When the airplane drink cart makes its rounds on flights, passengers have a decision to make: order an alcoholic drink, or let the cart roll on by? In this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” co-hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe talk about all things in-flight drinking. They share go-to drink orders, the luxury of first-class wine lists, and what makes drinking on a plane different from drinking on the ground.
Joanna gets to speak with three of the Tip Top Proper Cocktails team members about their journey from developing classic cocktails in cans to partnering with Delta Air Lines. Co-founder Neal Cohen, recipe developer Miles Macquarrie, and chief operating officer Jay Liddell share the story of how Tip Top started and its rise to success in the time since.
Or Check Out the Conversation Here
Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: I’m Joanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: This is the Friday “VinePair Podcast.” We’re going to talk a little about air travel and drinking. First of all, I will say that I tried the hack on the plane where you’re supposed to shake up a bottle of wine and then pour into your glass because it’s supposed to aggressively aerate it. When you fly, your palate changes. I’d heard about this hack where you dump out a little wine from the tiny wine bottle they give you and then you aggressively shake it for 30 seconds. Then, you pour it in the glass. It’s supposed to aerate it so much that it opens the wine up and causes it to taste better.
A: It doesn’t work. I’m a big fan of having a drink or two when you fly, even though they say you will be more likely to have jet lag if you drink when you fly. I don’t care.
J: I’m not a big fan of drinking while I fly for that reason. I feel awful afterwards.
A: You really don’t drink while you fly?
J: No, not really. Not if I can help it. Unless it’s complimentary or it’s time appropriate.
A: If you’re up front, you’ll drink.
J: Right. If the in-flight service has free beer and wine, then I’ll drink.
A: You’re not going to buy it.
J: I’m not going to buy it.
A: Oh, I don’t either. I don’t think I’ll buy a beer.
Z: I’ll buy it. Drinking on planes, if you set aside the cost of being on the plane in the first place, is actually way cheaper than drinking anywhere else.
A: But is it good?
Z: You can get a cocktail for $7. That’s better than you’re going to get in most other places.
A: Yeah, but the cocktail you get is crappy tonic and some gin.
Z: I don’t know, man. Can you get a Bombay Sapphire and tonic in New York City for $7? I sure can’t.
A: That’s actually true. That’s true. I’ll get a double Bombay Sapphire and tonic on the plane.
J: Can’t you bring on your own little nips?
A: Not allowed.
J: Oh, really? I didn’t know that.
A: Totally illegal. Against FAA regulations.
Z: Maybe you could bring on your own tonic water, though? That might be a hack.
A: Yeah, but who’s doing that? Also, is that under the 3-ounce regulation?
J: Gotta have my Fever Tree.
A: It is funny because that is a thing that I think a lot people think they can bring on, but you actually can’t. The liquid can come through. You’re not going to get stopped at security. But if you are caught with it on the plane, it is an FAA violation. I think it’s just a whole game to tell people, “You’ve got to buy the drinks.”
Z: I feel very sad about a few things about the time in history that I’m alive. One of them is that I don’t have the kind of money to fly first class on some of the crazy airlines internationally. The notion that my dad once flew business class to Africa for work in the ’80s, and there was a bar on the airplane is crazy. The notion of being able to walk up to a bar, 35,000 feet in the air and say, “I’ll have a Manhattan” — the plane could crash, and I might die happy.
A: The bars still do exist, but mostly on airlines like Emirates. It’s odd. You can also take showers on those, which I think is a little weird. I don’t think I’d take a shower on the plane.
J: Those are long flights.
A: You might. Get up from your little nap in the pajamas they give you.
J: You’ve got to be business-ready when you deplane.
A: I can’t get over the fact that Joanna doesn’t drink when she flies, especially because she’s married to a diplomat. I feel like diplomats travel and drink. That’s just what they do.
J: I’m sure he would. I’m nothing.
A: You’ve got to live that diplomat lifestyle, though.
Z: Also, how do they not have White Claw on the planes? Now that I think about that, that’s crazy.
J: Do any airlines have White Claw?
A: I know someone has Truly. I forget which airline has Truly.
