On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe discuss how wine-based seltzers can compete with other popular seltzers that use malt liquors or spirits. Then, Teeter and Sciarrino interview Albert Hammond Jr., lead guitarist for The Strokes, about his new wine seltzer, Jetway. What did the process of developing the brand, image, and flavors look like? And what inspired him to create a wine seltzer?
To end the episode, after a less-than-successful canned Ranch Water tasting, your hosts try Ranch Water cocktails — this time, with the classic formulation of Topo Chico, lime, and silver tequila. Could this simple mix be the perfect beach-going drink? Tune in to learn more.
Or Check Out the Conversation Here
Joanna Sciarrino: From VinePair’s. New York City headquarters, I’m Joanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
Adam Teeter: And still at Hacienda PÁTRON, I’m Adam Teeter.
Z: You say that like it’s a bad thing.
A: No, today’s the competition. We have a winner, but I can’t tell you. I can’t tell you because there’s going to be a big announcement and all that good stuff. But yes, there is a winner. The cocktails were amazing. It was super fun. Judging cocktail competitions is a blast.
J: Seems tough.
A: It is, because everyone’s so f*cking talented and so it’s really challenging. But yeah, it was a real blast. And now, I get to fly back to the USA for a little. I’ll be in New York for three days. I’ll be coming live from Napa, Calif., next week. But today, because it’s Friday, we’re going to talk about some spritzes. But not just any spritzes; wine spritzers — so wine seltzers. We’re seeing this proliferation of seltzer happen across all categories. But the one that no one’s really talking about that could be this way in that’s not spirit-based and not malt, is wine. And there are a few people who are making wine seltzers. Some are making it really well, some are making it not so well. We did an interview with a celebrity later in this podcast who is making a wine seltzer himself. Have either of you had wine seltzers before?
Z: Yes, I have tried a couple of them. I guess it depends. We would consider Ramona in this category, right?
A: Yes, 100 percent.
J: So it’s not just canned wine. It’s not just canned sparkling wine. It’s with flavors and other things added to it.
A: I would actually argue Ramona was the first pretty well-known wine seltzer.
Z: Unless you want to talk about the previous era of whatever wines. Not that they were called wine seltzers. But the wine coolers and things like that fit into the same vague category.
A: Yes. Joanna?
J: Yes, exactly the same. I’ve had Ramona, I have had a few of the others. Spritz Society is also maybe one that has passed through the office. But I haven’t ever really purchased a wine seltzer or wine spritz outside of work.
A: So I’ve had a lot of them.
J: They’re your favorite drink, actually.
A: Yeah, I don’t think many of them are very good. I think a lot of them, including the ones that have been mentioned, are pretty bad, actually. I think they use cheaper wines. The flavorings clash with the wines; I think they don’t know what they want to be. And so I’ve genuinely generally been very suspect of wine seltzers.
J: They’re very sweet.
A: They’re usually very sweet. No one’s trying to do what seems to be obvious, how do you take wine as the pace and basically recreate flavors of an Aperol-esque Spritz? How do you do something that is a little bit more botanical? Everyone’s like, “We’re going to take wine and we’re going throw peach on top of it and we’re going to make a peach wine seltzer. So we’re gonna use a lot of sugar and a lot of artificial flavors derived from natural flavorings to make this.” And they never are very good. I often wonder if the wines, because they also already have personality, aren’t the best canvas on which to then layer these traditional seltzer flavors. The only seltzer that I’ve had that I like is the one we’re actually going to talk about with our guest in a second. For the other ones, I really haven’t. And I think it’s because they don’t try to play along with the wine. They try to just use the wine as the alcohol delivery system. Does that make sense?
J: Yeah. I think the one that we had for this particular recording, they actually were thoughtful about how this is a white wine, this is a rosé. And I feel like the other brands that we’ve talked about, it’s just wine. There’s a very singular base there.
A: The way that these seltzers get made, which I think a lot of people don’t realize, besides potentially we didn’t really, truly get into the way that the seltzer we’ll talk about in the second was made is, you know, they’re all made at flavor labs. You go down to a flavor lab and they’re like, “Cool, give us the base, whatever base you can get your hands on.” So then your job as the entrepreneur is you either let them source the wine for you or you say, “Hey, I got a line on really cheap Gewürztraminer or really cheap Soave coming in from Italy.” I want to say that it’s Italian wine, but I want it to also taste like watermelon. And then they just kind of mess around with it until they can get you something that tastes of watermelon with your base. But they’re not trying to do anything that’s complementary at all. And that’s why I think that the seltzer, that’s why, fails so much. Yes, wine is a natural alcohol-based product and it has all the things people want to circle on with the health halo, etc. The flavors don’t work together. Vodka works because it’s flavorless. So that’s why the High Noons are so good, because then they can just concentrate on the flavor. In a lot of wine seltzers, like, why bother?
