What Fireball Guru Richard Pomes is Up to Now


Normally your editors try to avoid writing about start up brands that haven't yet expanded to a couple thousand cases or a handful of states--much less brands that haven't even launched yet. But when a friend recently told us, "Hey, you should check out this new brand, it's handled by the guy responsible for Fireball," we made an exception. This is how our editors came to interview Richard Alexander Pomes, the former national brand ambassador for Fireball often credited for the brand's overnight success.

"A PARTY IN A BOTTLE." Richard is in the process of launching a new product called Ghost Tequila, a 100% agave tequila infused with ghost peppers that will retail for around $27 a bottle on shelf. Just as Fireball is "training wheels for whiskey," Ghost was created to be an approachable flavored tequila with natural ingredients. "It's not hokey," jokes Richard. "It's a lot more subtle than it sounds."

And similar to Fireball, Ghost Tequila doesn't have a history or heritage to lean on for marketing. Instead, Ghost is designed to capitalize on life's celebratory occasions. "What is the celebration right now? Oh, it's your birthday, you just got a new job... it's a party in a bottle," he explains.

OLD FASHIONED SCHMOOZING. Based on his experience with Fireball, Richard believes old fashioned schmoozing is the best path to building a brand on-premise. "Sales reps are great, but in this day and age, what I learned working with Fireball is they're only half the equation," he tells WSD. "You really need to give bartenders and bar managers a name and a face with the product, and they'll be much more likely to push it if they like you, and they believe in you, and they hang out with you. People want to support their friends and the people they know."

In addition to providing a name and face with a brand, it needs to be a consistent one. Richard says where a lot of companies go wrong is in franchising out the brand's voice. For example, every city has a Captain Morgan promo team and a guy who is dressed as The Captain, but the person in charge of the social media page for the brand is likely in an office somewhere. "No one is The Captain.' Whereas Richard was both the guy "out in the field" socializing and building Fireball in-person as well as the social media guy. "You kind of become a mascot."

And when they hired a brand ambassador in Austin, that ambassador would be the one to answer social media for Austin. "It wasn't an army. It wasn't all these different sales reps. You were getting the same face every time." Richard intends to employ this same tactic when hiring on brand ambassadors for Ghost, hoping to have one in all of the major regions in the US within two years.

WHAT HE LOOKS FOR IN A BRAND AMBASSADOR (NO SHOT GIRLS). So what does a brand ambassador extraordinaire look for in a brand ambassador? People who are not involved in the alcohol business. "I like to look for artists, actors, comedians, musicians, local celebrities, DJs, people who know how to work a crowd that have some sort of public performance or speaking experience. It's easier to teach entertainers how to sell a product," he says. One of his rules is no shot girls. "I think they're a waste of money," because they don't really care what product they're pushing, and normally it's more than one. "That's one of my biggest pet peeves."

Backed by both industry insiders and outsiders, Ghost is expected to launch in Boston and New Orleans-- the respective hometowns of the two business partners behind the brand-- in late August or early September. Then from there the plan is to expand into cities with emphasis on arts and music, a strong service industry presence, or college campuses like Nashville, Austin, and Tallahassee etc.

It remains to be seen if Ghost can succeed in a market that now supports dozens of Fireball knock-off products, but Richard is playing it cool. "Everybody is always looking for the new hot thing and I want to take advantage of that," he says. "To me, you have two types of tequila, shit show spring break tequila, or high-end snooty all-about-the-process [tequila]. That stuff is great, but it doesn't appeal to me. Ghost is something else entirely."


The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC) has instituted a law that allows direct sales from distilleries to state restaurants and other mixed-beverage licenses. Direct sales will increase variety and make it easier for restaurants to get their hands on small-batch special releases, according to Catoctin Creek co-founder Scott Harris.

The process to buy from the distilleries is the same as from the ABC stores. The price and sales tax of the products will remain unchanged and a sticker will mark compliance with ABC rules.

