanilla Berry” but Shelby is more torn. “Summer Love,” “Mango Tango” and “’Honey Suckle” are among her favorites. “I like them all,” she decides. “There is not one that I don’t like.”