Z: I think the important question here is, is the person who’s looking at this category a seltzer drinker or wine drinker? Not that those things are mutually exclusive. But is what’s driving them into the category of seltzers is that they think that wine is a healthier base than malt liquor? OK. But then you have that problem that you described, which is flavor-wise, there is a bit of a clash and sometimes the wine seltzers carry a higher price tag, etc. If they’re wine drinkers, then I think you can do what you guys described with some of these possibilities. Look at the flavors that are already excellent in the wine and try to complement them or amplify them without going too wild. But that brand, that type of drink might naturally have a smaller audience because, spoiler warning, I wrote a piece that very tangentially touches on this for the site. It’s about how skittish wine people, producers, consumers, etc., are about any kind of adulteration to wine. You see this every now and then when someone’s like, “It’s actually OK that I add ice to wine.” Which yes, it is. It’s OK to add non-alcoholic seltzer water to wine. Yes, it is. It’s OK. But so many people think about wine as a sacrosanct beverage; nothing should ever be done to it. I wonder if the wine-drinking public will generally spurn these things because they think, “Well, why would I want wine plus grapefruit and all these other flavors.” I’ll push back a little bit because I think the Ramona drinks are actually quite good. They work with the flavors of the wine to some extent, although I think they are more about the flavors than they are about the wine. But they’re not assertive or offensively in-your-face in the way that a lot of the seltzers we’ve tasted on the podcast are. I think there is a spot for these. I just don’t know if it’s the biggest segment of the seltzer market. Because that’s always going to exist in the realm of big, bold flavor-lab products.
J: The market for these is really interesting to me as well. Because part of me wonders why a lot of them have flavors at all, instead of just going with a sparkling wine seltzer situation.
A: I think it’s because they think that that’s what people are looking for. The only way to do it well is you have to mock a true Aperol Spritz or that kind of flavor, where you’re basically making the wine taste almost Amaro-esque or vermouth-esque, if that makes sense. And then you add the seltzer water. OK, I close my eyes, I could be drinking this. But then I think you run into the same issues that we discussed last week with the Campari Negroni; then why would someone just not buy the canned Aperol Spritz product? I guess the alternative being that you can claim yours is more natural, better for you, etc.. Or you get to make a sparkling wine. I think the ones that have always been so weird to me are the ones that are mango or orange. You have to find the most flavorless wine in order to be able to pull this off. And often, that is very hard to do because almost all wine does have some sort of character, even if it’s just high acid. They’re usually kind of a failure. There’s usually something weird in the aftertaste of them. I find that it’s just not pleasant and it’s not like the aspartame aftertaste of the malt beverage. I don’t want to drink this type of thing. Which then goes back to, then who are these for?
Z: If you’re looking for a base that doesn’t have that aftertaste, but skirts the challenges of spirit-based seltzer faces in terms of taxation and all that stuff, I mean, I can see an argument on the production side, maybe for why a wine base is valuable or viable. But then, it seems very strange to lean into that as a part of your marketing. If you’re essentially looking for the least flavorful wine you can find, why are we talking about this? I almost wonder if it’s hard for the three of us who generally want different things out of our beverages to understand who it’s for. I’m sure there’s focus-group data that says there is an audience for this kind of stuff. I’m not sure I can connect to what that is.
J: And I also think that at this point, there’s probably a range of different ones available right now for everybody, depending on what you want.
A: I think so. Well, why don’t we sit down and talk with lead guitarist for The Strokes, Albert Hammond Jr., about why he started Jetway.
J: Sounds great.
Interview With Albert Hammond Jr.
A: Is it Albert? Albert Hammond Jr.?
Albert Hammond Jr.: Well, I mean, don’t say Albert Hammond Jr. the whole time. I think it’s going to be a mouthful. “What do you think about that, Albert Hammond Jr.?”
J: Imagine if you required that.
AHJ: I mean, you could do that. Albert is fine. I mean, if you’re going to introduce me, you can say my full name just in case. It might help someone maybe know who I am. Whereas just Albert — though there aren’t a lot of Alberts.
