Fairmont High School grads create unique spirit, open tasting room in Texas

Credit: Likeness Studio

Credit: Likeness Studio

After graduating from Fairmont High School in 2000, Jay and Ryan Gitman, spent time in California before settling down in Texas where they’ve opened a tasting room and bar featuring Senza Maeso — a hybrid spirit they have created from South American cape gooseberries.

From Ohio to California

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 riding bikes around the neighborhood with their friends to hanging out in Yellow Springs. They even recalled leaving high school to go get a Big Buford sandwich from Rally’s.

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

Credit: Likeness Studio

Credit: Likeness Studio

“We really had that desire to kind of roam and be out on the road,” Ryan said. “California specifically was calling us when we were 18, so we both left the same time after senior year.”

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

“Getting to where we are now, we wouldn’t of been able to do it if we didn’t have sort of these complimenting skill sets,” Jay said.

An inseparable bond

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

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

Jay opened an office in Texas for the company he was working for in California and Ryan spent his time working in the service industry and learning craft cocktails along the way by being curious. Jay said Ryan has always had a talent for communicating with people making bartending the perfect fit.

The start of Senza Maeso

Something Ryan has always enjoyed is walking through the produce isle at the grocery store and trying fruit he’s never heard of from different countries. He recalled seeing cape gooseberries in a container similar to what you would buy blueberries in and had to try them.

“It has such an arc of flavor where it’s tart and blasts you with a citrusy, tangerine kind of flavor and then it becomes melony in a certain way and finishes with a little bitter node on it. Not overly bitter, but just a little bit,” Ryan said.

He tried the gooseberries at a time where he had been trying different liqueurs and thought he could make a spirit out of the fruit. Ryan started 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 about five years to perfect it.

Credit: Likeness Studio

Credit: Likeness Studio

“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 would have done this in 2020.”

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

They started distributing Senza Maeso in Nov. 2022 and opened the Senza Maeso Tasting Room and Bar in Feb. 2024.

What is Senza Maeso?

Senza Maeso can be described as very versatile. People can enjoy it on the rocks or neat, in a cocktail or as an after-meal digestive. Ryan said it was made to be a bartender’s spirit and modeled after a Fernet or Campari, but less medicinal and bitter. He wanted it to be more approachable.

Credit: Likeness Studio

Credit: Likeness Studio

The spirit is aged for six months with herbs including damiana and epazote. It’s bottled at a higher proof (40% ABV) than traditional liqueurs and with no added sugars.

The taste is bright, balanced, and complex, yielding notes of apricot and citrus, with an herbaceous, bitter finish, the brothers said.

Senza Maeso can be hard to describe, so they use the tasting room as a way for people to try it. Jay said they typically offer people a gooseberry and then a shot of Senza Maeso.

The name of the spirit and bar is an Italian-Spanish mash-up meaning “without master.” They described the name as the perfect fit because the handcrafted spirit is very unique and is not quite a liqueur.

Where can the spirit be found?

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 kick off online distribution in the next three to six months for those in Ohio.

Credit: Likeness Studio

Credit: Likeness Studio

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

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

Remembering where they came from

The brothers have plans to release additional spirits and make each of them their own. While they’re experimenting and creating in Texas, they said their connection to Dayton is real and they’re proud to be Ohio natives.

“We never forget where we’re 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).

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