The U.S. whiskey market is growing, and according to data from the IWSR, a key driver of this boom is the flavored sub-category, which is “significantly” outperforming non-flavored whiskies. While one may be inclined to imagine flavors like cinnamon, apple, or vanilla when thinking of flavored brown spirits, there’s another, more unexpected flavor that’s becoming one of the largest flavor categories in whiskey: peanut butter.
Founded in 2018 in San Diego by husband and wife co-founders Steven and Brittany Yeng, Skrewball Whiskey launched as the first peanut butter whiskey. Since then, it has taken the world by storm. The whiskey label has seen impressive year-over-year growth, an astonishing feat considering the Covid-19 pandemic temporarily undermined the brand’s on-site sector growth.
While Skrewball is today the official whiskey sponsor of the San Diego Padres and Buffalo Bills, it came from humble beginnings. The idea was conceptualized at the two San Diego restaurants run by the Yeng family, OB Noodle House and Bar 1502, where Steven began tinkering with a shot containing peanut butter and Jameson. The shot went on to outperform all other drinks on the menu by a five-to-one ratio, inspiring Steven to create a more seamless way of blending the two ingredients together. Soon, Skrewball was born.
Don't Miss A DropGet the latest in beer, wine, and cocktail culture sent straight to your inbox.
Now that you know the basics, here are eight things you should know about Skrewball peanut butter whiskey.
To Skrewball’s founders, peanut butter is ‘a taste of freedom.’
Born in Cambodia during the fallout of the Cambodian genocide, Yeng was dealt a difficult hand, made even more challenging when he contracted polio at the age of 1. His family, desperate to escape and find him medical treatment, sought shelter in a refugee camp in Thailand, where they remained for six years. When Steven was 7 years old, an American couple sponsored his family’s immigration to California, where he was able to receive the medical treatment he desperately needed. During his time in the refugee camp, Steven lost function in his left leg.
The family, which was starving when they arrived in the States, was frequently given baskets by their sponsors — the first of which contained fruit, bread, and peanut butter. Steven recalls that, when he tried it for the first time, he felt peanut butter was a taste of freedom. The ingredient, he explains, “still reminds me of that first taste of freedom every time I have it, and I eat it daily.”
Yeng’s experience as a Cambodian refugee is a driving force behind the brand’s mission.
Unable to speak any English, Steven’s immigration to the United States was a challenge, and one that often made him feel like an outsider. Further, at the start of his experience in the U.S., he was wheelchair-bound while he recovered from numerous surgeries, and his family was living in extreme poverty. “Fitting in was tough,” Steven recalls. As such, when the couple launched Skrewball, it was their “unconventional ode to different backgrounds, exotic flavors, and the seemingly disparate qualities that make us all unique and united.” Each bottle of Skrewball features a dedication “to the misfits, black sheep, and skrewballs.”
Skrewball is one of the fastest-growing spirits in the United States.
Despite the fact that many flavored whiskey brands were negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, Skrewball demonstrated tremendous growth. Last year, following a whopping 500 percent growth in 2019 and 1,976 percent growth in 2020, Skrewball was named one of the fastest-growing spirits brands in the United States by Forbes. Further, according to Drizzly, Skrewball is the third-highest-selling flavored whiskey in the U.S., following Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey and Crown Royal Regal Apple Whisky, which fill the top two slots.
Skrewball’s road to growth was a challenging one.
When Skrewball was conceptualized, garnering investors, bottlers, and distributors proved to be an immense challenge. “When we called people to discuss making the whiskey, they either didn’t take our calls or listened to us and then laughed their asses off while on mute and then told us no, thank you,” Steven Yeng told Forbes. The co-founders ran into a similar problem once they had an established product and were in the market to distribute. Yeng explains that everyone in the industry thought the couple was “nuts,” and that no one would want to consume their product — despite the fact that they hadn’t tried it themselves.
So, the Yengs completely self-funded their passion project.
Unable to obtain investors and distributors, Brittany Yeng, using her graduate degree in chemistry, helped to formulate a recipe for whiskey that would perfectly combine the spirit with the essence of peanut butter. Once successful, the couple bottled, labeled, and distributed each bottle of Skrewball completely on their own. In their first release of Skrewball, a four-case order to a local liquor store in Ocean Beach, the product sold out in less than 10 minutes. A few weeks later, when the same liquor store placed a 15-case order, the product sold out in less than four hours. Soon enough, the couple was faced with an order so large — 400 cases — they were unable to fulfill it because they simply could not produce enough on their own.
The company that helped expand Tito’s caught wind of the Skrewball frenzy.
Vern Underwood, owner of Young’s Market Co., one of the largest wholesale alcohol distributors in the Western United States, quickly learned of the frenzy surrounding Skrewball. Underwood — whose company helped to build Tito’s, Cazadores, and fellow flavored whiskey Fireball into the household names they are today — was confident the spirit was about to blow up. Shortly after, with the help of Underwood, Skrewball had grown large enough for the brand to sign a contract with the Infinium Spirits, which prepared the spirit for a national release.
Don’t want to crack open a whole bottle? Skrewball is available in cans.
Hopping on the ready-to-drink cocktail trend that is exploding right now, Skrewball launched its own RTD — minus the cocktail part. Each can of Skrewball contains approximately two shots of whiskey, but without any mixers added, making it perfect for cracking on its own or easily mixing into a variety of cocktails.
Helping those in need is at the core of Skrewball’s mission.
In March of 2020, predicting the havoc the pandemic would wreak on bars and restaurants, Brittany and Steven Yeng started the SKREW Covid-19 Campaign and pledged to donate $500,000 to the U.S. Bartender’s Guild, CORE (Children of Restaurant Employees), and the California Restaurant Association. Additionally, the brand worked to create a care package program that distributed peanut butter, bread, pasta, toilet paper, and many more essential supplies to over 1,200 people in the San Diego area.
Understanding what it means to be a refugee, Skrewball has been coordinating ongoing efforts to send aid to Ukrainian refugees at an orphanage in Poland.