A: My grandfather was Albert.
AHJ: Sure. That’s not my point. There are other Alberts, but I just can’t think of any right now in pop culture. Sure, there’s Albert King. But I don’t think anyone’s thinking when you say “Albert” that that’s who you’re talking to.
J: I think for this context, yeah.
A: Well, it’s awesome to have you in the studio.
AHJ: It’s great to be here.
A: Thanks for joining us.
AHJ: Your little Candyland.
AHJ: Candyland of booze.
A: It is actually, there’s a lot. And we have your two new Jetways in front of us.
AHJ: Yes, we do.
J: So are they new? They’ve been available for a year?
AHJ: No, not even. In San Diego, they launched at the end of October. And then in California, it was a soft launch at the end of November-December. But the launch party was mid-February.
J: So it’s pretty new.
AHJ: Yeah. It’s very new. I mean, maybe it’s a little less new for me because the idea of it started in 2017.
AHJ: Yeah. I talked a lot about it.
A: Obviously, you’re the lead guitarist for The Strokes, and a solo artist as well. You have probably gotten to drink lots of interesting things throughout your career. Why a wine seltzer? How did this idea come to you in 2017?
AHJ: It doesn’t come like, name, wine seltzer. I don’t think seltzers even existed when I thought of doing something. It’s hard to explain a nugget of an idea. It’s kind of almost meaningless when you go back to it because it’s like falling in love, right? You can’t explain why you’re willing to do crazy stuff for someone. I just had an evening in Italy with a friend of mine with Aperol Spritz. I was like, “How come there’s nothing canned like this?” I thought there were things I wanted to change. This feels old fashioned, but to me, because I never had it, it felt modern in the sense that it was lighter in alcohol and we consumed many but were still very social. I felt like there has got to be people like me in this age group — I don’t know where you want to put it because there are no rules to it — but in whatever age group I feel like I’m in right now, you might have a family or are somewhat settled down or have a wife or a kid. But you didn’t die. You still want to interact. If anything, you’re more social than you were when you were younger. But it’s different. It’s a better version, in my opinion, because I think I was a little sloppy and just crazier when I was younger.
J: It’s maturity.
AHJ: Yeah, and I just wanted to create something for that space. I had the Aperol Spritz, and I kept thinking, “man, Shandies.” Immediately I thought, “I want to compete against beer.” I jump when I’m talking of old ideas because they’re just little reference points. And I’m leaving out everything. I’m doing a lot with my hands right now that no one can see. Um, that sounded wrong, but…
A: Very expressive.
AHJ: Yes. So that’s where it stemmed from. As the name came about and this idea of golden age of travel and the look and the ‘live your adventure,’ the flavor started to come about. My mom’s from Argentina, so there’s the mate reference. And my parents’ best friends were Japanese, so I grew up with a lot of Japanese food in my life almost as a main food. Even on Thanksgiving, I might have had shabu-shabu as opposed to a turkey.
J: That’s great.
AHJ: You take all those things and it started to bubble while I was failing at trying to make it.
A: And so when you thought about trying to make it, did you know who you wanted to work with initially?
AHJ: No, that’s what I’m saying. I was like, “I want to make a drink.” And then everyone’s just like, “I don’t even understand what that means, why?” I would explain this stuff and it’s like when I was a kid and I wanted to be in a band. I was just like, “I want to be in a band. I don’t know how I’m going to find people I want to play with.” Going back to falling in love, the idea of it was so strong that you just keep persevering and then eventually, things opened up. The way I met Ben Parsons, who helped me put this together, is insane. I lived in New York in 2019. I moved to L.A. And in the process of moving, I did this short film that I wasn’t supposed to do. Someone dropped out and they asked me to do it. And I became friends with the person who played my wife and started surfing with her and one of her friends on a day I wasn’t supposed to go, did something with coconut water and I was telling him my drink idea. And he was like, “I have a friend of a friend who you should meet.” I met him and he was like, “Oh, let me introduce you to Ben.” And I met Ben, and we just started talking like sixth-graders with a crush about an idea and disrupting the market and creating something. No offense to seltzers, but they’re clear, cheap booze there to just get drunk and they don’t pair with anything. They’re just like, how much can I get to get high, basically? I feel like that category has been fighting to get room since I was a kid, since the ’80s with wine coolers and wine spritzers. Like with Zima and Mike’s Hard Lemonade — who, weirdly, does a terrible seltzer. Why can’t there be a category for people like myself? People in my age group? People want to take something like this to a dinner party or picnic or to the beach. It’s a little more romantic and elevated and tastes good. It became more of a lifestyle idea than even a drink. Yeah, I don’t know where I was going.
