Bernard Lax is riding a big change in the spirits world. The founder of KIN White Whiskey, Lax revamped your typical 'moonshine' into a refined and adventurous product--helping reshape the category in the process. Claiming to be "interchangeable with vodka, gin and rum," KIN packs all the punch of your standard 80-proof alcohol without the bite of its predecessors. KIN's new-age taste and old-school rebellious culture is making its way across Southern California restaurants and retailers.
KIN also exemplifies the significant role that branding plays in the food & beverage world. While Lax has created a heck of a product, he doesn't come from a distilling background. He comes from a marketing background, and that's exactly how he discovered the niche for KIN to establish itself as an industry leader.
I had the opportunity to speak with Lax about the past, present and future for KIN White Whiskey. His insights make for an excellent case study on how to crack into such a competitive market
How did you develop the idea for KIN?
"It started with a friend based in Cartersville, Georgia, who used to bring in some ‘less than legal’ whiskey that came from down south. Most people had made [commercial moonshine] on more of a kitschy type of situation, and we thought there was a market to make a premium version of the product. We're taking a legacy element of the US and turning it into a premium product."
"One of the issues with most white whiskeys is that they’re pretty harsh, so we made it more drinkable and easier to be mixed. It’s how it should taste. We fought for two years with the TTB* to call it white whiskey rather than moonshine. We're definitely not the first moonshine, but as soon as we got white whiskey approved, a bunch of people jumped on the bandwagon."
Who is your target consumer?
"Our demographic is the 21 – 40-year old risk taker and innovator. Spanning across sexes, they live an alternative lifestyle...more of a Kurt Cobain type, Someone who sees the world differently. Everyone pretends they’re a nonconformist until they walk up to a bar and order vodka.We're after someone who likes to discover, someone who takes a chance. We want people to ‘discover’ [KIN]. We want the people who ‘get it,’ someone who wants to try something else."
What inspired KIN's "proud to be immature" brand culture?
"White whiskey was derived from people who don’t follow the rules. It's the whole aspect of not following the rules, of being different. Marketing a product that doesn’t easily fit into a category is what we’re all about.
Where can we find KIN right now?
"We’ve targeted very specific locations in LA and San Diego. We're preparing a sales performance outlook to present to distributors. We started in California because we knew we needed to prove there was a market, and many core customers live here. Liquor stores are our weakness. They’re more ‘service by distributors, but those who carry [KIN] sell a lot of it. We'll also be online soon"
KIN is currently served at The Churchill, Hutchinson, Barrel & Ashes, Sonny’s Hideaway Highland Park, Standard Rooftop Bar, Porta Via, Justice Urban Tavern, Public School 213, Sixth Street Tavern, Kitchen24 and Cliff’s Edge. Retailers include Almor Wine and Spirits, Keg ‘N Bottle and MiniBar Delivery
Where do you see KIN going from here?
"We see ourselves with distributors in every state eventually. Our goal is to get a 6-pack case in as many places as we can so that we can build ourselves in as many markets as possible. We want to be the product where [restaurants] go through a case every week. We’re doing that in restaurants right now. I don’t see our product as being on the shelf. I see it as what reach for when they’re making a martini. [KIN is] something fun to mix, shoot...more versatility than other product. The people we compete against, you can’t use their stuff in a mixed drink.
*The TTB is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which oversees labeling and classification [among other items].
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Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.