It's not often that you get the opportunity to become business partners with a close friend, and even rarer that you come together to create a brand so visually unique and pointedly representative of this #girlboss revolution.
Dynamic duo AdrinAdrina and Elliott Coon have joined forces to create this art-infused mezcal brand that emits glamour and hipster chic vibes before you've even had the chance to sample the herbal damiana taste. As we've said before, being a female in the drinks business isn't easy, but the more women continue to invade the industry, the more rewards are reaped.
"We kind of came into spirits through the side door."
The pair grew up together in the mountains of Virginia, and having been friends for years they began thinking of business ideas. “We started brainstorming a commercial venture that would bring together all of our interests" says Coon. By 2012 the duo had settled on the conception of a speakeasy that would be focused heavily on mezcal.
The bar, named Gem&Bolt proved a huge success, and gave the pair an opportunity to explore with mixology and mezcal infusions. "At the speakeasy we were serving mezcal infused with herbs," says Coon. The team subsequently became fixated with the herb damiana, said to have mythological properties (mostly related to sexual prowess and libido). The ladies then discovered that elixirs made from damiana and used in conjunction with mezcal were the most fruitfully sold, not to mention the most tasty. What began as an art project, would soon become their next business venture as they decided to take mezcal up to Oaxaca and begin hand-infusing the liquor.
"That was the beginning," AdrinAdrina says, "when we were really experimenting." The organic growth from the bar spurred the project and before long they were bottling the infusion.
The reason for the name? “In Oaxaca, we serendipitously discovered the ancient Zapotec myth of mezcal where a lightning bolt strikes the gem (or heart) of the agave plant, roasting and fermenting its sugars, creating the mystical sap now known as mezcal," Elliott explains.
They realized there was an opportunity to expand on the concoctions created in the bar and looked to find a chemist to begin the process of distilling and making their own mezcal.
"[The business] very quickly got very serious"
Coon began working with chemists to define the spirit's composition with a focus on it being a pure, clean offering. Their resulting product is made without artificial yeast or additives and is 100% agave based, versus its tequila counterpart whose regulations are not as strict. But of course, it was the damiana that would come to characterize the brand and its different taste.
We asked AdrinAdrina if the company encountered any hurdles because its founders were women in a male dominated industry. She told SWAAY, "honestly we expected to have difficulties within the industry but we were welcomed with open arms into the mezcal community."
The mezcal world proved to be one deeply rooted in values of integrity and inclusiveness. "It is very protective of itself," says Drina. "In general it veers to engaging people who they feel have integrity and will bring integrity to the category." Thus, Gem&Bolt would find a welcoming home in the hills of Oaxaca because, she recalls, "for some reason, the people we were engaging - mostly men, thought that we would bring that to the table."
In 2015 they took on a partner in successful entrepreneur Jody Levy, founder of Watermelon Water. They would then look to someone with more experience in the alcohol industry and found in Lisa Derman, former COO of Stoli Vodka U.S, the perfect candidate for the job. Derman's near 25 year career in the industry proved her a worthy pick for CEO within the all-female team, and she reflects that as soon as introduction to the girls occurred, "I became mesmerized by the brand."
"Consumers in general are focusing on what they're putting into their bodies and we really want to emphasize more that mezcal is a clean spirit" -Lisa Derman
Derman's lucrative and long career in the industry made her a perfect fit for the brand. "Having been in the industry for 25 years I really had not seen anything like this, and I love the idea of mezcal as a new category," says Derman, underscoring that the brand Drina and Coon had created was something intrinsically unique. "The combination of the branding, the art, the herbs and the focus on botanicals - it's just such a great combination with a focus on health and wellness also because agave is plant-based."
Derman is very optimistic about mezcal's future, and notes that its growth rate has double and tripled in the last few years. "Mezcal is gaining notoriety because of the authenticity and artisanal production process," she says. "Much like whiskey, people are approaching it with connoisseurship." There's an opportunity with mezcal to talk about the production process, the harvesting, which adds an authentic story behind the product. The agave plant itself has to grow for eight to ten years before its harvested, and once ready, workers adopt a hands driven approach - crushing the plant with stone before distilling in small copper pots.