J: So you feel like this is an alternative to hard seltzer. But you mentioned the beer thing before. And I’m curious about that.
AHJ: Well, because I think the category can and will compete with beer. I was watching football and I was like, “I want this to be there.”
J: But you didn’t want a beer?
AHJ: No. To me, it felt like the next step. I love beer. I think this in that environment would actually be more enjoyable because there’s a naturally uplifting effect from the mate. It’s lighter on the stomach so you can down more. It’s may be something that has to trickle. It’s insanely good on draft. And it also has a bit of a head, too. And on draft, we make it have a little more. We coined the term “tank time” when we were canning it because it was just so good, couldn’t get enough of it. I just started thinking that everyone’s trying to find something a little better. We’re constantly trying to get the medium to be a little better. And so I just felt like that’s where it would go, where it would want to go eventually.
A: So the goal was always sessionable?
A: The alcohol level is 5 percent.
AHJ: The whole point was like weed back in the day, you want to consume. It’s fun to consume with people, being social. Consume stuff with people, not consume them. That would be antisocial. There’s something in this drink that the more you have, it just gets different stages. It’s so funny to be talking about it like this. I feel like it makes it possible to continue to hang out and be very social. I mean, that’s what it was designed for in my head. That’s what I was trying to do.
A: Did you always know you wanted to do a white and a rosé?
AHJ: I did not. I did not know. I knew it was wine-based.
A: We have this right in front of us, I’m going to open it.
J: Yeah, let’s open it.
AHJ: I knew it was wine-based because of the Aperol Spritz.
J: So this is white wine seltzer infused with yuzu, Fijian ginger elderflower, and yerba mocktail.
A: That’s really good. This is the first time we’ve had it, just so you know.
A: Yeah. We wanted to taste for the first time with you.
AHJ: The white is my favorite. It’s dry.
J: Has a nice bitterness to it.
AHJ: That’s where it pairs with food. I always reference it as an album track, right? It might take a while to like it more because it’s not the single. Whereas the rosé is more like the single on radio, which kind of makes sense because rosé is just in general more popular. But to me, I think they work well together because one will always change the palate of the other one. So let’s say you had a few whites and you’re just like, “I don’t know if I want that dryness anymore or that bitter cut.” You have a rosé and it’s naturally sweeter, even though there’s no sugar in it.
A: This reminds me of something, but I can’t place it.
AHJ: God’s Tears? You’ve tasted them, too?
A: Yeah, it has that Aperol taste going on.
AHJ: I just took a little bit of the sweetness away from it.
J: Yeah, it’s not very sweet.
A: Oh, it’s not very sweet at all.
AHJ: Aperol is very sweet. And on draft, sharper makes it sound like it’s more bitter, but it’s not. It’s sharper, but more subtle in a can. There’s only so much you can do. It interacts with metal. You can’t escape that. The one thing that was awesome about working with Ben is we learned that he canned wine. He had this company called Infinite Monkey. They’re the first people to can wine in America. And it was like he was trying to disrupt the system then, so it kind of worked out that we met each other. With the sum of all these parts in here, it’s better than if you were just to have the wine or just to have the ingredients. And I think that’s what makes it so special and work in the can better than if we just canned the wine.
A: And you guys are sourcing really high-quality wine, right? It’s coming from Washington State?
AHJ: Washington state.
A: Talk to us a little bit about the name. Where did Jetway come from?
AHJ: It’s just something I thought of. I love airplanes. I love travel. I’ve been lucky enough to have been around the world playing music. So I’ve traveled a lot, I’d say. And a jetway is the bridge that you take to get onto the airplane. I just thought, what a cool thing to call a drink that. It’s basically a gateway to where you want to go.
A: I love that.
AHJ: First steps of where you want to go, whether it’s something in your mind or whatever. You’re hanging out with people. Like my time in Italy, I didn’t realize it then when the idea came to me. But like my time there, your mind pairs moments with stuff. So if you have a really good moment with something, you just immediately want that thing again to see if you can relive that moment. That’s what I did in wanting to even make the drink. So I just felt it needed to be nostalgic and have a bigger meaning than not at all.
J: How has this experience been like compared to and alongside your professional music career? This is such a different thing.