A: I just flew Alaska, and they do not have hard seltzer. I didn’t notice because I wouldn’t have ordered it, but that seems like a huge miss.
A: Some airline made a huge announcement recently about that. Maybe it was Southwest?
J: They need something.
A: They’re not doing well.
Z: No. Adam, you fly Delta a lot. Does Delta have a hard seltzer?
A: Yes, they do, actually. I don’t remember which one, but they do. They’re also Atlanta’s hometown airline, so they’re really big on all the SweetWater beers. Mm-hmm. They’re big on a certain really delicious canned cocktail we’ll talk about later in the show when we taste it. I like the service. The saddest thing to me about flying internationally is when you get on the plane and walk by the lay-flat seats and you see the cart with the amazing bottles of wine on it. You think, “Well, that would be fun.”
Z: My wife flew business class to India for work a couple of years ago, pre-pandemic. Mid-flight, she sent me the wine list and said, “I can have whatever I want.” She told me, “I’m just going to drink the Champagne.” I said, “That’s a good call. Sure.” But the things that you see on these airlines are wild, especially internationally. In the absolute premium classes, they’ve got a cellar on board, which seems wild, but also, sure. Why not?
J: Do they really? That’s amazing.
A: Most of these airlines have full-time sommeliers who are choosing the wines for the flights and also for the clubs, usually. I interviewed a somm for United, but at the time when I interviewed him I think it was still Continental. Continental was bought by United. He talked about how, when he would taste, they would literally fly up and taste in the air to select the wines because your palate changes so much. I thought that was really, really interesting. On a lot of flights, you won’t find a lot of Pinots and no Beaujos, sorry. You won’t find a lot of them because they’re too light-bodied. There’s too much nuance that you’ll miss. You won’t find Barolos. You’re going to find Cabs, Malbecs, and Zinfandels.
J: They’re really going to beat you over the head with it.
A: Yeah. Your palate just can’t pick up all those flavors and you’ll have a lot of people saying, “I just taste acid.”
Z: It’s interesting that you mentioned the lounges. I think that’s a fascinating piece of this. When I interviewed Shiada Drysdale from Virgin Atlantic, she was talking about how, for the beverage people at an airline, those lounges are actually a much bigger part of the business than in-flight.
Z: In-flight, you’re more limited. Obviously, weight is a huge consideration. Granted, on some of these international flights you’re flying around with full bottles of wine. With a lot of these other things, they’re trying to minimize the weight of everything they’re bringing on board. Also, you have this issue that you don’t want to pay to fly them from one place to another. You want that to be consumed on board. You’re trying to exactly dial into how much product you’re loading in the first place. Lounges are huge, though. People sometimes spend half a day there or more, depending on their layovers. They are such a big part of the hospitality element of airlines these days. It was interesting to hear her talk about how much of her job is about setting things up at these lounges.
A: It’s so interesting. Question for you guys before we get to Joanna’s interview with the founders of Tip Top: When you do drink on the plane, what is your go-to drink? Zach, we’ll start with you.
Z: I would say I get a drink that I almost never have anywhere else, which is whiskey and ginger ale. I like ginger ale on flights. When I was a kid, I always wanted soda, and my parents would usually not let me, but they would somehow let me get ginger ale. I’ve always sort of associated that with flying. Sometimes, I’ll have a gin and tonic, but I would say most of the time it’s a whiskey ginger. It’s not a drink that I would go for very often other times, but on an airplane, it seems right to me.
A: Nice. Joanna?
J: Mostly because I’m having whatever is free to me and not purchasing something, it’s a beer or some bad wine. There’s this airline called Porter, which is a local Canadian airline.
A: I’ve always wanted to fly there. It’s dope.
J: It’s the best. They have in-flight beer and wine as part of their in-flight service. They always do a local brewery. They’ve had Ace Hill and Steam Whistle beer, and that’s what I usually get. What about you?
A: Very cool. If it’s an international flight, I think it is free even in coach —.
Z: It is.
A: Yeah. Spirits are free. I’m trying to get to sleep, so I’ll usually have a double whiskey neat. I like a gin and tonic every once in a while, but my go-to is just a beer. If I’m in the seat where you will serve me, I’ll have a beer.
