York County-based vodka maker pitches product in Las VegasHolla Vodka showcases recently released jalapeno-infused sugar cane vodka
It's been a year since Holla Spirits, LLC founders Patrick Shorb and Matt Glaser launched Pennsylvania-produced Holla Vodka. We checked in with them.
Most recently, Shorb says he and Glaser had the opportunity to pitch Holla Vodka before a panel of executives from Caesars Palace, TAO Group and Element Hospitality Group during the 2018 Nightclub & Bar Trade Show’s Pitch Tank event in Las Vegas.
Holla's submission was one of 12 that was selected out of more than 80, said Michael Sullivan, director of the Newtown, Massachusetts-based Nightclub & Bar Media Group.
CPBJ: So, what's new?
Shorb: Our success in the Pitchtank competition was an incredible honor. Holla will also be poured at a VIP event at the Coachella music festival in California this month.
We recently released our Sweetfire Jalapeno sugar cane-based vodka infused with natural jalapeno peppers. Again, we kept it simple and wanted to offer a high-end product that could be used to enhance classic cocktails using fresh ingredients instead of chemical flavors. The combination of smooth sugar cane vodka and natural heat of the jalapenos make for amazing Bloody Marys, spicy martinis, mules, mojitos, or margaritas.
CPBJ: How did you and Matt identify a need/opening in the market for a different kind of vodka?
Shorb: This is a brand built on instinct over big company research. It was blatantly apparent during our years at Penn State (graduated 2008), that big spirits firms weren’t paying attention to our generation and have just now begun re-branding their past portfolios with new messaging to target our generation. Re-branded versions of what our parents drank, celebrity gimmicks, new outlandish flavors, and boring craft products just didn’t suit our style.
CPBJ: Where is your distillery? Has that changed since you first started?
Shorb: We’ve partnered with a new Pennsylvania limited distillery in Pottstown that was licensed in late December 2017. Yes, originally we were contracting our production to a distillery in Philadelphia to keep things as local as possible. The new distillery gives us much more control over production and the ability to expand the brand’s product line further.
CPBJ: What kind of challenges have you faced along the way? What have you learned and have you made changes?
Shorb: Our first production partner unexpectedly stopped doing third party production to focus on their internal products. We were lucky to find a highly skilled spirits industry veteran to partner with to continue building our brand together. ... We’re definitely underdogs in an industry that’s historically been strictly controlled by just a handful of dominant companies that maintain over 75 percent of the market share.
CPBJ: What's your moment of pride with the company?
Shorb: Any time we land a new account or receive another award is a moment of pride. It takes a lot of convincing to change someone’s vodka preference, because a lot of it is based on emotion or perception, rather than the actual quality of a product. We’ve been programmed to believe that vodka is overly complex, but it’s quite simple. Once people realize the expertise behind our products and sample it next to globally successful brands, they tend to change their tune.
CPBJ: What's in Holla? And what sets you apart from other vodkas out there?
Shorb: Holla is a lifestyle brand. We simply wanted a casual great tasting vodka to enjoy with our friends. Big brands have self-admittedly failed to capture the imagination of our generation, so we created a fun unpretentious brand that our generation can instantly recognize its style, just by hearing the term ‘Holla’.
Vodka is the simplest of spirits to produce and our production practices, ingredients, and taste profile are very similar to those of the most popular brand in history currently having great success.
CPBJ: Where is Holla available?
Shorb: Holla is recently available in 10 PA Fine Wine and Good Spirits stores in York, Harrisburg, State College, Lancaster, West Chester, Manayunk, Philadelphia and available for purchase by PA residents on our website. It is also available in retail and on-premise locations in Delaware or Maryland, with limited distribution in New York, New Jersey, and California. We are able to service all 50 states with one of our distribution and compliance partners as needed. We’re currently fulfilling all the requirements to open sales in Nevada, due to our success with major casinos at the Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas.