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by jared shapiro | October 31, 2013 | Food & Drink
Miami Cocktail Company’s Simon Benstead and Ross Graham at Ocean House South Beach
It’s the moment every entrepreneur waits for, that instant when years of hard work, sweat, and writing checks pay off and the product is finally packaged, delivered, and ready to sell. For Miami Cocktail Company's Simon Benstead and Ross Graham, it happened about a year ago, when their first shipment of 2,000 cases of Old Time Sweet Tea arrived, ready for consumption. There was only one problem: The no-carb, no-sugar, 12.5 percent alcohol formula these two entrepreneurs had developed arrived too sweet. “We looked at each other and said, ‘We’re not going to market with this,’” Graham says.
It was an expensive lesson. “You’ve got to believe in first impressions. We knew we couldn’t put this product out there—it wasn’t worth it. So if anyone wants 2,000 really sweet cases of tea, we still have them.”
Fast-forward to 2013, and the duo has passed out more than 20,000 samples from Miami to New York to Los Angeles. October marks the launch of their pink lemonade flavor, with a percentage of sales supporting breast cancer awareness. By the end of the year, they will be offering original margarita and classic mojito, in addition to their Old Time Sweet Tea and piña colada, with distribution expanding to NYC and the Hamptons.
Made with no additives, preservatives, or high-fructose corn syrup, Miami Cocktail Company’s ready-to-serve mixed drinks may sound like a Miami take on Skinnygirl (reality star Bethenny Frankel’s über-successful low-calorie cocktail), but that’s where the comparison ends. “She is a great brand and an awesome personality, but there’s a distinct difference between our products. We did a lot of tastings against her product, and we’re confident when people try it side by side what they’ll choose.”
The science is simple. Take top-shelf spirits, add natural flavor and organic extracts, and a zero-calorie sweetener (Splenda), and voilà—a “healthy” cocktail. But try to get your hands on that type of drink just a year ago, and there wasn’t really anything available. So the duo started mixing. Graham, with a background in the wine and spirits industry, and Benstead, who earned his stripes in finance, began flying to festivals across the country, selling bottles out of the trunk of a car, pitching, developing, strategizing. “It’s definitely a 24/7 thing. You have to breathe it,” Graham says. That attitude got them noticed at the 2013 Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America trade show in Orlando. Their margarita went up against 15 ready-to-serve counterparts and five made by mixologists. “We won gold for best taste. In a blind taste test, they had no idea it was sugar-free.”
That victory drew the eyes of beverage purveyors ready to take them on. Meetings with major retailers around the country and now a deal with the mega-distributor Premier Beverage have Miami Cocktail expanding at a rapid pace—just like our town. “Our cocktails really reflect Miami. How could you not be excited about Miami, for all that it is?” We’ll drink to that.
photography by gary james