AHJ: Weirdly, everything is the same. I’m serious. I used to ride motorcycles on track, right? When you go into a corner, and I’m not that great, so I don’t want to make it sound like I’m like this professional. But when you’re trying to get faster and you want to hit an apex and trying to find the line, everything’s a fraction of a second. And then, I stopped doing that and I was surfing and I realized, “Oh, getting on the wave is the same thing.” The moment and the timing are all similar just in different stuff. This feels like when we started the band, it feels like I was trying to look for a record label. I had something that I believed in and it really was very similar. Getting over the hurdle of a seltzer is hard. Especially creating, not creating a new category, but creating a new idea. The category is big, but it’s been cemented as something cheap and something that a lot of people in the demographic that I was looking to get wouldn’t get. It almost seemed like, “No man, I like nice things.” I want the nicer thing for me. It’s very similar with the uphill battles. I mean, it’s a roller coaster. I had no idea what I was in for. I still don’t really. I worked with an awesome person named Lizzy to come up with the artwork. But even the tagline, “Drink like a seltzer, enjoy like a wine.” I’m trying to create a category of something that’s bigger than myself. It’s so powerful to try to do. There are such odds of failure that it’s very exciting.
A: And so how many markets are you in right now?
AHJ: We just started in Southern California. We’re going into Northern California. And on June 1 in Colorado. It’s very exciting. We are launching with Breakthru Beverage over there, which is a big distribution company. They’re very excited to kill it. They think they can have tap and cans at a lot of venues. So if it does well there, then it’s easier to go into Florida or Texas.
A: Have you already had other distributors reach out to you or like, “Hey, we’d love to pick this up, but you’re just not ready?”
AHJ: Yeah, exactly. We’re a small company. With the angel investors that came around, it was quite fascinating how that happened. I’d never asked for money or made a deck, and I knew I had to make something like that. I presented it to friends of mine like, “What do you think?” That’s what I was trying to do. I wasn’t selling them because I always find that if you sell someone too hard, it’s very easy for them to say no and it stops. Let them experience it and see what they come back with before I ask any questions. You can keep asking if you don’t ask yes or no, right? I don’t know where I was going with that again. Jesus, that was a long walk.
A: No that’s fine. You walked all the way here from Tribeca and we’re up in the NoMad. So it’s all good.
AHJ: You asked something, and I was answering it. And then I got lost. So you know, this happens to me with everything in a good way. I think I just get zoned out in a good way. I get excited and then I forget where I originally started from.
J: He asked if you had people coming and reaching out to you for distribution.
AHJ: Right, that’s why I said small company. I want it to be global. The idea was to see the bird and the logo on a Formula One car one day.
A: Were you a Formula One fan before “Drive to Survive”?
AHJ: Yeah, of course. “Drive to Survive” made it fun because the characters are amazing. So it makes sense that that worked. I don’t know, when things were falling into place it’s fun to dream big. Oh, I’d love to just be in Southern California. It’s easier to dream an impossible dream and then start small and know where you want to go. We’re in Disneyland now on tap. Well, in California Adventure because Disneyland doesn’t have alcohol. But it’s right next to it. Walk further around the park, which is fun. Right now, they have the rosé. It’s a perfect drink for Disneyland just because it’s almost designed for it. It’s hot all day. You need a drink to kind of hang out at an amusement park.
J: How involved are you in the actual development of the liquid?
AHJ: Very involved. The flavors were stuff that I wanted to do. I didn’t know the combinations. And so when we went up to Four Feathers, there was a genius of a guy up there named McKinley. And we would put stuff together. It was very hard, we spent two days on the white because there were very subtle differences. One thing I wanted to add that didn’t work out because of the cans was they put a little bit of salt in one of them and it was so good. It opened up different flavors, as salt does, but it would eat away at the can.
A: Interesting. That makes sense, actually.
AHJ: Yeah. But it was amazing. Our goal is to actually have wine bottles in restaurants, we think that would be quite cool to start. Say you’re waiting for a party, you just get a bottle of these and you have it in glasses. It’s very easy. Starts you up, gets you excited to go have dinner. It can be used as an aperitif. We even had William Grant & Sons make mixed drinks for us for the launch party, where they use the white with gin and the rosé with tequila.
A: The white with gin would be really good.
AHJ: It’s so good. It had cucumber. We have the recipes on our newsletter and maybe on site; we can send it to you.
A: That would be cool. I’d love to try it.
AHJ: They made them so good.
A: Again, this tastes really great on its own.