J: You won’t go for a Red Snapper?
A: No, I will not. Last week, I talked about Bloody Marys, and I asked Joanna if she was going to have a Bloody Mary with gin or vodka. She said, “Wait, gin?” I said, “Yeah.” I received a correction from our resident “Cocktail College” host Tim McKirdy, who let me know that it’s actually not Bloody Mary with gin, it’s a Red Snapper. I stand corrected, Tim.
Z: One last thing. The reason I don’t usually go for beer is that I don’t have to have to get up to pee any more than necessary.
A: True. I hate going to the bathroom on the plane. Let’s go straight into Tip Top’s interview, and then we can drink some Tip Top as well.
A Conversation with the Tip Top Proper Cocktails Team
J: Today on the podcast, I am joined by the team behind Tip Top Proper Cocktails: Neal Cohen, co-founder; Miles Macquarrie, recipe developer; and Jay Liddell, chief operating officer. We are huge fans of Tip Top Proper Cocktails, so I’m thrilled to be chatting with you all. Guys, thank you so much for joining me.
Neal Cohen: Thanks for having us.
J: Thank you. Yeah. So I thought we could, you know, hear a little bit more about Tip Top, how it started, where you’re at now, plus success and challenges over the past 18 months or so and where it’s going. So Neil is co-founder. I thought we could kick things off with how the brand started.
N: Absolutely. Thanks, Joanna. I founded this with Yoni Reisman, who is our CEO. We are childhood friends. We met in elementary school, and our core passion was attending concerts and music festivals. That was really what drove us for the better part of our middle school, high school, and college careers. Then, it actually helped us define our initial careers as we ventured into the workplace. We traveled parallel paths in the music festival industry. Yoni founded the premier festival in New York City, Governors Ball. I went and worked for Superfly, which is the production company behind Bonnaroo, Outside Lands, and many of the country’s biggest festivals. I cut my teeth in marketing and branding via those festivals. Yoni had a real eye on the concessions programs at Governor’s Ball and recognized that, as people’s taste for cocktails were developing — very much so in New York City, his market, but also all around the country — you were more accustomed to finding great cocktails wherever you could go. Yet, there were still occasions where that was a challenge and a real opportunity as well to solve that problem. That’s where the Spark started for Yoni. He really wanted to solve the problem of accessing a great cocktail in those high-volume, music festival-type environments. With that, we set on the mission of ensuring that the good things in life are more accessible. That’s how we got on this path.
J: What’s the time period here? When was this?
N: Yoni began developing the concept, around 2016. He started getting in my ear because we were always scheming about how we could have these parallel paths converge and work on some entrepreneurial efforts together. I joined in 2018. Canned cocktails were not exactly in my purview as a music festival marketer, but I did have a knack for the culinary, had been a cheesemonger, and had sold some wine in prior life. Yoni said that he had contacted Miles Macquarrie at the Kimball House and that Miles was interested in being involved. That’s when I realized that my friend Yoni wasn’t just scheming another big idea, but he was actually going to execute something very special here. I left the music industry, and we joined up. From spring 2018 on is where we were off to the races. It was about two years of development of the product before we actually launched it. It got into market at the end of September 2019. That’s when we first ended up on shelves in Georgia.
J: What a time to get in on this. You mentioned that you didn’t really have a lot of canned cocktail experience when you joined the team, but canned cocktails back then really weren’t a big thing, right?
N: That’s correct.
J: We’ve seen a lot of these canned cocktails, RTDs, and things like that over the past 18 months, especially. You got in just ahead of the pandemic and the absolute explosion of canned cocktails.
N: We saw some of that coming. As we were looking at what the offerings out there were beginning to develop into, it really became apparent that the baseline of offering great classic cocktails — the cocktails that have always been in demand — was there, but making them available on demand to the public just hadn’t been actualized. It was important to us to start with that foundation and fulfill the promise of this category to be able to service the cocktails that are known and loved. We could maybe use that as a launchpad to then start to branch out.
J: Right. So, Yoni reached out to Miles. Miles, you worked on developing these drinks. What was that process like? How did you choose which drinks to launch first?
