Food & Drink

The only vodka served at the official ESPYs pre-party is distilled in Durham

Bedlam Vodka, which is distilled from rice, is produced by Durham-based Graybeard Distillery. It is the exclusive vodka poured at the Body at ESPYs 2017 party.
Bedlam Vodka, which is distilled from rice, is produced by Durham-based Graybeard Distillery. It is the exclusive vodka poured at the Body at ESPYs 2017 party.

When ESPN calls to see if you want your vodka to be the exclusive one poured at an ESPY Awards party, the answer is pretty obvious.

“It’s ESPN. We said, ‘Absolutely,’ ” said Brandon Evans, CEO of Durham-based Graybeard Distillery, which produces Bedlam Vodka.

The result is a whirlwind two weeks for the fledgling company. ESPN representatives recently came to Durham to taste the vodka and sample beverages made with it.

Tuesday night, Bedlam Vodka’s name will be all over a Hollywood club for the Body at ESPYs party, one of the official events surrounding the ESPY Awards and one that attracts athletes, VIPs and celebrities. The awards, which recognize the year’s biggest moments in sports, will be televised live on Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ABC. NFL star Peyton Manning is the host.

“It’s a really phenomenal opportunity for us to showcase what we’re all about,” Evans said Tuesday from Los Angeles, hours before he heads to the ticket-only party with 100 cases of the drink. “It’s incredible.”

While other alcohol will be served, Bedlam Vodka is the only branded company that will have its name showcased at several bars throughout the venue, Evans said. Staff will wear Bedlam Vodka T-shirts, too.

Considering the vodka has been in North Carolina ABC stores only since mid-May, it’s quite a leap from the company’s Durham warehouse – packed with 40 tons of rice for distilling – to Hollywood.

But it’s part of the distiller’s strategy to “hit the ground running fast and large,” Evans said.

The company was incorporated in June 2016 after co-owner Scott Russ approached Evans with a vodka recipe from his grandfather that had been passed down to him.

“I was blown away from it,” Evans said. “We decided to take the recipe to the masses.”

They joined with lawyer Samuel Searcy and Ron Templeton, a Durham engineer, to form the company. Searcy, of Holly Springs, announced Monday he is running for Congress in the 2nd District. Searcy, a Democrat, is running against incumbent Rep. George Holding, a Republican from Raleigh.

In November, the partners moved to their warehouse space on Industrial Lane. Bottles began arriving in stores in May. Evans said Graybeard is the largest grain-to-glass distiller in North Carolina.

What gave the company a significant boost – and prompted a call from ESPN – was a May appearance at the Wine & Spirits Wholesales of America’s Convention & Exposition in Orlando, Fla., a significant event in the spirits industry. Bedlam Vodka won the Hot New Now Media Award, which is voted on by media for best new product, as well as an award in the tasting competition.

It also won the WSWA’s Brand Battle, a competition for new brands to present their story and marketing plan to a panel of judges. They bested five other finalists who had been selected from 100 entries.

“They were ready for something new on the vodka scene, something new and different,” Evans said.

Bedlam Vodka, an Irish recipe, uses long-grain white rice from Louisiana in the distilling process. Most vodkas are made from wheat, barley, potatoes and rye. Tito’s Vodka is made from corn.

“(Rice) produces a vodka that doesn’t burn,” Evans said. “The harsh chemicals aren’t prominent. They can mix it and enjoy it.”

ESPN representatives told the company they enjoyed the taste but also thought the branding would fit the imaging for the party, which celebrates the annual ESPN the Magazine’s Body issue.

Evans said he doesn’t know who will be on the guest list, but that the event has attracted major stars and athletes in the past. He’s a big fan of Manning, the host, and would love to cross paths with him, either at the party or the awards ceremony, which he will attend with Russ.

“That would be a very awesome experience,” he said.

But he can’t wait to see what happens after the ESPYs in terms of sales. The company has partnered with to provide online sales.

“I’m waiting to see with bated breath,” he said. “I have no way of knowing yet. The sky’s the limit.”

Info: Follow Bedlam Vodka on Instagram and Twitter @BedlamVodka

Jessica Banov: 919-829-4831, @JessicaBanov