Unlike so many drinks businesses, award-winning (and Uproxx praised!) canned cocktail company, Siponey, didn’t have to readjust their business model to highlight diversity, inclusion, and environmental stewardship over the past half-decade. Those qualities are fundamental to the company itself and how it came about. Co-founded and co-owned by a Latina woman, Amanda Victoria, along with her partner, horticulturist Joseph Mintz, Siponey endeavors to give back to both community and the planet in everything it does.
It also tastes good, which is key if you want your upstart (non-celebrity owned!) drinks business to thrive. The canned whiskey spritz is comprised of four-year-old rye whiskey, real lemon juice, sparkling water, and honey. It features notes of honey and lemon with a touch of peppery rye — a nice break from the often syrupy competition.
As canned cocktails continue to boom, I chatted with Victoria about starting a brand from the ground up, her commitment to diversity and inclusion, and how environmentalism is part of Siponey’s overarching mission. Check our conversation below!
What was your introduction to the spirits industry?
I’ve been in wine and spirits for about 15 years, since approximately 2005. I started by working in, coincidentally, a Michelin starred restaurant as a hostess in the West Village, which is still there today; and was introduced to the world of wine that way. I found myself as a young 18–19-year-old, serving wine to the likes of Lou Reed, Giselle Bundchen, and some really high-end people in this Michelin star world that was popping at the time. I was really inspired by the different tastes and cultures that I was introduced to in the West Village as a young girl.
As soon as I could start drinking legally, I became more interested in learning about wine. And that led to working in other great restaurants and bars, including some of the most awarded cocktail bars in the world and in the city; falling into the right laps at the right time with mentors, including Audrey Saunders at the Pegu Club [who] was my first early mentor and teacher. I don’t have any traditional studies in my field. And I mention that just because I happen to be working alongside and for and together with a lot of the people that ended up creating a lot of the accreditations for the industry. A lot of it was being defined at the same time that I was working in these cocktail bars.
When did the idea for Siponey come along?
So much had happened between the time that I was working in bars and restaurants up to 2019. I worked for every major supplier — both public and private companies of the large liquor companies in the world — in roles that were very well regarded on a global level, and always focused on education. So I had the opportunity to travel the world for almost a decade – flying around the world, learning from families and generations of producers, from Poland to France to Scotland and beyond. Then, coming and teaching these stories of production and education back to the American audience. For these large liquor suppliers like William Grant & Sons, Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, I had been doing this so often, I would get dream job after dream job, to be honest. I love the concept of learning and teaching about cultures that are defined by specifically family producers, but people who have been making products for the lines of many family generations. Then, coupled with that, flying, teaching, traveling, and education are all my favorite things.
I was lucky to be able to do that for large companies for so long. But it got to the point where I became just overly passionate about these products to the point where people that I would be educating on the products themselves back in America would say, “Well, is this your family? Is this something that you own? Do you have equity in this company?” I even had a moniker at one point where people used to call me Lady Lillet and it was just because I was so entrenched in this company that I was working for at the time that people assumed that I had an equity stake.
I met my partner Joseph Mintz in 2018. We came together on an idea after nagging me for as many months as he could, “When are we going to launch your own product? When are you going to launch something that you actually own and that you can talk about as passionately as you talk and teach about these products that you’ve really changed the revenue structure? Why can’t we do this for yourself?” The three-tier distribution system is nearly impossible to navigate as an individual supplier, it would be a really challenging thing. He didn’t really know the full landscape of how challenging the distribution of alcohol is in the U.S. I think, if he did, we might not be where we are today. I’m glad he didn’t at that time, and he’s my partner in life and business.
I was six months pregnant and we came together on the idea to create Siponey.
What would you say helped you take that leap of faith?
Joey is my catalyst. So much of my life in the last several years has accelerated rapidly with Joseph entering my life, including this business of ours. It was his opportunity to dream and see real opportunity in me and my experience and couple it with his experience. He brings in the environmental aspect of the brand itself, coming from a background in horticultural studies from the New York Botanical Gardens. He’s always planting, and he brings in the entire environmental wellness element of the Siponey story and brand. He thought of us coming together, creating a community around apiary education, and giving back to the environment, a brand that is rooted in sustainability and environmental wellness, and ingredients. Siponey is all about people and the planet and giving back to people with our ingredients and giving back to the planet with the way we’re made. We give back a portion of profits to nonprofit partners who are out there teaching children how to make honeybee colonies in underserved communities. It’s bringing all these elements together that uniquely makes the Siponey brand story.
I say uniquely because now we’ve had some copycats at this point, which is humbling. So much of what Siponey is who me and Joey are. So we’re really secure in who we are and putting our love into this project. I hope it shows.
