American Liquor Co is exactly that: American. Founded on the belief that ‘We’re stronger when we’re together,’ American Liquor Co’s vodka is made from all four classic vodka ingredients: wheat, rye, potato, and corn. All grown in the Midwest, it’s made with the help from multiple craft distilleries in a truly collaborative process.
For the company’s Director of Sales, Cole Levy, “It’s more than a vodka — it’s about being part of the Midwestern community.”
American takes a whiskey approach to making vodka, which makes it unique in the world of craft spirits. We caught up with Levy to learn more.
ForceBrands: Tell us first about your background? What inspired you to launch American Liquor Co?
Cole Levy: Like so many millennials, I went to college and got a degree in something that requires a graduate degree to actually get a job. So, I went back to bartending while figuring things out and one day, the national brand ambassador for Tanqueray came into the bar for a staff training. From that moment, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
When I dove into the brand narrative of American Liquor Co, I was sold. This wasn’t just another vodka, but a brand rooted in the Midwest, just like me, with a lot of the same values. Every seven years or so there’s a generational shift where the established spirits seem less relevant to the next generation.
American Liquor is a next-generation offering that’s not your parents’ ‘luxury’ vodka.
FB: What makes American Liquor Co unique in the world of craft spirits?
CL It’s the first and only vodka made from all four classic vodka ingredients: wheat, rye, potato, and corn. Each is locally grown in the Midwest, distilled by some of the top distillers, and then blended like a fine whiskey. The thing I love most about American — and what separates us from the rest — is we not only say “collaboration over competition,” we live it. Multiple craft distilleries work together to make American. I love the idea that we are stronger when we work together. We took a whiskey approach to make our blend. That is, like a blended scotch whiskey, we utilize the best distillates so that the sum is greater than the parts.
FB: How has community, sustainability, and innovation played a role in bringing the product and brand to life?
CL: It’s more than a vodka — it’s about being part of the Midwestern community.
When you buy a bottle of American, you aren’t just supporting our brand but the craft distillers we partner with, the farmers they get their crops from, the suppliers we get all our brand materials from, the organizations we support, and the individuals we share our platform with. Beyond that, we’re defying traditional notions of how vodka is made.
FB: What are some of the misconceptions about vodka and how is American Vodka changing how consumers think about it?
CL: One of the biggest misconceptions about vodka is that it has no distinctive taste or character. Each grain imparts its own unique taste and mouthfeel — unless, of course, it’s been distilled so many times that all the taste has been removed. This leads me to another common misconception: the more distillations, the better the vodka. This is a marketing tactic, not a fact. A talented craft distiller can produce an outstanding clean vodka that tastes like the base crop without distilling it to death. At American Vodka, we’re trying to challenge these preconceived notions with the idea, ‘Vodka for Whiskey Lovers.’ It articulates the ‘scotch whiskey approach’ that yields a delicious vodka with a grassy front note, a berry burst in the middle, and a spicy finish from the rye.
FB: American Liquor Co launched amid a pandemic. Where have you found success?
CL: Launching a brand in the middle of a pandemic is challenging but we also saw it as an opportunity to support the hospitality community during this difficult time, especially bartenders. We asked them to create custom cocktails that would be easy to replicate at home, recorded them, and shared them on social media. It was a great way to introduce the brand to the industry while getting us in front of their customers, virtually and safely. The uniqueness of the brand — being a four-crop blended vodka — has clearly resonated. It’s been rewarding how quickly the hospitality community has gotten behind this brand and put it on their menus.
FB: Let’s chat about hiring and team building. What do you look for in those first key strategic hires?
CL: The number one thing I look for is someone who shares the brand values. Understanding our product and messaging is so integral to what we are doing that whoever represents the brand has to share those same values.
Authenticity is crucial in this crowded space. Sales strategy and systems can be taught, but you can’t teach belief. I would rather hire someone who has no experience but loves the brand than someone who has all the experience in the world.
FB: Are there any industry mentors you admire most who’ve helped you along your career journey?
CL: Steve Luttmann, my boss at American, is the best boss/mentor/cheerleader I have ever had. I feel so fortunate that he saw my talent, believed in me, and is doing everything he can to help me be successful. And when I was transitioning from Market Manager to Sales Director, I was fortunate to have the ears of Malte Barnekow. He was able to help me realize things I already knew. Before that, I never had someone guiding me along the way. I had to figure it out on my own. Now, I hope that I am that mentor to the team I’m building — as opposed to telling them what to do, I try to support and guide them.
FB: What excites you most about the next 3-5 years?
CL: Oh wow, so many things! First and foremost, moving past this pandemic and returning to a new normal. Beyond that, American Vodka will be expanding into new markets, expanding our size selection, and most of all, launching a line of vodka sodas. I’m loving our new messaging, “Vodka for Whiskey Lovers.” Building events and activations around this is going to be a new challenge that I am ready for. There is so much we haven’t been able to do yet because of the pandemic and I can’t wait for the world to see what we have in the pipeline.