Miles Macquarrie: It was definitely a long process. It’s not quite as easy as just sending a recipe off and hoping that it can get scaled up correctly. We were talking for a long time about which drinks to do. There were some quintessential beverages in the stirred category of drinks, which really nobody was doing in the RTD market. While we were in recipe development, you were starting to see a good number of Moscow Mules, gin and tonics, and that sort of stuff come out. These were highball, refreshing drinks. We would start to see a couple of Margaritas and things like that, but you didn’t see Old Fashioneds. You didn’t see Manhattans. You certainly didn’t see Negronis in a can.
J: Yeah. What was that development process like? How many iterations did you go through before you decided that it was the liquid you wanted to put in the can?
M: Oh my gosh. I lost count. On the last day, before we put the final stamp on the Negroni, we tasted 37 different slight tweaks on the Negroni in one session before we decided it was finished. There have been many different iterations over the course of years until we finally got them to where we all felt happy about putting the Tip Top label on the cans and getting them out there.
J: That seems like a really intense process. In terms of sourcing, how was that experience? For the Negroni, you have red bitters on the can. Are you going to a certain producer, or what is that like?
M: It’s been switched a couple of times, but there’s obviously not Campari in the Negroni. It’s a blend of distillates and lab-grade tinctures and essences to create that flavor that gets as close to Campari as possible. It’s not very dissimilar to other brands coming out with red bitter clones to compete with Campari in the market. We just happened to do it by lots of blending, tasting, and trying to use our palates to steer it as close as we could as a Campari substitute.
J: Gotcha. Well, I think you did a really good job. You launched with the stirred drinks. That’s the Negroni, Manhattan, and Old Fashioned. When did you launch the next round of drinks?
Jay Lidell: Miles, Neal and Yoni wanted to come out with something that would be respected by not only consumers looking for those convenient, classic cocktails, but also something that the trade would recognize and be appreciative of receiving in a can. That’s why they launched with the Negroni, the Manhattan, and the Old Fashioned. The shaken line launched just this past year in April. That was born out of the Margarita, the Bee’s Knees, and the Daiquiri. The thinking there was to establish this third line, get it going, and build some trust and feedback loops with our consumers and our trade. All the while, Miles, Neal, and Yoni were in the background developing iterations of all kinds of classic cocktails.
J: Gotcha. The shaken line is the Margarita, Bee’s Knees, and the Daiquiri. Those all incorporate citrus, which obviously makes the development process a little bit more challenging, Miles, for you. What was that like?
M: We went back and forth for a while. I always really pressed for using real juice. Some lines don’t and some do. We were willing to do whatever it took. The beauty of this project for me is that both Yoni and Neal, the whole time, were assuring me that the most important thing was that it had to taste good. It had to taste good over cutting costs or anything else. The No. 1 goal was that, if we’re going to do this, it has to taste good. I was on the side that, in order to get this shaken line to taste good, we have to use juice in them. We tried some versions quite a few times using extracts and citric acid, and it just never really worked. We finally got to the point where we found a supplier that has fresh juice that’s basically pasteurized in order to be able to make it work and have it be shelf stable in a can for up to a year on shelves. That’s where we ended. The development took a while, just like it did on the first ones, but we’re very happy with the end result.
J: Do we have other drinks on the horizon?
Jay Lidell: Absolutely. We’re still dialing in on some more classics, some of which are very well known, some that are maybe not as well known that are considered cult classics in the cocktail world, but there’s definitely still development happening.
N: You think about what we’ve been able to achieve with the Bee’s Knees. It’s a classic, and it’s a flavor profile that’s super approachable. But for a lot of people outside of the cocktail world, it’s not as prevalent as the Margarita, Old Fashioned, Manhattan, or Daiquiri. We’ve been able to create a little bit more of a market for a Bee’s Knees. Some of these cocktails are going to fall into that very familiar side of things. Some of the others could be a bit surprising, but still drawing from this well of classic cocktails with a legacy. That’s what’s really fun about this brand. Each of these cocktails individually have their own legacy, their own associations, and their own emotional triggers and memories associated with them. It’s really fun to be able to play within this world of classic cocktails and all the mythologies and things that come along.
