Beach Whiskey is a brand that exists to answer a question: How do you drink whiskey on the beach?
Brand co-founder J. Smoke Wallin recalls the eureka moment. He and co-founder Andrew McGinnis were at a beachside bar when McGinnis commented on how the vodka and tequilas were selling — but not the whiskeys. Wallin saw opportunity and the result is coconut- and cinnamon-flavored white whiskeys in colorful beach-glass bottles.
Officially launched in August, 2016, Beach Whiskey recently announced national distribution. At WSWA this week we caught up with Wallin (above, right) and Beach Whiskey CMO Bill Henderson (left) to talk about this swift process, and Organic Harvest Vodka, which their company also owns.
Cheers: How did you accomplish national distribution so quickly?
J. Smoke Wallin: Normally a brand wouldn’t go to national accounts for a number of years. But a big core of our strategy was to go to national accounts early. Even when we were still finishing the liquid and the bottle we were tasting national accounts and asking their opinions about the product.
That way, by the time we launched, we had 100s of accounts that were a soft ‘yes’. Today we’re in over a thousand accounts. We’ll be in all 50 states by summer.
Cheers: Why has the brand proven so scalable?
SW: I think we have a unique proposal. Traditional whiskey like bourbon and Scotch feels heavier. Listen, I love Lagavulin, but I don’t want to drink that on the beach. Or even during the day.
We’re a light, clean white whiskey. That makes us good even for people who don’t like to drink traditional whiskey. Or who are intimidated by it. For them this is a really cool intro to whiskey.
Bill Henderson: We’re the new kid on the block. Everyone wants to be part of that. That’s how you excite your team. We’re in Chiles and how would you excite a bar staff at Chiles? You need to have something new, fun, and innovative.
Though it’s more than just the beach. It’s also a lifestyle brand. To reach all 50 states you have to be in some accounts that are nowhere near water. Like when you crack open a Corona and take a whiff: it feels like vacation, no matter where you are. That’s what we’re trying to capture.
Cheers: Your focus has mainly been on-premise?
SW: While obviously we want to be in retail, so far we’ve really focused building the brand on-premise. Almost everything we’ve done has been about liquid-to-lips. Though we are in 79 Total Wine stores in six states: Florida, California, Texas, Nevada, Arizona and Washington.
The mixology community at first was a bit hesitant. They looked at our bottle weren’t sure we were a fit for them. But once we got them to try it — and they realized how clean it was, how it had less sugar than Malibu — they realized it gave them more flexibility.
Now we’re in Charlie Palmer’s Aureole in New York City, and Nobu in Malibu. In our first two weeks in Applebee’s we did over $40,000 in sales. That’s over 5,000 drinks. They told us we were their most successful new brand.
Cheers: You’ve also been pushing American Harvest organic vodka.
BH: We acquired it from Sydney Frank when they changed up. We changed the packaging to better fit the craft angle. As we reintroduce it to the market we’ve been bundling it with Beach Whiskey. That’s pretty unusual.
When this brand launched 7-8 years ago it was ahead of its time. Organic has become so important today. People are really concerned about what goes into their bodies, and that’s really built into this brand.
Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Cheers magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @kswartzz. Read the recent piece Rum’s First Female Master Blender Talks Modern Trends.