Having first launched in Austin, Texas in June of last year, Gem&Bolt is now available in L.A, New York City and upstate NY. The founders will look to Colorado next because of its pension for mezcal, and eventually further afield. "There's a big agave market there for tequila and metal and then we will look to Florida," says Derman. In keeping with the brands unconventional, style-forward position, AdrinAdrina and Coon were chosen to walk in the Gareth Pugh show at London Fashion Week as part of a positive, strong women protest. They say they would love for their spirit to be available in the UK, but building in the U.S. is the current priority. "Our focus right now is in the U.S but we already have some activation in Mykonos and Ibiza, London and Berlin," says Drina. "London is clamoring for Gem&Bolt. And how could it not - how often is it you see a brand with such artisanal flair and a pair of founders this fabulously passionate? It's rare and it's divine.
Sometimes the person you have to stand up to is you! There I was, rewatching the Miss Universe 2019 competition. Which I do for inspiration from time to time. (No, seriously!) There is something about seeing women on stage, in full-on glam mode, and speaking with confident assuredness that really lights my fire!
I have seen this Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa win this crown so many times before, but something about this particular viewing, her delivery or her words, touched something inside me a little differently. At that moment, I truly believed, with complete conviction, that she lives what she speaks.
The announcement was made, the audience cheered, and the crown was awarded. The light was dazzling,, she looked stunning, almost blessed. The judges made the right call with 2019's queen.
Reflecting On Myself
Suddenly, the YouTube video ended. And I was left looking at a black screen. In the darkness of that screen, I saw my reflection and I began assessing what I saw, asking myself, "What have I been doing with my life?" It may seem like an overly dramatic question, but at that moment, I had to ask myself seriously… What have you done? The fact that I couldn't come up with a solid, confident answer gave my inner-cynic license to quickly spiral into self-criticism.
This went on for quite some time, until I got up. I stood up and walked to my mirror to have some serious one-on-one "Queen Talk." I needed to get out of that self-critical mindset, and I know that physical movement is something that help disrupt a way of thinking. I needed to remind myself of who I really was. The negative feelings I was experiencing at that moment were not reality.
Here are a few reminders for whenever you need some Queen Talk!
1.) Comparison is truly the thief of joy.
This saying feels like a cliché. That is, until it's applicable to you. At that moment, this "cliché, becomes self-evident. Comparing myself to someone on a stage with years of experience in an area I know nothing about is not only unfair but straight-up mean. A part of my comparison comes from me wondering, "Would I have the ability, if put in that position, to perform at such a level?" The answer is totally and without question, yes. I excel in the field I work in now, and I know that if I put that same energy towards something else, with practice, I could do just as well. No joy can come from comparing yourself to someone in a completely different field!
2.) Never forget the blessings that have been bestowed upon you.
Every single day, I am blessed to have the opportunity to wake up with all ten fingers and toes and choose to create the kind of life I want to live. There is so much power in that alone, but sometimes it's easy to take it for granted. Let us not forget those who are unable to make that same decision every day of their lives.
3.) Appreciate how far you have come!
I've been very intentional for some time to be kinder and gentler to myself. I need to realize that I am human. Being human means that I will not know everything, and I will continue to make mistakes.But I must let go of the need to always be right. I feel empowered when I can see the growth that I've made, regardless of the mistakes that may come in the future. I don't react to every little thing that bothers me, because I have learned boundaries when it comes to dealing with others and myself. I truly value my time and my energy, and, for that, I am proud.
4.) You Can Be Who You Want To Be
If you can see it in your mind, you can achieve it in reality. I saw myself when I looked at the women on stage, when she smiled, the way she talked, her elegant walk. For a moment, in my self-criticism spiral, I forgot that we are all connected. Debasish Mridha has said "I may not know you, but I don't see any difference between you and me. I see myself in you; we are one." I will not sit in the mentality of lack, there is more than enough opportunity and good fortune to go around for everyone. Her win was not a loss for me, but it can be a nudge from the universe for me to go ahead and dream big!
This Queen Talk was not easy. There may have been some tissues and tears involved but giving myself an honest yet compassionate talk is sometimes what I need to bring myself out of some bad head space. In these moments of doubt, you truly need to be your own best friend.When times get rough, criticism won't always come from outside sources. How you speak about yourself internally is crucial to how you see and feel about yourself. As Beyoncé once sang, "I've got Me, Myself, and I." We must put forth every effort to be there for ourselves. I look forward to more Queen Talks when some negative emotions arise. I am grateful for the person I am today, but I am excited to see the women I become.