Diströya: A Unique New Spiced Spirit

King Magnus is set to conquer the shooter market

Diströya Spirits. The Dragon's Share.
Diströya Spirits. The Dragon’s Share.

Diströya Spirits, Inc. is focused on building a trilogy of unique spirit flavors, each with it’s own story. First up: “The Dragon’s Share,” based on a mythological and fun story of a spiced spirit created by the Viking King Magnus.

A recent article in Epicurious, had this to say: “The Vikings might have bludgeoned you on the head with a club, but Diströya, a Viking-based 70-proof spirit, takes a rather more mellow approach when it assaults your senses.”

The back-story

I met the owner of Diströya Spirits a few years ago. He was (and still is) a reader and follower of this blog and contacted me for some advice about the product he planned to launch. I get these types of calls and emails very often but, this time, it felt different. Scott Raynor, the owner, is an impressive guy. He’s a musician (when he has time to work that craft), an ex-bartender and among the most tenacious and innovative booze business entrepreneurs I’ve met. He has a vision and the patience to see it through. (Disclosure: I continue to be a non-paid advisor to Scott.)

The product

According to Scott, Diströya has less sugar and a lot more mystery than other liqueurs, uh, shooters. “There’s blood orange on the nose and entry, rounded out with vanilla, almond and cinnamon in the middle, finishing with the crispness of ginger and citrus,” he explains. “It’s lighter than a lot of liqueurs, and not cloying.”

Diströya Label
Diströya Label

While he describes his product as a liqueur, which is its official TTB classification, such a booze product by any other name is still a shooter. In fact, he cites his competitive set as Jägermeister, Fireball, Kraken and others. But, Scott is savvy enough not to put his fledgling brand in a box and reports that bartenders are using it in mojitos, as a Ginger Viking (a Moscow Mule) and in other cocktails. It sells for $19.99 for a 750ML.

I’m well past the shooter stage and have a limited repertoire of cocktail preferences, so I enjoy it on the rocks. It’s pleasant tasting, smooth and makes me want to plunder and pillage. It’s all that Scott says it is.

The people

Despite the absence of meaningful resources, Scott’s contagious enthusiasm, industry knowledge (self taught) and likeability, has attracted an all-star team of spirits industry mavens in sales and marketing. Add to that some outstanding designers and illustrators. In particular, he worked with

Friendly vikings on a cruise.
Friendly vikings on a cruise.

Chad Michael, a gifted designer who recently opened his own studio after working for a well known design firm. Also involved was Steven Noble, the illustrator for Kraken rum and Espolon tequila who collaborated in rendering the King Magnus icon.

He’s managed to do, on a shoestring budget, what the big spirits boys cannot do – form a team, launch a product and build a brand. And, he’s doing it the hard way.

What’s happening now?

Diströya is currently independently distributed in Denver. They are meeting with major distributors in the fall and expects to secure one. The brand is definitely getting traction in bars and stores. But, as is the case with nearly all indie startups, money is an issue.

So what does an enterprising new breed spirits maker do? Scott is going the conventional route of looking for investors, with some success I might add. But, in addition, he’s using crowd sourcing and has launched a Kickstarter campaign. You can find it here. Check it out, for a few bucks, one day you’ll be able to say you invested in Diströya Spirits.

What I think is particularly brilliant about the Kickstarter campaign is that at the same time as he is raising some money, he is building awareness.

Did I mention that he’s smart?

Come on… contribute a few bucks.

The Kickstarter campaign
The Kickstarter campaign

 

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Solbeso: A New Spirit from the Tropics

Introducing a new brand and new category of distilled spirit

UnknownSolbeso (derived from the Spanish for Sun and Kiss; “Kiss of the Sun”) is the first premium, distilled spirit made from cacao fruit. At 80 proof, this product has created a new category that is currently considered by the TTB as a Distilled Spirits Specialty. But it’s way more than that.

Imagine this: You’re in Peru visiting farms growing cacao on behalf of a chocolate venture. You discover that after the cacao pods are harvested, the beans are collected but the pulpy, tasty cacao fruit is thrown away. They tell you that the fruit oxidizes very quickly and soon starts to ferment so nothing is done with it. For most of us, that’s the end of the conversation.

Not for Thomas Higbee and Thomas Aabo, the founders of Solbeso. If Whiskey comes from grain, vodka from grain or potatoes, tequila from agave and cachaça from cane – why not create a new category from cacao fruit. Which is exactly what they did.

The aromatic fruit comes from family farms and co-ops throughout Latin America where cacao production has been going on for centuries. In fact, up until the arrival of Europeans, the people of Mesoamerica fermented the fruit into a low proof mead-like beverage. (In case you don’t know, tequila’s origin is pulque, which comes from an agave plant with a similar history among Mesoamericans.)

The Thomas’s decided to ferment and distill the “delicate, citrusy sweet pulp” into a spirit. By the way, the fruit bears no resemblance to the dark and bitter cacao bean, which is used to produce chocolate. Solbeso has no chocolate taste whatsoever.

So, what does it taste like?

