Jakob Ripshtein, the CEO of Fluid Assets Inc., came to the realization that most people enjoy a nice drink, not to get tipsy, but rather with a desire “to unwind, socialize with friends and family, or make an occasion feel even more special.”
Yet, when he and his team looked at the spirits market, they noticed there was “a glaring gap” between traditional spirits with 40 per cent alcohol by volume, and the ready-to-drink options at four to six per cent, “many of which are less flavorful, taste artificial, or are packed with sugar and extra calories.”
It was that reason, in addition to what they saw as a growing movement towards health consciousness, that they launched 18.8 —a hand-crafted, small-batch vodka and gin, with just 18.8 per cent alcohol.
Since 18.8’s launch in the summer of 2020, Fluid Assets has already won their first product award, a silver medal in the International Spirits Challenge 2020, “for commitment to quality and innovation in the vodka category.”
The team bringing this all to fruition is made up of corporate backgrounds from the world’s largest companies (Diageo, MolsonCoors, Unilever), but they apply a startup mentality to move quickly, and address consumer needs with true innovation.
Swagger caught up with Ripshtein, and asked him all about this Niagara-region brand, and why these elegant, trendy drinks should be on your “must-try” list.
Why was 18.8 created?
To give people the gift of choice. With the “better for you” movement gaining momentum across the food and beverage industry, and others, we wanted to give people the choice to celebrate responsibly, and on their own terms—without having to sacrifice great taste or quality.
Vodka is extremely versatile, and the largest category within adult beverages, so it was the ideal choice for our first product launch with 18.8 Vodka. We’re very excited about having added a gin to our line-up (18.8 Gin), and lately, a smooth whisky, Gray Jay.
Tell me about the time you’ve spent in the spirits industry, and the kinds of positions you held?
I’ve spent the last 20-plus years learning how the adult beverage industry works, through a variety of roles across finance, sales, and strategy in Canada, the US and the UK.
As President of Diageo Canada and the company’s North American CFO, I had the opportunity to work with many of the world’s leading alcohol brands. These were incredibly rewarding experiences—mostly due to the people I worked with, and the relationships I developed along the way. Relatively speaking, it’s a small industry that we’re in. Strong partnerships, good relations, and practical experience can go a long way.
How have your previous experiences prepared you for launching 18.8?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my previous positions, especially as a leader who’s often being pulled in multiple directions, it’s how to focus. Stay laser-focused on what matters, and what will create a winning brand. You learn to listen to the needs of your customers, and provide solutions that fill gaps in the market. Solutions that make peoples’ lives better and more rewarding. This thinking is exactly what prepared us for, and lead us to, the 18.8 brand story.
Can you speak to the process of making these new products?
I’m incredibly lucky to be doing this with people I respect, and with whom I genuinely enjoy spending time. When you’re creating something from the ground up, there are no established guardrails, and you have to move quickly to stay competitive, which means you really have to trust your team to make the right decisions.
Many of us have come from more corporate roles where you’re dealing with extensive levels of approval, and all the “red tape” that’s necessary for big multinational organizations. That doesn’t constrict us here, which means we can be nimble and drive real innovation that meets consumers’ needs. 18.8 went from an idea to a real product in the market in four months.
Everyone at Perennial Brands and FLUID—the arm of our company dedicated to adult beverages—joined this organization because we’re all crazy entrepreneurs, and we’re all passionate about building unique brands from scratch.
It’s exhilarating to put something out there that didn’t exist before; there’s no more rewarding feeling than seeing your own product on shelf. Our team had fun celebrating our first purchase order, the arrival of our first production case, and our first product award.
Can you talk about what you enjoy most about these drinks?
Its versatility: as well-suited for a brunch Caesar, as it is for a wedding reception, New Years or Christmas dinner, or just a relaxing evening at home (especially as people look to drink in moderation while in quarantine).
We don’t have a demographic profile for the brand, because it’s all about the occasions. It’s about those events or moments you want to be part of, or want to make more special. We believe that for every occasion, you should have the choice to consume responsibly on your own terms, without giving up on taste or quality.