JL: What I love about it is how exciting it is to educate new consumers about it. That’s one of the great things about the RTD category is that there’s so much discovery when it comes to the category itself. With Bee’s Knees, there is a whole wider audience that we’re able to reach and educate through the Tip Top brand, because of some of the trust that Miles, Neal, and Yoni have been able to build up on our Old Fashioned and some of our earlier stirred line. That’s one of the great sub-missions of making the good things of life more accessible by educating people on great classic cocktails.
J: Right. What has the reception been for these drinks? Which are your most popular flavors? I imagine that if you get people in the door with an Old Fashioned that maybe they’re, like you said, more willing to try something that they’ve never heard of before with the Bee’s Knees. Which are your most popular flavors?
JL: Based on our feedback loop from our consumers, with our online business and from the trade, our Old Fashioned is really our most popular. It came out first, and it’s been the definitive Tip Top from day one. However, the Margarita, which just launched this year, is very strong and really well received. Honestly, the Bee’s Knees is the next in line as far as most popular when it comes to our online sales. There’s just something special about that cocktail that’s a little different. From a regional and a seasonal perspective, our Negroni is very well accepted in New York City and on the West Coast, so we have some pockets of higher consumption and sales. Interestingly enough, it’s the Old Fashioned, Margarita, and Bee’s Knees from our online takeaways.
N: One thing that comes with that is that we’re doing a lot of work to understand how this product works in the music venue space, where we initially thought of it.
J: Right. Its reason for being.
N: Yeah. When you think about the timeline, we launched in the fall of 2019, so we didn’t have a lot of time to see how it could work in that space before that space was on pause. Now, as it comes back, we get a chance to really see it. Of course, Old Fashioneds and Margaritas sell well because of the familiarity. People are looking, when they go out, to have something new. They want something that maybe they don’t have for themselves at home. They see the offering and the Bee’s Knees and say, “Oh, I’ve heard of that. Maybe I’ve had that once. That’s gin, lemon. And honey. That sounds pretty good. I’m going to give that a go.” From an education standpoint, I think it’s really exciting to be that starting point for people who are exploring the cocktail space. Of course, we want to be the brand that people who already know and love these cocktails turn to when they’re not in a position to make them for themselves. It’s really exciting to have that opportunity.
J: Neal, you just touched on this a little bit. The pandemic has kind of changed what your business was and what it adapted to be. What was business like over the course of the pandemic, and obviously ongoing still? What were some of the challenges? What was the growth like, if at all? I’d love to hear more about that.
N: Of course, everybody is talking about the supply chain, and that certainly presented challenges. It still continues to present challenges for us. We source our cans overseas. Production at our co-packers is challenging as far as staffing. We’re really managing that, though, and getting to a really good place where we’re humming along with production. As far as consumers, we had about six months to start here in Georgia. The main tool kit in the brand-building world of a beverage is events and sampling. That was taken away almost entirely. We did some fun guerilla neighborhood out-on-your-porch, happy-hour type of stuff. It had to be fluid, and we had to improvise. It helps that we came from the music festival business because there’s always new curveballs in that space. Some of the ways that it bolstered our business is that the press really understood that the ready-to-drink cocktail was already trending and that this would only really accelerate that trend. They were looking for the contenders to talk to. They were looking for the ones that — for the people who were skeptical of the category and the discerning drinkers out there — were going to convince them to have another look, that there is something in this category for you. Time and time again, we saw that, as a little brand from Atlanta that was only distributed in Atlanta at the time, we were getting picked up nationally in The New York Times, Bon Appétit, and those types of publications. We really got some spotlight out of that. Also, consumers began to learn more about classic cocktails because they were making them at home. That we tap into that world allowed us to come on that journey with them. People were also busy doing all the things that they hadn’t had to do prior, like being with your children 24/7. When they finally did get a break, they didn’t want to do the work of making the cocktail, even if it was a simple three-ingredient list. We’ve weathered it, and we continue to weather those challenges.
JL: Neal, talk a little bit about the journey with Garden & Gun, because I think that was something that was really interesting for us as a company and really propelled us forward.
