The liquor business is rife with grandiose claims — every vodka is the smoothest, every bourbon is the fullest-bodied, every brand has the most colorful backstory, and every centuries-old recipe boasts the rarest secret ingredients. So when Adelaide Spirits' Alan Kennedy tells me, "I think there is a hole in the market for something like Adelaide, and I think it is going to get really big, really fast," I'm thinking that I've heard this pitch before.
But after a few sips of the concoction in question, as well as a conversation with its inventors, even this skeptic is convinced Kennedy's optimism is justified.
Adelaide is the creation of Kennedy and Matt Fuller, both local liquor professionals. Kennedy is an eighth-generation Nashvillian who trained as a pastry chef at the Art Institute of Atlanta culinary school before moving on to wines and spirits; past gigs include tending bar at Holland House, managing Table 3 and designing cocktail menus for the Hutton Hotel. Fuller is a South Carolina native with a history in the wholesale liquor business.
The pair are now weeks away from releasing Adelaide Spirits' first creation to the world. The business's seeds were planted four years ago, when Kennedy pondered opening a rum distillery. The plan fell through, but the idea of creating his own libation stayed in the back of his mind. In early 2013, he was inspired to take it up again, convinced that he could offer something no one else would.
"I'm looking at the market," Kennedy says, "and there's seven vodkas hitting the market every week. Everyone and their mother's doing whiskeys. ... I didn't want to do another of those."
Creating a liqueur seems like a perfect fit for someone with Kennedy's background in pastry and mixology. "This is what I do — making syrups and making liqueurs," he says, and cites as an example an extinct 1950s formula he and a colleague re-created for Table 3. The idea for Adelaide, a rose-flavored spirit with notes of vanilla, citrus and walnut, seemed promising. But the plan really came together when Kennedy and Fuller met through a friend in the booze business, and bonded during an impromptu business meeting at Kennedy's house.
"[Matt] came over, and then we drank a lot," Kennedy says. "And he went back home and thought about it and figured out that it's what he wants to do."
According to Kennedy, the key to their collaboration is their similarly down-to-earth approaches to doing business. "I'd rather just have somebody that is in the industry, like me, who knows what we're doing. A lot of people get into it that don't understand it. They think it's going to be cool to own, cool to do. But I've been in this business for a long time, and it's painful, and it's stressful — but it's fun."
Fuller agrees. "With Alan," he says, "I couldn't have asked for a better business partner. ... We're both kind of intuitively already on the same page."
Furthermore, Fuller says it doesn't hurt that their meetings usually start with retasting all of their prospective products. "And then," he says, "it's, 'OK, now down to business.' "
An easygoing South Carolina native who got his start working retail, Fuller probably isn't what comes to mind when you picture the financial backer for the next "it" liquor brand. His role as investor came about through a bizarre series of events.
In April 2011, he was visiting a friend's apartment. As he leaned against the railing of her balcony, the poorly secured structure gave way, and he fell two stories to the ground. His injuries were serious enough to lead to a coma and an 18-day hospital stay. Though he's now recovered, money from a legal settlement with the apartment complex's insurance company didn't come through until early 2013.
Hearing about Adelaide around the same time seemed serendipitous. "I had already realized I don't want to work for someone else's company," Fuller says. "You don't have any say in how it's going to go, or hand on the wheel or anything like that. So when this opportunity presented itself I was like, 'Yeah!' "
Creating the prototype batch was a labor of love for the two men. Kennedy describes his method for blending flavors: "You sit in your house and mix and bottle and blend, and mix and bottle and blend."
"We went through several batches before we found the one," Fuller says. "Part one was missing something, and part two was missing something, and part three, it all kind of came together."
Their palatal holy grail is based on the flavors of the South. Adelaide takes its name from a childhood neighbor of Kennedy's who grew roses in her backyard and baked pecan pies. In the liqueur, these aromas are elevated to a complex blend. The tartness of lemon balances the softness of rose and pecan, while the unexpected floral note lends an exotic air to otherwise familiar baking scents. You could drink it on the rocks, but it's intensely flavored enough that a splash transforms an ordinary cocktail.
Adelaide is designed to take its place on shelves alongside other high-end liqueurs like elderflower tincture St. Germain and ginger-flavored Domaine de Canton — intensely flavored, elegant concoctions that are craft cocktail must-haves. It's one of the South's first entries into super-premium liqueurs, another sign that Southern cuisine is shedding its redneck reputation and becoming more sophisticated.
"The original idea was to create a Southern liqueur," Kennedy says, "but we're not marketing it that way. It's just a liqueur."
The straw-colored 40-proof spirit will be blended and bottled in town at Speakeasy Spirits. (Custom all-natural flavorings are supplied by Chicago company Mother Murphy's.) Staying local was important to Kennedy. He says the folks at Speakeasy have "an amazing skill set. ... They care about the city the same way I do."
Speakeasy's owner, Jeff Pennington, returns the compliment, saying that when he first heard about Adelaide, he jumped at the chance to produce "something innovative — not flavored vodka." He adds that the product stands out because it's designed to appeal to bartenders: "Taking the craft cocktail world and bringing it to retail — it's still in its infancy."
But casual cocktail fanciers don't need a mixologist on hand to enjoy Adelaide — they can add it to just about anything in their liquor cabinets. Suggested uses include gin and tonics, punches and margaritas, where it can take the place of orange liqueur. It mixes well with gin, mezcal, amaro, Champagne, even Pabst Blue Ribbon (in a blend called the East Side Flower).
"We've kind of been on a crash course for a couple of months where we're constantly trying different cocktails," Fuller says. " 'It works great! Write it down, write it down!' The only one I really haven't attempted it with yet is Scotch."
Kennedy interjects: "It's really good with Scotch. The apple notes in Scotch go really well with it." (An informal tasting — purely in the name of journalism, of course — confirmed this surprising assertion.)
Kennedy and Fuller also say they've had success adding Adelaide to confectionary. (Recommended use: baklava.)
A product this versatile seems like a good bet. Many local bars and retail stores have already agreed to stock Adelaide, but it will also be available in establishments in Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco, Denver, Little Rock, Ark., and New York.
Although their product isn't in stores yet, Fuller and Kennedy already have some ideas for future releases. "We're working on an amaro and a digestif separately," Kennedy says, "and we've got some more fun things coming too. Some things for us bartenders. Because when we get off work making cocktails we want a beer and a shot. So it'd be nice to have something fun to shoot. [Adelaide] is more in the St. Germain world; the next ones might be in the Fireball world, but not as gross. Something like that, that's cheap, and you don't have to worry about."
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