It's not often that you get the opportunity to become business partners with a close friend, and even rarer that you come together to create a brand so visually unique and pointedly representative of this #girlboss revolution.
Dynamic duo AdrinAdrina and Elliott Coon have joined forces to create this art-infused mezcal brand that emits glamour and hipster chic vibes before you've even had the chance to sample the herbal damiana taste. As we've said before
, being a female in the drinks business isn't easy, but the more women continue to invade the industry, the more rewards are reaped.
"We kind of came into spirits through the side door."
The pair grew up together in the mountains of Virginia, and having been friends for years they began thinking of business ideas. “We started brainstorming a commercial venture that would bring together all of our interests" says Coon. By 2012 the duo had settled on the conception of a speakeasy that would be focused heavily on mezcal.
The bar, named Gem&Bolt proved a huge success, and gave the pair an opportunity to explore with mixology and mezcal infusions. "At the speakeasy we were serving mezcal infused with herbs," says Coon. The team subsequently became fixated with the herb damiana, said to have mythological properties (mostly related to sexual prowess and libido). The ladies then discovered that elixirs made from damiana and used in conjunction with mezcal were the most fruitfully sold, not to mention the most tasty. What began as an art project, would soon become their next business venture as they decided to take mezcal up to Oaxaca and begin hand-infusing the liquor.
"That was the beginning," AdrinAdrina says, "when we were really experimenting." The organic growth from the bar spurred the project and before long they were bottling the infusion.
The reason for the name? “In Oaxaca, we serendipitously discovered the ancient Zapotec myth of mezcal where a lightning bolt strikes the gem (or heart) of the agave plant, roasting and fermenting its sugars, creating the mystical sap now known as mezcal," Elliott explains.
They realized there was an opportunity to expand on the concoctions created in the bar and looked to find a chemist to begin the process of distilling and making their own mezcal.
"[The business] very quickly got very serious"
Coon began working with chemists to define the spirit's composition with a focus on it being a pure, clean offering. Their resulting product is made without artificial yeast or additives and is 100% agave based, versus its tequila counterpart whose regulations are not as strict. But of course, it was the damiana that would come to characterize the brand and its different taste.
We asked AdrinAdrina if the company encountered any hurdles because its founders were women in a male dominated industry. She told SWAAY, "honestly we expected to have difficulties within the industry but we were welcomed with open arms into the mezcal community."
The mezcal world proved to be one deeply rooted in values of integrity and inclusiveness. "It is very protective of itself," says Drina. "In general it veers to engaging people who they feel have integrity and will bring integrity to the category." Thus, Gem&Bolt would find a welcoming home in the hills of Oaxaca because, she recalls, "for some reason, the people we were engaging - mostly men, thought that we would bring that to the table."
In 2015 they took on a partner in successful entrepreneur Jody Levy, founder of Watermelon Water. They would then look to someone with more experience in the alcohol industry and found in Lisa Derman, former COO of Stoli Vodka U.S, the perfect candidate for the job. Derman's near 25 year career in the industry proved her a worthy pick for CEO within the all-female team, and she reflects that as soon as introduction to the girls occurred, "I became mesmerized by the brand."
"Consumers in general are focusing on what they're putting into their bodies and we really want to emphasize more that mezcal is a clean spirit" -Lisa Derman
Derman's lucrative and long career in the industry made her a perfect fit for the brand. "Having been in the industry for 25 years I really had not seen anything like this, and I love the idea of mezcal as a new category," says Derman, underscoring that the brand Drina and Coon had created was something intrinsically unique. "The combination of the branding, the art, the herbs and the focus on botanicals - it's just such a great combination with a focus on health and wellness also because agave is plant-based."
Derman is very optimistic about mezcal's future, and notes that its growth rate has double and tripled in the last few years. "Mezcal is gaining notoriety because of the authenticity and artisanal production process," she says. "Much like whiskey, people are approaching it with connoisseurship." There's an opportunity with mezcal to talk about the production process, the harvesting, which adds an authentic story behind the product. The agave plant itself has to grow for eight to ten years before its harvested, and once ready, workers adopt a hands driven approach - crushing the plant with stone before distilling in small copper pots.
Having first launched in Austin, Texas in June of last year, Gem&Bolt is now available in L.A, New York City and upstate NY. The founders will look to Colorado next because of its pension for mezcal, and eventually further afield. "There's a big agave market there for tequila and metal and then we will look to Florida," says Derman. In keeping with the brands unconventional, style-forward position, AdrinAdrina and Coon were chosen to walk in the Gareth Pugh show at London Fashion Week as part of a positive, strong women protest. They say they would love for their spirit to be available in the UK, but building in the U.S. is the current priority. "Our focus right now is in the U.S but we already have some activation in Mykonos and Ibiza, London and Berlin," says Drina. "London is clamoring for Gem&Bolt. And how could it not - how often is it you see a brand with such artisanal flair and a pair of founders this fabulously passionate? It's rare and it's divine.