I like it a lot. It’s a very unique taste that I enjoyed on the rocks with a lemon twist. To me, it has a slight citrus taste with an ever so slight aroma of chocolate. Definitely more complex, with a soft finish as compared to vodka consumed the same way. Unlike vodka, which is masked by the flavors you mix it with, Solbeso “plays well with others” and enhances the cocktail ingredients. You know it’s there but it doesn’t overpower the drink like tequila, cachaça or pisco .

A new spirit and a new brand
A new spirit and a new brand

Where does it come from?

Here’s the part I love. Similar to grapes, cacao fruit is influenced by terroir and as a result, it can come from a variety or areas in the tropics (between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn) but currently from farms in Peru and Ecuador. Like grapes, it can come from other areas that meet the terroir requirements. In addition, they use a specialized strain of yeast that ensures consistency from region to region.

What about cocktails?

Thomas Higbee talks about the versatility of the taste and I’ve mentioned its enhancement to cocktails. Believe it or not, it makes a great Manhattan – they call it El Conquistador – made with sweet vermouth and bitters. (A Manhattan from a white spirit? What is this world coming to?)

The most interesting drink is the Picante No. 2 made with muddled jalapeño and fresh lemon juice. (See Recipe)

 Where to find it?

Picante No. 2: 2 parts Solbeso, 1 part lemon juice, ¾ part simple syrup, 2-3 jalapeño slices. Muddle jalapeño with fresh lemon juice.
Picante No. 2: 2 parts Solbeso, 1 part lemon juice, ¾ part simple syrup, 2-3 jalapeño slices. Muddle jalapeño with fresh lemon juice.

Solbeso sells for $40 for a 750ml bottle. It’s available at select retailers, restaurants and bars throughout NYC and Miami. You can find locations on their website. While distribution is limited, I think it will grow over time. The brand — as the saying goes — has legs (longevity).

What’s the outlook?

From what I can see, the Thomas’s have the knowledge, horsepower and entrepreneurial drive to make Solbeso a huge success. After all, those consumers who love to discover new products don’t often get to see a new category being created.

At the same time, their biggest challenge might be what category is it in – Distilled Spirits Specialty (TTB), New World Spirits (the name of their company) or something else — DrinkUpNY referred to it as Cacao Spirit.

I don’t think it matters. Consumers drink brands not categories.

 

 

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From Ballet to Booze

Meet Allison Patel, a whisky-loving woman and former ballerina.

Allison is the owner/producer of her own whisky, Brenne, a French Single Malt made in Cognac, France. She reinvented herself into the booze business as a second career after hanging up her tutu and pointe shoes.

Brenne_Pouring
Brenne whisky, an incredible product.

I am very glad she did – trust me when I tell you it’s a terrific world-class whisky. It’s very unique, smooth and approachable.

Here’s the product story:

Brenne is made from estate-grown barley and is harvested, distilled, matured and bottled in Cognac, France. The expertise in distilling comes from a 3rd generation craft distiller. As Allison describes it, “It’s crafted from seed to spirit.” The taste is extraordinary and is a result of the malted barley and the barreling. Brenne Whisky starts in new Limousin oak barrels and is finished in Cognac casks, giving it a slight hint of fruit that sets it apart from other whiskies. Each bottle comes from a single barrel selected at its peak. Brenne was officially launched in October 2012 but only after many years of developing and maturing her product. So, add patience to Allison’s skill set.

Allison’s story is no less interesting:

She and her husband have always shared a passion for food and drink from all over the world. Making an effort to visit local markets, wineries, and distilleries in their travels, they have developed an appreciation of great taste experiences, especially with their favorite category — whisky.

1006096_588165134613666_3489407826781683562_n
Allison Patel with Brenne whisky

After failing to find many “non-traditional” whiskies in the US, Allison took it into own her hands and started setting up an import/export company for this sole purpose. Allison is a most interesting person with drive and tenacity, mixed with charm and humility. She launched a brand and still managed to maintain a balanced view of her efforts. One chat with Allison is all it takes to feel great about the future of the spirits industry. From Allison’s personal blog, The Whisky Woman, about being a booze business startup:

This is not an easy road at all.  Naturally, I only share publicly the highlights of this journey, but I tell people who are thinking about starting their own brand in the spirits world to not be fooled by the happy-go-lucky social media sharing; everything looks easier then it seems, even the stuff that looks impossible.  But… the moment when you start to realize your dream is becoming a reality is unlike anything else.  Its deep, exciting and can rock you to the core.

I guess that dancing on your toes is good training for the booze business.

By the way,

She and another new and exciting booze business entrepreneur, Jack Summers (Sorel Liqueur), often team up for joint promotion opportunities. In fact, it was Jack who introduced us and recently introduced me to a Brenne and Sorel cocktail called The Last Call. We’re talking amazing here, folks. (Recipe: 2 oz Brenne, 1 oz Sorel, let it rest and breath for a minute.)

 

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Allison Patel and Jack Summers enjoying the fruits of their labor — The Last Call. Photo credit: Christina Soto-Chimelis
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