Every once in awhile we interview someone doing interesting work In the Field, where we tag along and pick their brain. See past In The Field interviews here.
Yesterday we focused on Fair Game Beverage Company’s current products, but today I wanted to a dig a bit more into where Chris finds inspiration as head distiller. If you didn’t catch Part I go ahead and read it! Like any sustainable business, Chris looks at what is readily available to him. Instead of getting hung up on fruit that isn’t local he thinks up creative concoctions for what’s around.
In the photo above, you can see a jar of brandy-soaked Tobago peppers. Chris actually bought those about a hundred yards away, from a farm on the Piedmont Biofuels campus. He’s also thinking about bitters and various other ways to use herbs. At this point, the distillery isn’t equipped to handle grains, but there’s talk of collaboration between a local microbrewery that could result in eventual whiskey making at Fair Game. Chris is also toying with the idea of making cordials, blackberry anyone? All this talk about Tobago infused brandy, blackberry cordials and bitters had me wondering a little bit more about Chris’s tastes and I asked him the pointed question, “how do you know you have good taste?” He said he describes himself as an adventurous person with a broad palette. Chris likes the odd and the alternative. He realizes that people like what they’re familiar with, but he’s interested in shaking things up a bit and introducing products that are actually traditional in other regions of the world, but are relatively unknown here. Chris and the founders of Fair Game Beverage Company often talk to bartenders and industry folks to see what types of drinks people are more willing to try. Remember, Fair Game Beverage Company is a star-up so it could be a catastrophe if Chris started to release a bunch of wacky products. Wacky meaning delicious and extraordinary, but wacky nonetheless. For that reason, Fair Game is slowly experimenting with other lines of product, but this year they are sticking to the fortified wines and the spirits that will be released this Saturday.
I have to say, hearing Chris talk about fruit brandies (especially pear brandy) had my mouth watering. Chris said, “It’s kind of a weakness and a strength that there is not much selection out there. You cant find American malt whiskey or fruit brandies so maybe if we’re the ones to supply that people will recognize it and be interested. Or maybe only a small segment of the population will be interested in it. You have to take it slow. You don’t just want to blow a few people’s mind and have no one else interested in it.” I mentioned yesterday that introducing products and educating customers is one of the biggest hurdles for Fair Game. Understandably, brand recognition is low during the first few years of any business so it’s important to start with products that will please a broad range of people. How often do you try something new at the ABC store? I know it takes me a bit of research or encouragement to grab a new bottle, especially if it’s a little bit pricier. Fair Game Beverage Company is hoping that consumers are looking for something that’s unique and local. A loyal customer base will enable Chris to be more creative while he creates exceptional new spirits. Seeing Chris light up while talking about future possibilities had me wondering what influences him in his process.
Chris said he is, “super inspired by first wave of American craft distilling that started in the eighties in California and Oregon.” One of those craft distillers, Germain-Robin, employs rigorous, old-fashioned and hands-on methods that were learned long ago in France. Germain-Robin is in Mendocino county, where there’s an abundance of world-class grapes nearby. Chris is also inspired by Clear Creek Distillery in Oregon. Just like Germain-Robin and Fair Game Beverage Company, Clear Creek combines local fruits and traditional hands-on methods to create timeless spirits. “I’m interested in quality and tradition and at the same time moving those traditions forward. Trying to do local, not importing French grapes or California wine. You have to work within your region. My whole view of my food and energy in general is that it needs to be more localized,” said Chris.
Fair Game Beverage Company is actually dedicated to becoming a Certified B Corporation. What’s that you say? B Corps is an official status that incorporates social and environmental responsibility, while also being financially transparent. It’s a way to redefine success in business. It’s not about making money; it’s about being globally responsible. Think of the Fair Trade certification on coffee or a USDA organic certification on milk. Fair Game Beverage Company actually has this goal written into their business plan, it’s not just a dream of Chris’s, it’s an achievable accolade that everyone is striving for. The delivery drivers use biodesiel fuel that is made a few hundred yards away and I’ve already talked your ear off about the love of locality and sourcing ingredients. Chris thinks, “Every community should have a distillery. We [the population] shouldn’t be buying all our mesquite from Kentucky all of our brandy from France.” This overarching global responsibility seeps into everything that goes on at Fair Game Beverage Company. It is refreshing to hear someone in business encourage other business ventures of the same kind to blossom. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Businesses doing what’s right for everyone not just their payroll. Can I get a cheers?!
