MAX EASTON: I spent most of my life on the other side of the pond in London, England, and grew up working in the restaurant industry as my mother started & managed several pub & bar companies in the UK. I was interested in coming to the US for college as I had no idea what I wanted to study & the UK university system really makes you focus on one major from the beginning. I had heard amazing things about Brown because of its reputation as a great academic school but partnered with a much cooler, less intense student body. I applied early, fortunately got accepted & headed to Brown after taking a gap year.
Nico and I met because he lived around the corner from my ex-girlfriend and I loved hanging out with him because he was always so happy & optimistic, and I found our times together hilarious (and still do) because we have polar opposite personalities. To characterize, I am the buttoned-up Brit and he's permanently got sand in his hair.
We became closer & closer friends and one Spring night Sophomore year we were chilling in my room chatting about things we were doing or interested in. We both loved the idea of starting our own thing as both our parents were entrepreneurs, and so we started throwing out ideas. This was the moment when Nico mentioned Willie and his legendary ginger beer: as far as I remember, his words were: "I know this guy named Willie, who lives out on the Cape and he makes this amazing alcoholic ginger beer. I always thought it could be something. What do you think?" To be honest, I had no idea what to think, but after I said why not, Nico applied to this small Brown accelerator program to get us some funding & mentoring. We pitched the idea (without me having tried the product or met Willie) and we were accepted. That was definitely the start, but it only kept going because it was all hilarious and we enjoyed learning the steps you took to starting a business. We had both planned to start our own businesses some day, so why not learn about it while doing something fun? There was just no downside to us giving it a shot, so we kept taking small steps until it ended up being something pretty legit.
AM: When did Farmer Willie's launch?
NE: We launched May 22nd of 2015 at the Farmer's Market in Provincetown- a little under 2 years ago. We spent the 1.5 years before that day preparing, interviewing, working canning lines, filing legal papers, raising money, etc.
ME: The moment Nico mentioned Willie & his ginger beer in my dorm room was Spring Semester of Sophomore year. We kept working on it our Sophomore & Junior years - we brewed small-scale test batches, worked out where we could produce, sorted out the legal framework of the company, designed our logo & can, did more start-up competitions, talked to people in the industry etc. - and we had everything set by the end of our Junior Year so we decided to start selling it commercially. As Nico described, we started selling at the Provincetown farmers' market after our Junior year finals & lived out on the Cape at Nico's grandma's house for three months self-distributing cases to around 50 bars, restaurants & liquor stores. So, in terms of proper selling, we have been selling for just over a year and a half, but we have been working on Farmer Willie's for almost three years now. Many small steps!
AM: Ginger is an ingredient that has not only been on trend as a flavor for a number of years, but is definitely a core one when you think about wellness, what was the thought behind combining it with alcohol?
NE: Willie started brewing his ginger beer because he was bored in the winter living on the Cape and his mom was making beach plum wine, so he decided to try something different. He loved ginger and began seeing what would happen when he grated fresh ginger and added lemon juice, cane sugar, and yeast (to ferment it and add carbonation). Needless to say, the home-brew was spectacular. Fresh, simple ingredients go a long way.
ME: We didn't! It's was all Willie. But the ginger trends were definitely one of the things that got us excited when we first looked into whether we could make Willie's ginger beer into something. It's exploding in bars & restaurants with cocktails such as Moscow Mules & Dark n' Stormies, juice bars & farm-to-table restaurants. So the idea that we could create a fresh, dry & seasonable alcoholic ginger beer that you can drink straight out of the can just seemed awesome. We drink it all the time and it's like nothing else in the ginger beer space.
AM: What are the health benefits that one can enjoy while consuming Farmer Willie's and how is it different than other beverages that are in its category or related categories?
NE: We can't ever say our beverage is healthy because it still contains alcohol and the FDA would do terrible things to us. That being said, what sets this ginger beer apart is that we use real ginger and it isn't so damn sweet.
If you look at the mass produced ginger beer everyone drinks or even the specialty supermarket versions those ginger beers have anywhere between 30-60g of high fructose corn syrup which is 3X-6X more sugar than ours (and we use cane sugar). This means that other ginger beers have 170-200 calories in their cans - all from sugar. We have 150 calories in our can - 110 which come from the 4.5% ABV. So basically you can have a real fresh, dry ginger beer with alcohol and still consume less sugar than your average non-alcoholic ginger beer. To us, it's a no brainer (unless you are under 21, of course!).
We use simply prepared, real ingredients, such as cold pressed ginger, lemon, nutmeg, molasses. None of the "natural flavoring" crap. Ginger is a superfood, lemon gives you vitamin C. I don't know what nutmeg does for you but its a spice. Molasses doesn't do much but it sounds good haha.
ME: You grow a ginger beard. But seriously, we can't say that there are health benefits as we will get into trouble, but compared to other ginger beers, there is no comparison. As Nico said, there is a reason we are a much fresher, much more refreshing ginger beer.
But, in general, we're a fresh, low sugar, gluten-free alternative to beer. You are drinking something that lifts you up and you can drink it straight out of the can so you can bring it anywhere without an issue.
AM: Tell us about how you came upon the design of the can, as well as the logo as we love how distinctive it is.
NE: The can was designed by a legendary girl named Juliette Weiss. She is our head of design. We met because when we were studying at Brown, Juliette was down the hill, studying at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). Our entrepreneurship professor Danny Warshay introduced us. We told her we wanted a clean, but quirky can to reflect our weird story and real ingredients.
On our second meeting, Juliette came in with the idea that we make the front of the can into Willie's ginger beard so people could get the beard while they drink and post photos online. Obviously we had to do it. Especially because everyone knows puns and hipster-ass beards are the key to a Brown student's heart. Juliette absolutely killed it on the design and we ended up winning a prestigious package design award the next year.
ME: The legend, Juliette Weiss. She's a beautiful, wonderful, pain in the ass - and we are so lucky to have her on the team.
AM: Where is Farmer Willie's sold and where would you like to see it?
NE: Farmer Willie's is sold in MA and RI. Specifically in MA, we are sold on the North Shore, Boston, South Shore, Cape, and Islands. There are a ton of places that we would absolutely love to see Farmer Willie's sold. We love the sea and the ginger and lemon kill it with seafood and clean fresh ingredients so obviously the Matunuck Oyster Bar in RI, the Beachcomber in Wellfleet (out on the Cape), Branchline in Watertown (that place is literally fire), and The Poynt in Newburyport. Also, it's light and refreshing as hell straight out of the can so the spots, where we dance like idiots in Boston like Middlesex Lounge or Middle-east would be absolutely primo. Regardless, if you do not see Farmer Willie's in your local liquor store or bar and want it there, please ask them to ask for it because that truly helps us build this.