While some entrepreneurs would be satisfied with a single prosperous venture like the global success of a brand as influential as Leblon Cachaça, Steve Luttmann is always looking for the next big thing. His passion for the food and beverage space means he’s always ambitiously seeking out unique new experiences to help bring to market.
As Managing Director of Tortoise & Volt Marketing & Ventures, Luttmann rarely has a shortage of exciting new projects on deck. We caught up with him to learn about his background, his recently launched history-inspired rum and rye whiskey brand Hercules Mulligan, and what excites him most about the year ahead.
ForceBrands: You have a very entrepreneurial background. Walk us through your experiences building impactful food and beverage brands.
Steve Luttmann: I had the pleasure of “growing up” at Unilever, where I started in the ice cream category in Vienna, Austria. During my 10 years at Unilever, I worked in Europe, the United States, and Brazil on some iconic food and beverage brands — great brands like Magnum Ice Cream in Europe, Lipton Iced Tea and RAGÚ Sauces in the U.S., CICA Foods in Brazil, and a fun innovation project with Ben & Jerry’s. It was amazing training in marketing strategy and brand management. Then I had the opportunity to work at Schieffelin & Somerset, the famous Diageo/LVMH joint venture, which subsequently morphed into LVMH’s Möet Hennessy.
In 2005, I created Leblon Cachaça, fueled by my passion as a “Brazilophile.” Leblon was a 12-year passion play, where “Brazil in a Bottle” and our concept of “Live Love Leblon” was introduced to the world. Now with Tortoise & Volt Marketing & Ventures, my focus is creating great strategic marketing and brands in the CPG food and beverage space — from startups to helping iconic brands innovate and “create heat.”
FB: You continued to lead Leblon after it was acquired by Bacardi in 2015. What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned when it comes to preparing a team for an acquisition?
SL: Our company had a very unique, enthusiastic culture that was very focused on creating a new category — Cachaça (ka-SHA-sa) — and incessantly communicating our brand message: “Come To Leblon, Have A Caipirinha, Live Love Leblon.” Our team had a ton of energy and passion. One of the challenges you have when you enter a multi-brand portfolio environment is keeping the energy and passion focused on the brand, and keeping key talent once the brand is acquired and folded into the larger company infrastructure. Over time, a lot of the Leblon team was absorbed within Bacardi itself, and the brand has continued to grow. Overall, we accomplished our mission of establishing the Cachaça category here in the U.S., and Leblon is the quintessential high-end Brazilian spirit brand worldwide.
FB: One of your newest ventures is Hercules Mulligan which recently launched. Tell us more about it and what makes it unique.
SL: I’m a history fan, especially of the colonial period, and discovered Hercules Mulligan when reading Ron Chernow’s “Hamilton” in 2012. I subsequently found an out-of-print biography about Hercules Mulligan published in 1937, and that’s how I became motivated to create the brand. The story is very inspiring: An Irish immigrant who ran a tailor shop in Lower Manhattan during the British Occupation, Mulligan became a spy for General George Washington and his close friend Alexander Hamilton. The charismatic Mulligan served drinks to his patrons at his tailor shop, which became a popular hangout for British officers. After a few drinks, the British officers would get a bit loose and spill their secrets, which Mulligan passed on to Washington and Hamilton. These secrets saved Washington’s life on two occasions, and saved the French Naval Armada from decimation off the coast of Rhode Island. In other words, without Mulligan, and of course his drinks, the Americans probably would not have won the Revolutionary War. This was the inspiration for Hercules Mulligan “Rum + Rye.” The drink, which is an 86 proof craft cocktail in a 750 ml bottle, is inspired by recipes from the revolutionary era. It is a 50:50 blend of Caribbean aged rum and homegrown American rye whiskey. Fresh, organic, ginger root is macerated in the rum and rye blend, and a splash of bitters is added. It’s designed to be enjoyed on the rocks like a ready-made Old Fashioned — and is a great conduit for revealing secrets amongst friends…
FB: Who is the intended target audience for Hercules Mulligan and how do you plan to reach them?
SL: We’re definitely targeting folks who prefer the highest quality — a true craft cocktail in a bottle — and are willing to pay a bit more for it. We have great ingredients — from the quality of the Caribbean aged rums, the American rye whiskies, the organic fresh ginger, and our proprietary bitters — which the craft connoisseur will definitely appreciate. Unlike most other “flavored spirits” or “bottled cocktails,” we do not use any “flavors.” Our ingredients are exactly what’s written on the front panel of the bottle: rum, rye, ginger, and bitters. Nothing else.
In terms of our go-to-market strategy, we’re taking a different tack to establish our brand and “prove concept.” Unlike most new spirit brands, which spend tons of time and money to get distribution and then spend tons of time and money to drive consumer awareness and trial, we decided to partner with Flaviar, the leading members club for fine spirits enthusiasts, and sell the product through their drect to consumer platform. This will incubate the brand with an influential connoisseur target throughout the U.S. and Europe first, and then we’ll go from there.
FB: So what’s next? What excites you most about the year ahead?
SL: Good question! I’m definitely excited about 2020 and have a few interesting projects and ideas in the food and beverage space. At Tortoise & Volt, we recently created the brand name for a plant-based burger for the largest restaurant chain in the world, and have a number of clients currently launching new brands and innovations that we developed. Beyond that, I’m definitely on the lookout for the next big thing!
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