"As of today, we'll have greater selection at Virginia restaurants, more revenue for the state of Virginia, and more revenue for the craft distillers in Virginia, with very little additional cost of administration. It is truly a win-win for all involved including the end customer desiring more variety," says Scott.


Australia-based Accolade Wines, the fifth largest wine company in the world could be looking at new ownership soon. Chinese companies have been making offers, and The Australian reports Accolade will be working with investment banks to explore a dual-track process (simultaneously starting the IPO process and putting the company on the block) within the month.

Chinese companies have been "courting" Accolade for several months, as China continues to buy up more Australian companies. Accolade's portfolio include Atlas Peak, Geyser Peak and XYZin among others, and the company is estimated to be worth about $1 billion.


You may recall our recent report about two distributors in Washington were tied up in a legal dispute over alleged breach of contract and conspiracy [see WSD 07-05-2016]. ANW tells WSD the two parties, American Northwest Distributors (ANW) and Crush & Cooper of Washington, settled their dispute with Crush & Cooper's insurance carrier set to pay $100,000 to ANW.

BACKGROUND. The two distributors signed a services agreement in 2013, but things didn't work out between the two. In 2014 they parted ways, with Crush & Cooper signing a three-year non-compete clause that went into effect once ANW completed a series of four payments totaling $140,000. However, just before ANW was to make the final payment, it filed suit in Washington state court against the Crush & Cooper owners for breach of contract, civil conspiracy, among other claims. On top of all that, the Crush & Cooper owners Chad and Hallie McGee filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in December 2015.

"ANW filed this lawsuit to protect its business interests and enforce its rights under the contract and state law. We would do it again if we had to, but we are pleased to now have the lawsuit resolved so we can focus all of our energies on growth and future opportunities," ANW vp Anton Fedechkin tells WSD.


SHIPMENT GROWTH DRIVES BEAM SUNTORY SALES IN H1. Beam Suntory sales grew in the mid-single digits to a net sales total of about $2.6 billion globally, for the six months ended June 30. The Americas region was led by similar mid-single-digit growth in the US, per a release. Parent company Suntory Holdings attributes US growth to solid shipment (sales to distributors) growth for the leading bourbon brands, i.e. Jim Beam and Maker's Mark. Looking at Jim Beam specifically, growth came from increased consumer demand for core offerings as well as "favorable trends" for flavored extensions. Courvoisier, Sauza, Hornitos, Basil Hayden's and Effen vodka also enjoyed healthy shipment growth.

FORMER DEEP EDDY DISTILLER NOW ONTO FLAVORED WHISKIES AT CALIBER SPIRITS CO. Texas-based Caliber Spirits Company is launching this month with four flavored whiskeys, Classic, Honey, Apple Cinnamon and Dark Cherry, created by former Deep Eddy master distiller Jeff Weed. "It was an incredible experience being a part of the team that built Deep Eddy…but I wanted to experiment with creating unique flavor profiles based on a different spirit, and when the opportunity to work with Caliber came along, I knew it was a perfect fit," says Jeff. Caliber Spirits will be distributed by RNDC, National Distributing Company and Moon Distributing.

VOTTO VINES MAKES PUSH INTO BRAZILIAN WINE CATEGORY, by partnering with beverage entrepreneur Matti Anttila. "The import partnership with Votto Vines, one of the most dynamic emerging wine companies in the U.S. gives us a fantastic opportunity to introduce American consumers to some of the most interesting wines emerging from South America," says Matti. The portfolio includes, Carnaval Sparkling Wine, Brazilian Soul, Aurora Cellars and Faust Tannat.

2017 WINE & SPIRITS SUMMIT EARLY BIRD PRICING - The Wine & Spirits Daily Summit will be held at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego Jan 30-31, 2017. Come a couple days early and get special discount pricing to attend the Beer Industry Summit on January 29-30. Register and learn more here.

Until Monday,
Your Editors

Emily Pennington - emily@winespiritsdaily.com
Sarah Barrett - sarah@winespiritsdaily.com

"Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot." -- Charlie Chaplin

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