Move over boozy sparkling water. Here comes canned cocktails. The latest on the CC scene is VERVET, a Los Angeles-based canned craft cocktail company, co-founded by Hope Ewing , along with Tuan Lee, Rob Fieldhouse, and Alex Rosenblum. Hope, a professional bartender and beverage director in her own right, handles recipe development and production oversight of Vervet’s delicious sparkling cocktails.
We asked Hope a few questions about the creation of Vervet, how she gets it done as a chief product officer, the ups and downs of the business, and what’s coming next. Bottoms up!
With your background as a bartender, what was the impetus for selling canned cocktails?
Having drunk quite a few canned rosés at pool parties, I knew that canned cocktails were going to be big, and I knew that the majority of them we’re going to be terrible—limp, pasteurized citrus and lazy recipes. When Tuan Lee (CEO & Co-Founder) brought up the idea to start a company around canned cocktails, I saw it as my chance to put something of quality into the market—something I would actually want to drink.
Where did the inspiration for your cocktails come from?
The flavors were inspired by the pre-prohibition style cocktails I was trained in, and the botanical and culinary wealth of Los Angeles.
Can you tell us a bit more about what makes these drinks stand out?
I wanted all four of these to appeal to different palates. Tiki Tea is the universally crushable, easy drinker. There’s always a go to you have at the bar for somebody who’s just dipping their toes into craft cocktails, and this was an answer that. Still, I didn’t want to make something basic. Just because you like light and sweet does it mean it always has to be simple.
We cold brew giant tanks have a long tea for this, because that was the only way to achieve the flavor we wanted. Using prickly pear purée to make our proprietary prickly pear vodka was a breakthrough, it really helped make it special.
One of the longest processes in our development was creating KRB from scratch. My initial pilot recipes used commercially available red apertivo, which didn’t quite convey the flavors that I was looking for. Drawing on existing bitters recipes from the 19h century forward, sampling countless examples in the category, and even just foraging around our neighborhood yielded this totally original botanical blend that we are really proud of.
I guess the biggest difference between us and many of our competitors is that we do take the time to make everything from scratch—right down to the bitters and base spirits. Luckily, with my catering background, figuring out how to do this on a larger scale was actually pretty fun.
When did you decide to start selling your product?
July of 2019.
What were the early days of business like?
Exciting. We knew we had succeeded in canning genuine craft cocktails at scale. Imagine knowing LA was about to get LeBron James before anyone else. It felt that exciting in our small way and we couldn’t wait to share Vervet with everyone here.
Do you manufacture in-house or do you have a co-manufacturer?
We developed the recipes in our kitchen at home. Then we took them to our distilling partner and figured out how to build them at scale. We personally had a hand in every part of the manufacturing process and had the privilege of working closely with the awesome craft distillers at Ventura Spirits.
What has been the hardest part of launching a product so far?
The antiquated three-tier distribution system is a real tangle of friction when it comes to going to market.
Has Covid-19 changed people’s perspectives on sparkling cocktails since everyone is staying inside and bars are closed?
It has. For us, it afforded people the chance to try our cocktails and discover that great canned cocktails exist.
What has been your proudest moment as a founder?
The first time a respected bartender said “Wow, these are actually good.”
As a founder, how do you maintain balance?
It’s challenging, but the four of us do our best daily to a varying degree success. We practice the usual suspects; hiking, family time, cooking, reading, but we never forget the charm of a happy hour.
What advice do you have for other early-stage food and beverage entrepreneurs?
Due diligence! Of course there will be surprises, but they will be manageable if you prepare. Also, I highly recommend joining a business community, such as an incubator program that provides business resources and advisors.
What can we expect next?
Sake or shochu highballs for sure. A non-alcoholic cocktail comes up on our Slack often too.