Let’s get into the actual drink itself. Tell me about the whiskey and other ingredients.
When Joey was like, “You need to make a product.” He was like, “What would you make?” This is obviously before the pandemic. This is before the recent RTD canned cocktail rush, but it’s also around the same time as the initial White Claw success. And that was the inspiration for making a product. Again, with the best ingredients, we wanted to do something that we feel our customers really just simply deserve – the highest quality ingredients you’re going to find in a canned cocktail.
We use a four-year-old aged rye whiskey from New York state, made in a fashion that is pretty much biodynamic but not certified because of red tape. It’s made with that much care. All local grains, all locally aged in New York State. All our ingredients are coming from an approximately 200-mile radius of upstate New York. The wildflower honey comes locally from where the same grains are planted for the whiskey. So there’s synergy there in the elements. Then, we also use lemon juice and carbonated water, Saratoga Springs water – which is just some beautiful, delicious water to carbonate and make the soda water aspect of Siponey. The lemons don’t come from upstate New York. They don’t grow lemons very well in New York State. We work with a local purveyor to get our lemon juice. That’s the only element that’s not out of New York. Because of all of the ingredients coming with such care to New York State and because Joey and I being born in New York City, we’ve created what we’ve termed as the “official canned cocktail of New York City” because everybody who’s touched this project is so New York.
I look at your social media posts and you’re very passionate about the ins and outs of the spirits industry. I want to get your perspective of what’s right and wrong in the industry. Let’s start with the positive.
So much is going right. Change is really hard. We’re at the precipice moment so to speak of some significant change or the potential for some significant change. A lot of the larger corporations are all really receptive to the, for lack of a better word, buzzwords, of the social and environmental causes that are so important right now, that have been important for decades prior; but they came to a pinnacle moment during the pandemic in the last couple of years here on many different arenas on a collective level and then have really trickled down to an industry level. So, the awakening moment is here. There is not an older male gentleman in corporate America liquor who hasn’t heard of diversity, inclusion, sustainability, environmental wellness, and how that supporting these very important initiatives will also, in turn, support their profits and revenues overall.
Just because I grew up in it, it seems very important to me to be quite vocal about action and follow-through and in these departments of specifically social justice and for Siponey very specifically environmental wellness and follow through and to see the money be redirected to support these significant changes that they’re committing to with a lot of wordplays right now. So we’re at this moment — and I think we’ve been here for a little bit under a year, at least — where we’re looking towards the future. I want to see this change that’s going to happen, the awareness is there. Whether it’s awareness from a pure level or from a profit-driven level. I think it’s the latter, but it’s there.
So, we’re here at this moment of awareness and I think that is very positive.
I agree with you, the first step to change is acknowledging there is an issue. You read my mind, it’s like “is this performative for profit, or do you genuinely care about making a change?”
For the most part, I’m not going to be the one to sugarcoat that. I think as someone as a Latina and woman – and my insights don’t match my outside sometimes – I find myself at tables with white older gentlemen quite often in my career, and it’s because my mouth doesn’t really match my outside. I feel like it’s some disconnect. I feel like it is very much for profit. I really do want to see environmental wellness. I really do want a planet left for my daughter to raise her family in, in the future. But I think short term, a lot of these companies that do commit to these bigger statements that they’re making, I’m still waiting to see it. I want to see it. I think it’s performative. It can be performative until we really look back at this time, we won’t really know. Just like you said, acknowledgment to change is huge.
With being a double minority — a Latina and woman — what advice would you give someone that’s also a double minority that wants to launch their own business in this space?
That’s a very good question. It’s a little heartbreaking to some extent because, in some ways, the playing field is not level. I think about just how I would speak to my daughter if this were something she wanted to pursue, but I hope change will be in a different place in her generation. I think for sure perseverance, finding a place to deal with rejection, a healthy outlet for rejection is super important. For every one “yes”, there’s going to be 100 “no’s” and in social media, you see a lot of people that celebrate those yeses, but there are a lot of things we don’t see. Take a moment and understand there’s no overnight success. It’s a long, long process, typically. Overnight success is, again, what you think you see as an observer, but so much went into that moment.
Specialize in something – that’s a big one for me – in whatever industry you’re in, whatever pursuit of passion that you have. The one thing that you do need to be successful as an entrepreneur is passion and being able to utilize that passion by specializing in something. For me in the beginning, it was French spirits. I really specialized in French spirits. Then, I moved on to specialize in Scotch whiskey and whiskey in general. Find a little niche area and put some commitment of time and education, research, and establish yourself as an expert in that area. Through dedication, time, and passion that you bring into it repeatedly, it’ll add up to something.
Don’t take “no” for an answer.