AHJ: Sure, but it was more just to show the versatility. You’ve got it on tap at a bar. You could put it over ice, put it in a glass. You can mix it with hard alcohol. It was fun to explore. It goes with the pairing of food and stuff like that. Are we opening this one?
A: Oh, yeah, we are.
J: Sorry, I jumped ahead.
A: The rosé
J: I definitely get the peach in here as well. It’s delicious.
A: It’s really good.
J: But there’s no caffeine in here from the mate, right?
A: Joanna is jittering a little bit.
J: I was just wondering.
AHJ: There is. To give you that precise percentage, I don’t remember. That’s why we say “naturally uplifting.” It’s very subtle. Alcohol’s a downer, anyway. It’s not going to overpower that. It might even be a placebo effect when, you know. But as you have more there’s a naturally uplifting thing to it. It’s not caffeine caffeine. It’s not a cup of coffee.
AHJ: Or an espresso. It’s something like 15 grams per liter. Don’t quote me on those numbers.
J: But I feel like the mate is very subtle.
A: One of the things we’ve talked about a bunch on the podcast, also what we’ve written about for the publication is, there are actually a lot of people who are coming into alcohol from other careers now.
AHJ: I know, it’s such a bummer.
A: Yeah, I know, but.
AHJ: Just f*ck off.
A: Stop doing it. One of the things that’s interesting that you said is that you’re extremely involved. And I think that’s a rarity, actually.
AHJ: No one came to me. Dude, why would they come to me, a guitar player in a band? You’ve gotta be at least the lead singer. Or a singer, I don’t know why I said lead singer. There’s usually a singer in the band. No one came to me. It was a dumb idea of wanting to make a beverage that I would want to have it at home. When I had the idea, there weren’t that many. And now there’s so many. I don’t want to be that person, but I truly think I can make this company bigger than myself in the sense that I don’t need to exist in it. I could go away, and you would never know I was there. And that’s the point. It’s just that right now, it’s fun and quirky to have me involved in. I don’t know if you’ve seen the different ads I did.
A: I have, yeah.
AHJ: I was thinking of different ways to make the investor family really feel like a family. We didn’t raise a lot. and there are no VCs. It’s a family of interesting people, creative people, and lifestyle people who are really involved.
A: Are you doing market visits currently? Are you going out and helping get it placed certain places?
AHJ: Yes. I won’t do the day-to-day just because it’d be impossible. But I’ve definitely gone to meet big accounts or help close other accounts. I know a lot more about the business than I ever thought I would. I actually get excited to meet the distributors and see the people who sell. It’s exactly like a record label. At a label, you go and meet people. They don’t know you, right? You try to just be a human in front of them because then they have some reference point of you. Not everyone can be a fan of whatever you’re doing. Or even if they are and might not just connect to it when they see another human being, there’s a connection there. You basically do that. You’re just trying to say, “Hey, I’m like you, trying to figure something out. This is my drink. This is my story.” See if you can get them excited about it. That part’s really fun. I would do that once we dominate the world. I’ll still do that.
A: I love that you keep talking about domination. I mean, have you thought about really where you want it to be? Obviously, you want it to be national. I assume international? Once that happens for a lot of these brands, bigger companies come calling. Have you thought about that?
AHJ: Will they come? For sure. In my opinion, if you get there, it’s nice because you won’t have the infrastructure. Having the infrastructure is so hard. And that’s why bigger companies step in because they can just put you into their system and all of a sudden, everything drops. They ship it to places. Ideally, no. It’d be great to build it. I was excited to build something and see if I could grow it to have it be something successful. But not solely to just sell, if that makes sense.
AHJ: It’s fun to succeed and have someone want to come and get you. But I want to still be a part of it. I want to help create new flavors. I want to do colors for the cans and limited-edition cans. I want to pair with other wine companies. I have endless color combinations and can ideas that would be fun to do with different flavors. I feel like they’re already making it. I stop saying it, and maybe someone will do it. But that’s OK. I really feel like sake is the next step for this, because I feel you got the white in and rosé. I’d want to make a red. I like a Lambrusco because I thought that would be fun; something like that in the sangria form. But I feel like 5 percent sake with different flavors would be a game changer. It’s wine, but the high is very different.
A: It’s very uplifting.
AHJ: Yeah, it’s very, very uplifting.
A: You feel like you’re floating.
AHJ: Yeah, exactly. I didn’t talk about it because I don’t want to tell anyone. I’ll save it for a podcast where no one will hear it.
