Just add vodka. Just add gin. Just add bourbon.
That’s how easy Corey Mason and Dave Staples want it to be to make a decent drink.
In April, the co-owners of White Whale launched the company that seeks to provide a quality, but simple, way to make what they call their three “spirit-forward” craft mixers.
Add vodka to “Your Older Brother,” which has hints of lemon, Siberian fir and sweet orange. Gin goes with “The Filthy Liar,” which has lychee, lime and clove. Pair Bourbon with “Auntie’s Old Fashioned,” a mix of youngberry and rosemary.
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Mason and Staples came up with the idea more than a year ago while having lunch before Homebrew For Hunger in Chapel Hill, a festival that showcases home-brewed and craft beers to raise money for charity.
They spent two weeks knocking around the idea and checking out the competition. On one end, they found the standard grocery store varieties of lime-green margarita mix.
“On the other end, people were doing really artisanal kinds of things with bitters and syrups and things, but all of them are just ingredients in a much more complex cocktail,” Staples said.
The co-owners sought to create something in the middle – a mixer that is fancier than the margarita mix but just as simple to use. They also sought to create a sustainable and affordable business model that has allowed them to keep their day jobs as they built a company on an investment of about $4,000 each.
Staples, 31, is a data analyst at Duke University, and Mason, 34, is a landscape architect for Clyde Oak, his garden products and supplies company in Raleigh. Staples handles recipe development, accounting and wholesale marketing; Mason is in charge of events, production, shipping logistics and in-person meetings.
Staples started testing recipes by blending exotic juices and fresh herbs in his kitchen. The pair then settled on three recipes that they loved, and could also be produced and bottled.
“There were some that were just terrible, and there were a few that were really, really good – but we couldn’t figure out ways to produce them in a semimass quantity,” Staples said.
Mason and Staples researched bottles and specialty stores, and worked with friends who helped with brand development in exchange for payments that will come once sales hit certain benchmarks.
D’Vine Foods in Elizabethtown mixes and bottles the product and then ships it to Riley Life Logistics, a shipping fulfillment service and warehouse in Raleigh. In April, White Whale landed on shelves at Parker and Otis in Durham and NOFO in Raleigh. Each 8-ounce bottle costs $9.99 and yields eight servings.
White Whale mixers are now available in more than a dozen stores from San Diego to Montreal. The owners’ strategy over the holidays is to build momentum and buzz by attending events and creating a sustainable marketing strategy.
“That’s the piece I feel like we need,” Mason said.