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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Diageo Innovations

Why do large companies suck at new products?

I get this question all the time and the answers are really quite simple. At the top of the list, it’s easier to buy than build. Why invest the time and effort and divert attention from the existing portfolio just to dig a dry hole?

More important is the simple arithmetic throughout the food chain. “How am I going to make my bonus/meet management’s expectations/reach my sales quota – you fill in the rest – if I divert my attention to a start up brand?”

So, if you’re a major player, you have a number of options when it comes to new products and brands.

First, you can bite the bullet and say, as I did at the outset of this posting, why bother? Let someone else build it, I’ll make an offer they can’t refuse. Mainly Diageo, but also others, fit this mode.

If you’re aggressive and smart, chances are, you’re also attuned to the marketplace (consumers and trade) and know how to create demand or capitalize on an opportunity. Just look at White Rock, Proximo, Beam, Campari and others.

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Malibu Rum

Seems as though everywhere you go in NYC, you run into an ad for Malibu Black. It’s a new entry that according to the owners seeks to combine the smooth coconut flavor that you love with higher proof and less sweetness for a bolder taste of the Caribbean.

Translation: We’ve been watching the Flavored Rum category and finally noticed that Sailor Jerry was changing the Rum game so we thought we would follow along.

In fact, higher-proof, dark and spiced Rums are doing well. According to Shanken News Daily, Sailor Jerry (92 proof) grew by 59% in 2010 to 635,000 cases. The team that invented it now runs Proximo and their recent entry, Kraken (94 proof) sold 75,000 cases in its first year. The other three or four new entries in this sub-category are still trying to gain traction.

A few observations:

Seems to me, the 6 million case gorilla known as Captain Morgan, is stuck at the dock (including the 100 proof entry) while the flotilla sails off. Admiral Nelson and others are growing at the expense of the base brand and the line extensions don’t seem to be helping. Someone needs to walk the plank.

Malibu Black? Higher proof at 70? It’s still a coconut Rum without an image likely to appeal to the Sailor Jerry or Kraken drinker. Can’t you just hear the conversation leading up to the launch – “let’s make a dark rum, up the proof a bit and call it Black… a sure winner…well gotta run, don’t want to miss the 5:40.”

I had a number of conversations with James Espey about Malibu over the years. James, along with Tom Jago and Peter Fleck, created the brand. (Currently they also are the owners of Last Drop Distillers Limited.)

James has written an interesting article called The True Story of Malibu. The article raises some interesting concepts on the creation of Malibu that are still applicable to the brand and new entries in general. (Send me an email or hit the comment box if you’d like a copy.)

James points out that Malibu succeeded because the product innovation was bold and outside the box. That was facilitated by an entrepreneurial spirit and effort that managed to overcome corporate obstacles. Above all, instinct and tenacity were key elements rather than studying the concept to death.

These elements apply to Sailor Jerry and to Kraken, in my view. Which helps to explain why the spirits industry giants are better at buying new brands than creating them.

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