AHJ: Well, it doesn’t matter. Ideas are out there. It’s how you execute it, what you put inside, and what’s going to make it different. I think we still have that. But, yeah, for sure. I see it in two parts. There’s this liquid. And then the cans and the art and the color are a whole thing, too. I don’t know if you’ve seen the 4-pack box. It’s like a presence. Imagine those stacked; it looks like a checkered flag for racing when you put them together. But you can just do so many different color combinations and vibes. It feels so fun. There are so many fun things I still want to do with this.
A: Do you see either of these, or is there one in the future, that becomes the flagship of the brand? Or do you just see it being, the brand is the brand, and there are a bunch of different flavors?
AHJ: I actually see the brand as a lifestyle brand, so it’s not even drinks. It could be a gym, could be a hotel, it could be a million different things. But I see these as being the flagship because they started it. That’s why I’m like, “Where do I go with these wines?” That’s why I said sake, push it out of wine. Keep it in wine for a bit, and then bring it back to something different.
A: Did you know you always wanted to add flavors to the wine? Because we’re seeing a lot of wine seltzer, and some people are just doing it with seltzer.
AHJ: You know, I never understood that. As soon as you add sparkling water, you have to add flavors that would be missing from the wine to create some kind of palate. Ben is big on that, having a beginning, middle, and an end.
J: Well, I think a lot of brands just add sweetness.
AHJ: Sure. Well, it’s very easy. Sugar is the big drug that no one talks about in America. They put it in stuff like dried mango with sugar. But it’s so sweet. It’s basically sugar at that point. Why do you need more sugar? Or roasted nuts with sugar. I’m very confused. No, we do. It’s a problem, but it’s fine. I know some people like sweet things. I think when you’re pairing stuff with food, it’s hard for it to be sweet. These want you to have food, and then you have more of these, and the flavors change. That’s more interesting to me. The idea of pairing, in general, is more interesting in life than just one-perspective consumption or something. That creates an experience. So it became a big thing. We talk a lot on our Instagram about life’s pairings by Albert Hammond Jr. And that’s how the podcast started.
A: How has it been balancing this with you?
AHJ: Oh, I’m having a nervous breakdown.
J: Sorry to laugh.
AHJ: It’s fine to laugh. You’re laughing at my slow destruction and demise. It’s a lot.
J: I mean, to be so involved.
AHJ: Yes, of course. It’s hard not to. I’m an emotional person, so it’s hard not to be involved. Maybe I realized I’m too emotional for business. When I go up and down, as the roller coaster of a startup, what’s going to happen next? Oh, my God. We’re going to make it or we’re not going to survive. I fall with it. So it’s very hard. And I’m also focusing on music, and they’re two different things. I mean, they’re very similar, but they’re both so exhausting in themselves that I’m not complaining about it. I love it, but it’d be weird to fake and be like, “No, it’s so easy.”
J: I’m balancing this great.
AHJ: It’s not easy. I think that’s what happens. I fall in love with things and, thank God, I’m blinded to the stuff around it. If not, I wouldn’t do anything. But then that’s going to be hard there. And then that’s going to be hard.
J: Did anyone caution you against getting into this drink space at all?
AHJ: Yeah, but that’s my whole life. Everybody cautioned me to even play music, you know? Are you sure? I mean, I get it. It makes sense. Everyone always says the same thing. I find it funny. “It’s a hard business to get into,” as opposed to another business that’s really easy to get into. What business is easy to get into? Oh, just be a photographer. That’s easier. To do anything well is hard, and to make it is even harder. You can do something great and fail. Anything is really hard to do. At that point, what’s the difference?
A: Well, Albert, thank you so much for joining us.
AHJ: Thank you.
J: This has been so great. These are awesome.
AHJ: Yeah, it was a lot of fun.
J: Can’t wait to see what’s next.
Ranch Water Tasting
A: Well, that was quite a fun interview.
J: He’s so cool.
A: Yes, I was a huge Strokes fan. I really enjoyed that and he’s super cool. Now for something totally different. We hope all you listeners out there have enjoyed the conversation otherwise. Because that’s where we’re going to leave you. We tasted one with Albert. We’re not going to taste another one to end our Friday episode. Instead, lots of you, which is been amazing, have been emailing recently with your reactions to the show. Again, the email is [email protected]. Many, many, many of you wrote when we tasted Lone River and said, “You guys need to taste real Ranch Water.” I like that you’re huge Ranch Water fans, that it’s your go-to drink. We really need to taste a true one. So I happen to be at Hacienda PÁTRON, and they made one for me. It’s one and a half ounces of blanco tequila, Topo Chico, and three-fourths ounces of fresh-squeezed lime juice in a Collins glass. That is their Ranch Water. You guys have ranch waters as well, right? What did you have?