So how did Fair Game Beverage Company come to be so B Corp worthy? I didn’t ask Chris, but after all my preliminary research I would say it comes from the people at the top, in the middle and on the distillery floor. The founders, investors, the farmers and fruit producers, Chris and Kevin, they are all dedicated to fostering community and thinking on a globally responsible scale. If I’m speaking frankly, we’re talking about a boss-ass group of people. A group that isn’t focused on getting rich, even though they may well be because of their amazing, forward-thinking attitudes towards their customers and the community at large. I have been humbled writing these two posts about Fair Game Beverage Company, because I realized there is A LOT one individual can do. You can make a difference. If you don’t own your own business or run your own farm or source your coffee shop’s beans, don’t think that your choices do not matter. They do. Every single choice matters. Dig a little deeper into the depths of the companies that you choose to support because while your $20 seems meaningless in the scheme of things, their $200,000 surely is not. Yes, sometimes organic produce, fair trade coffee or micro distillery products will be a few bucks more (or less!), but think about what you are paying for. It’s not pesticide-free food, it’s cleaner water, right? It’s not the perfect pull, but knowing the coffee bean farmers are able to eat dinner each night and it surely isn’t a delicious cocktail, it’s knowing that the base was sourced as responsibly as possible. It’s knowing that the delivery drivers fill their gas tanks with biodiesel and it’s knowing that behind these small business there are real people, like you and me, like Chris, with humble dreams that could make a big difference. So let’s all live seasoned, live well, live simply and let others have a chance at doing the same.
Know that while you’re out trying your hardest (I hope!) to be a responsible consumer, Chris and others are behind the scenes working to be responsible producers. “Even the local guys like TOPO and others are willing to sit down and talk to us or borrow some equipment or sell us some extra corks. Sharing and openness even though we’re technically in competition, that’s how I like to do business. I want to work with the folks around me. I want it to be open like that,” said Chris.
Can you hear my heart singing? Collaboration and cooperation between local businesses? If you’re dedicated to living local it just makes sense, but some are more dedicated to getting ahead in business. It’s so refreshing to know that communities are coming back together to build something everyone can support and be proud of. Chris mentioned, “If you’re doing something right and you’re doing it well and you’re being honest than people open up and share.” The Seasoned sisters could not agree more and we hope that this Fair Game Beverage Company interview highlighted that sentiment for you. Pass it on and it will get passed right back to you. I usually associated, ‘what comes around goes around’ with something negative, but after this interview I would say the opposite. I walked out of the distillery and into the Piedmont sunshine with a smile on my face and optimism in my heart. It’s easy for me to be cynical, but not today.
Well done Fair Game Beverage Company, you’ve secured a loyal customer. I should probably mention that this interview wasn’t sponsored and I promise I didn’t drink a bottle of No’Lasses Sorghum Spirit before typing this post. It’s not every day that you pick apart a business and still have a good feeling in your heart, but that’s exactly what happened here.
I encourage, beg, heck, I even demand you go to the release party on Saturday, March 28th. For more information on the food trucks, music and other goodies going on at the release click here.
Lastly, we like to know what everyone is up to during each season and here’s what Chris had to say: The wine and sorghum are super seasonal jobs, especially as Fair Game Beverage Co. figures out what products they’re going to produce. Chris said, “If we’re doing more sugar cane rum and if I start doing the malt whiskey it will round out the year. Grains could be stored which is why they’re good for distilling.” The peaches and grapes require immediate attention. In the spring and summer, Chris is finishing up the distilling. He also works on blending Andy’s wines with the spirits and then barreling them. During the fall, Chris and Bobby are working on harvesting the Sorghum. Chris also picks up crop loads from other farmers. Winter is for collecting apple juice, distilling grapes and sorghum. Chris also starts to ferment the apples. So there you have it folks. Fair Game Beverage Company is living in Season, as you should. See you cats on Saturday!