N: Yes. We had pitched Garden & Gun on the product. It was around December 2019, and they were amidst the holidays. They said, “This seems compelling, but you’ll have to come back to us.” A couple of months later, we were visiting Charleston where their offices are, because that’s where our co-packing facility was at the time. We were having breakfast and Yoni pulled up his phone and noticed that the Garden & Gun office was right next door. We got bold and courageous and went and rang the doorbell. We rang it again and again, and no one answered. We were about to give up because we were late for another meeting. Yoni really doesn’t like to be late, because that’s the courteous thing to do. I said, “OK, let me just place a call. We called the office and they said, “Oh, I’m sorry. The person who usually buzzes people in actually isn’t here today. Come on in.” We dropped off the cocktails and they said, “Hold on. The editor sometimes likes to speak to people who come in with products, so let’s see if he’s available.” He comes walking out of his office and says “Gentlemen, your timing is impeccable. We were just talking about you yesterday. Let me go get the writer who was saying that they wanted to pick up on you.” We sat down and they ended up penning an article for us. He said, “Fortune favors the bold. You really came at the right time.” What transpired out of that — tying it back to Miles — was that a man named Joseph Stinchcomb ended up being the judge for the best drink of Garden & Gun Made in the South Award that year. Miles had an event for Brad Thomas Parsons’ book, “Last Call.” We had handed cans to Brad, who was on the book tour. His next stop, sure enough, was Mississippi at Joe Stinchcomb’s Bar. He brought a bunch of cans to him, and when it was Joe’s time to consider what was the best drink of 202, he said, “Well, it’s Tip Top because they’re perfectly suited for the way we drink right now.” It all kind of came together and just goes to show that persistence and planting the seeds can come back around to do something really special. The Made in the South accolade that we received in November 2020 was just massive for us.
J: That’s awesome. What a great story, and good on you guys for taking that initiative. You mentioned music festivals are on the horizon for Tip Top. I know you have some very cool business partnerships currently, too. I’m curious to know what comes next. I’d love to hear more about the Delta partnership, though, because that’s very exciting.
JL: To piggyback off of the comment that Joe stated about Tip Top being the perfect drink, what we need now is that these are classic cocktails that are contactless. We all know that the travel and air industry took a massive hit over the pandemic. For many different reasons, most of the airlines took beverage and service off the plane. Delta Air Lines, for years, has really been a champion for local business and for a diverse set of businesses. They’ve really been excited about bringing value to their customers. That’s not unlike a lot of the other major airlines, but they have a special place in their heart for companies like Tip Top. They saw it as something that would enhance their customer experience by adding classic cocktails in-flight. This is not news, to be able to provide a cocktail experience up 30,000 feet in the air. However, the contactless part and the operational ease was something that was absolutely paramount and essential. Also, to have the three local guys — Miles, Neal, and Yoni, — who really embody the culture of Atlanta and are the producers of this brand was really the icing on the cake. The story goes that Delta Air Lines loves the Old Fashioned but thought they needed something a little bit more citrus-based. When Neal, Miles, and Yoni tasted the Delta Air Line team on the Margarita, from that point on it was off to the races. What was fascinating is that it was about Thanksgiving of last year when we got the word from the supply chain director, Sam, who really championed this along with Justin and a lot of the other key players over at Delta Air Lines, and then we waited. We had to wait. From a supply chain perspective, we knew we had the business. We had a verbal commitment from Delta, but we had no idea how much inventory they would need. They had no idea how much inventory they needed because their forecasts were off by a huge percent. It was a bit of a forecasting nightmare. We all sort of danced our way through the holidays with the Garden & Gun drink award. We were just high on everything. We were excited. We thought, “Let’s go. We can’t believe we’re working with Delta Air Lines in any capacity. “On Jan. 6, we finally got a forecast. It was a good forecast, but we just didn’t know what to think. We said, “OK, let’s go do this.” Then we had to set up 15 markets as far as compliance, registration, and distribution. That’s my background, so I knew whose job that was. I dialed everybody I knew from the last 15 years of being in spirits and told the story, provided the forecasts, and landed with the perfect folks that we do work with to get this done. By April 1, from having a forecast in January to launching the Margarita globally on the first flight out of Atlanta on Delta Air Lines was crazy. That was the first Margarita ever consumed by a consumer. That all happened within three months. Around that time, once they did their validation, they took brands and they tasted it with the fliers to get the feedback on what consumption might be. Then, we got another email from their demand department saying, “Oh, by the way, It’s March 25. We’re about to go live in a week and a half. We’re going to need eight times the volume.”