J: I have PÁTRON Ranch Water as well. I can’t be there, so I might as well try to evoke it. I kind of eyeballed it.
A: That’s kind of what I like about it.
J: I think that is the beauty of a Ranch Water. Also, you don’t have to ask us twice to make real Ranch Waters and record ourselves drinking them. They’re a very delicious drink. I think it’s one and a half ounces of blanco tequila, half a lime squeeze, and then Topo Chico on top. I’ve got a double Old Fashioned glass here.
A: Nice. Zach?
Z: I went with the most authentic. Mine is in the Chico bottle.
Z: I went to 4 ounces of tequila, because f*ck it, it’s Friday.
A: What did you use?
Z: The PÁTRON Silver and then also half a lime.
Z: Let’s do this.
J: Mine’s half gone already. Sorry.
Z: In one drink?
J: It’s so good.
A: It’s really good.
Z: I mean, there’s nothing to not like here unless you don’t like tequila. And then, why are you even bothering?
A: What makes it such a great drink is because of the tequila. It gives it this, I don’t want to say instant feeling of summer, but that is kind of is what it does.
Z: Tequila plus lime, for sure.
A: Yeah, it’s super refreshing. I like drinking sparkling water with lime or lemon usually as well. And then the blanco is playing into all the flavors. Not all the flavors, let’s be clear. As I said, it’s a very simple drink. But playing with the flavors. And it’s just not at all with any of these canned Ranch Waters are doing well.
J: I think that’s because the Lone River didn’t have the tequila. It’s such an important part of this drink.
Z: It didn’t have tequila, and it had malt. To come back to what we were talking about at the front of the episode with seltzers in general, I don’t find any malt-based seltzer refreshing. They’re almost fatiguing to drink. And that’s the aftertaste of malt liquor generally, to me. Here what I think is really fun is that this is the first time I’ve done this with it actually in the Topo Chico bottle. Granted, I did use 2 ounces of tequila, so maybe more than you guys. But I was worrying that the drink would taste too diluted, you would get a little hint of tequila in there. But actually, at least in this formulation, there are 9 ounces of mineral water. Which is a lot of not alcohol, to be fair. There’s still a lot of tequila flavor here without it being over the top. And I really appreciate that. It’s summery, it’s refreshing, but it’s not so watered down that I guess there’s a little booze in there. You still feel like you’re drinking a drink.
A: I mean, it’s the best beach drink. You can buy a 6-pack of Topo Chicos, go to the beach, bring some pre-sliced limes, pop a Topo Chico cold out of the cooler, add some tequila to it, some lime, and just sit there and stay pretty well hydrated. While you also have a little bit of a buzz and sit and listen to the waves. It’s a really great beach drink for sure. I think it’s going to be my new one.
Z: What’s so confusing and confounding to me about this is that even with the Topo Chico brand Hard Seltzer, which you haven’t tried on the podcast, but I know is made not with tequila, how hard would it be to just put all that in the bottle and have it be just like this? And then you don’t even have to bring a bottle of tequila to the beach. It seems completely confusing to me. We’ll see as time passes whether the malt-based canned Ranch Waters actually succeed. But it just seems baffling to me that this drink is so beautiful in its purity and simplicity. Why would I bother with something that does not deliver this? That is my take.
J: No, I agree. Maybe it must have been something with the formulation.They just couldn’t do it.
Z: I think it’s a cost thing.
A: It’s managing costs.
Z: Coca-Cola doesn’t own a tequila distillery, so where are they getting tequila from, etc.? At least as far as I know. Maybe they do own one.
J: Tell us other wonderful drinks that we should drink, guys.
A: Yes, if you have other drinks you want us to drink on the podcast, let us know. Message us at [email protected]. We’re happy to try what you suggest. If you want to send us stuff, you just got to be willing to send both to New York and Seattle. Let us know. We’ll give them a try. And I’ll talk to you guys on Monday.
J: Talk to you 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 of 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.
This story is a part of VP Pro, our free content platform and newsletter for the drinks industry, covering wine, beer, and liquor — and beyond. Sign up for VP Pro now!