Readers of Booze Business may recall that I began following this startup company a month ago (see April 27 posting) with the promise that I would periodically update their journey to brand development. (Their website is here.)
Their first product is Sorel (pronounced sore-el). It’s a drink that those from the Caribbean islands have been making for centuries and serve on festive occasions. Each island, and even families, has their own concoctions. Made from a variety of spices, herbs, horticulture and neutral grain spirit (NGS), JFB has overcome barriers and produced a market-ready product with a shelf price of $26.99. (Wait until you hear what retailers are saying.)
Since I first met the owners (Jack Summers, Tim Kealey and Alan Camlet) they’ve moved from planning and laying the ground work to implementation. Not, as it turns out, without some hiccups.
After months of work on perfecting the recipe to their satisfaction, the day arrives when 330 gallons of NGS appears at their facility. The “factory” is the former site of Red Hook Winery; the blending and bottling equipment is set and ready to go. Figuring out how to unload the alcohol is only part of the problem. The alcohol itself is the real concern.
Preliminary tasting of the product reveals that something is amiss. They’re new to the alcohol industry so they think they must have done something wrong, but they’re smart enough to do lots of tastings, testing and quality control to uncover the problem. They learned that the NGS they had purchased was not what was delivered. Fortunately, the supplier took responsibility for the mix up and makes good on it.
Lesson learned according to Jack and Tim: “Never stop watching the store and never, ever make assumptions.”
With a couple of hundred cases produced, JFB is ready for marketing and distribution. Enter: The Manhattan Cocktail Classic.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the event this year but I’ve been told that it was among the best Lesley Townsend and associates have had so far. The big change was the edition of a trade conference, interesting use of technology and increased supplier presence. I’ll have another posting about the event but, for now, suffice to say this little upstart stole the show according to what I heard and read. In fact, it was the most consumed cocktail at the Gala with people coming back for more all night.
According to the folks from JFB, “Our involvement was more than we had budgeted but it was an ideal way to launch and get noticed.”
Based on their distribution so far, I have to agree. The first account to carry Sorel was Park Avenue Liquor. As of June 1, they are at Astor Wine and Spirits where they had a tasting and sold 3 cases in a two-hour period. Other stores include Smith and Vine, Brooklyn Wine Exchange among other top shelf stores. These are hardly startup venture venues. (Oh, by the way, Harrods in London is also a customer.)
How are people drinking it? On the rocks of course, but it’s also used in a cocktail like a Vodka Collins. Their signature drink is the Ariana – Sorel and Prosecco or Champagne. That’s very appropriate since many retailers and consumers think of the brand as the next St. Germaine.
The last time I spoke to Jack Summers he said things I don’t usually hear from a startup (except for my friends at Hiro Sake). He spoke of support from vendors and fans, about being more than a brand and about taking calculated risks.
Then he had to leave to go learn how to drive a forklift.