J: Eight times?
JL: Eight times. A month later, after being out there in the world, it then doubled again. From the original forecast we received in January to the end of April, we were dealing with an almost 18 times forecast. Talk about a supply chain quagmire. I’ll tell you one quick story from the supply chain side. We’ve got a fantastic head of supply chain, Rachal Jordan. She’s got 10 years of experience with some blue chip companies, and she is very experienced in procurement and logistics. She, the team, Neal, Yoni, and I, basically said, “We need to order a lot more cans.” So, we started doing that. To give you guys context, the cans that we ordered in April just arrived in September. One of the most interesting challenges that we face as an industry for RTDs and for supply chain is that we’re always thinking, “How can you stay ahead of the demand?” What Neal alluded to earlier is that we’re still unsure of what our true demand is because we’ve been catching up on supply since the brand launched in 2019. It’s a great problem to have, but I think we’re kind of getting out of the woods here in the next six to 12 months. The Delta Air Lines business has really changed Tip Top’s present and future because, not only do they love the founders, brand, and product, but they also are seeing their customers really appreciate having an Old Fashioned and a Margarita right on their flights.
J: They’re responding really well to it.
JL: There’s a huge amount of social impact for them. It’s really a win-win. They’ve been a tremendous partner. They’ve gone out of their way to tweet, post, and help support with awareness and give us access to their flight attendants. It’s been fantastic and we couldn’t have been happier and luckier to partner up with Delta Airlines. So, what’s next for us? If you ask Yoni, I think he had on his list a couple of years ago: “Sometime in the future, I’d love to be with Delta Air LInes.” That’s already done. Where do you go now? I guess you try to get Tip Top served on Bezos’ Starship.
J: Yes, that’s it. Well, that’s all very exciting. I suppose the last question I have for you all is, I’d love to hear a little bit more about the logo and the name.
N: Absolutely. As we said, it’s all about classic, familiar, comfort drinks. Tip Top has that sing-songy, alliterative feel. There’s a lot of brands in history that have used the name Tip Top as well, so it’s an interesting way to play on it. None have really had massive prominence, but you can find Tip Top mechanics, Tip Top poultry, Tip Top yard surfaces, and all of that. It all just speaks to the fact that you’re saying that you’re of a certain quality. Then, you don’t have to say it again. Tip Top as a phrase is also something that one of your grandparents might say when you ask them how they’re doing in the morning. That all fits with the fact that these are classic cocktails. While they’ve seen a resurgence in recent years and you’ve got 25-year-olds drinking Negronis, you’ve also got older generations and all the associations I was speaking about before. Uncle Phil always makes the Manhattans at Thanksgiving and all of that fun stuff. Tip Top really feels comfortable in that world. For the logo, we have a giraffe with a top hat and a monocle. We were exploring our brand identity with the designer, and he threw out a flamingo. Our designer is Bart Sasso, who is hugely talented and we couldn’t possibly be where we are today without the sharp, really clean, vintage design that he’s so good at. It feels really familiar and classic, yet modern and updated. It strikes a beautiful balance. We went back to him and said, “Look. It’s not a flamingo, but the idea of having an animal mascot has served a lot of brands quite well. If we were Tip Top, what would be the appropriate animal?” Of course, the tallest animal is the giraffe. We said, “OK, let’s try out the giraffe.” It also fits because we are all about convenience and quality. The giraffe has the easiest access to the top. That’s a fun way to work it all in. It’s just easy on the consumer. If you have a name that’s easy to remember —Tip Top — and you have an icon that when you walk in the store and say, “I can’t remember the name, but it’s the one with the giraffe on it,” all of that is just some of that magic that allows a brand to really click with people.
J: Very smart. We love it, and we love what you guys are doing at Tip Top. I’m so thrilled you were able to join me and I finally got a chance to chat with you all. Neal, Miles, Jay, thank you so much. This was a great chat.
All: Thank you!
The VinePair Team Tries Tip Top Proper Cocktails
A: They’re awesome.
J: I love them.
A: I think they make really interesting products. The reason they were a great guest for today is because they are the official cocktails for Delta. Delta’s really big about supporting hometown products, and Tip Top is made in Atlanta. We actually don’t have the two they have on those planes. They’ve got the Margarita and Old Fashioned. We’re tasting the Negroni and the Manhattan. I’ve never had the Manhattan before, so I’m really interested. I think that these are amazing. What you were saying earlier, Zach, is that this solves that problem where you can ensure a much higher quality cocktail in the air than just their bad tonic.
J: Right. I would buy this.
A: Agreed. You will now fly Delta all the time. Let’s try these.
Z: The cans are adorable, by the way.
A: Oh, they’re great. They did a great job.
J: They’re the best.
Z: This is clearly what Geoffrey, the Toys “R” Us giraffe, grew up to be. You guys know what I’m talking about. Toys “R” Us has a giraffe, and now Tip Top has a much more elegant giraffe on it. I assume Geoffrey grew up and got into cocktails.
A: Are we going to try the Negroni first or the Manhattan?
Z: I think the Negroni. I want to point out that the Manhattan is interestingly very dark in color. At least mine is.
A: We tasted their Old Fashioned for our canned cocktail roundup. I was not part of the tasting, but I walked out while they actually happened to be tasting this one. One of the things that two of our writers said was that they do color really well. Their Old Fashioned very clearly had a good amount of Angostura in it. It didn’t just look like whiskey. The Negroni has a nice color. It looks like a Negroni.
Z: It does. It doesn’t have quite the vivid red. They clearly are not using Campari in this. I don’t think it has that vivid hue, but it definitely looks like a Negroni. The other thing I wasn’t even thinking about until you mentioned the idea of the colors is that it says on the can, “Either enjoy straight from the can,” which I do not do — I poured mine into a glass — “or over ice,” which I also did not do. I just poured it out.
A: We didn’t pour it over ice, either.
Z: You can see how, especially with something like the Manhattan where you’re getting some dilution from the ice, you would want a little deeper color, so it still looks Manhattan-esque even with some dilution as opposed to looking too thin and tan, not brown.
A: This is a good Negroni.
J: Yeah. It’s really herbal.
A: It tastes like a very solid Negroni out of a can. I would drink this if it was on Delta. Delta, please stock the Negronis, at least when you fly out of New York.
Z: That’s a good idea. Serve them to or from New York. It’s a very tasty Negroni.
J: You can bring it to the park.
A: It’s great. All right, let’s try the Manhattan.
J: Yeah. I love this. I think they do a really good job.
A: It’s really good.
Z: My only qualm with it is maybe this is where drinking it from the can would be better. There’s an interesting aroma to it that I can’t quite place. It smells kind of like wood shavings, which isn’t an inherently bad thing, but it’s a little pronounced.
A: I got that. I wonder if that’s because it’s coming out of the can. Like, canned wine smells really weird when it first jumps into a glass.
Z: Yes, for sure.
J: I feel like if you dress these up or if there’s some garnish or something, it works.
A: They’re great.
Z: The Negroni, to me, is more of a standout, in part because if I’m thinking about a thing on an airplane, that’s something that I would never be able to recreate. Not that I would be able to recreate a Manhattan, either, but whiskey on an airplane, which is most of what’s in a Manhattan, I can do. You would never get something like the Negroni outside of this kind of context. It’s really cool to be able to have a cocktail that I love and that I think is well rendered on a plane would be very cool. Not that the Manhattan’s not good. I think it’s sort of the reason why they stock the Margarita, too. It’s another drink that you would never be able to get on an airplane in another format.
A: True. Well, guys, this was awesome. Thanks again, Joanna, for talking to the Tip Top crew.
J: Yes. Thank you, Tip Top.
A: I’ll talk to you guys on Monday.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now, for the credits, VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all this possible and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.