Located in Durham, Graybeard is the largest grain-to-glass distiller in North Carolina. Distilled from rice, Bedlam Vodka is touted as being “a drinkable spirit,” meaning it offers a smooth, drinkable quality not found in other vodka brands.
Graybeard CEO, Brandon Evans speaks to Chilled about how Bedlam came together to offer bartenders and drinker vodka that “need not burn.”
Talk to us about Graybeard Distillery.
Graybeard was formed in 2016 when a friend of mine from law school, Scott Russ, approached me with a recipe for liquor that his grandfather had passed down to him from their family history in Ireland. I was immediately blown away by the uniqueness of the nose and flavor profile from what I came to find out was a long-grain, white rice vodka. There was no question that we had to find a way to get this industry-disrupting spirit to market as fast as we could, so Scott and I gathered up my prior business partners Sam Searcy, Ron Templeton, and Brad Evans, to form Graybeard. One of the fascinating tasks that we initially had was to come up with a name for the distillery, finally settling on Graybeard which interestingly and apropos enough, is a large stoneware jug used for holding spirits in old Ireland.
You introduced Bedlam Vodka at this year’s Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA). How was it received?
It was clear from the moment we stepped on the carpet at WSWA that the vodka industry was ready for something new. The reaction to a vodka that has a flavor profile directly from the grain used and our unique bottle packaging was visceral in a way that let us know that we had something on our hands that could explode. At the culmination of the conference, we humbly took away first place in the Brand Battle, where we competed with over a hundred other spirits and wines and Hot New Now Award for Best New Brand as voted on by the media, and we also won several tasting awards.
How is Bedlam different from other vodkas found in today’s market?
This first thing you will notice, because of the unique grain used in distillation, is the nose. It doesn’t have the archetype medicinal, antiseptic smell of the average vodka, but instead you find almost a sweet and floral aroma. Second, once you taste Bedlam, that nose translates into a flavor profile that is amazing to watch people experience for the first time. You will see the person crinkle up their nose in anticipation of the typical vodka taste and burn, and then see their face relax with a smile and a quick look up to the person serving them in disbelief of the smoothness. We have had people describe the profile as slightly vanilla and silky; however, there are so many different complex notes that come from the rice that each person tasting has a different experience.
What is your favorite way to enjoy Bedlam Vodka?
Honestly, my favorite way is on the rocks with a twist of lime. The flavor profile is already so unique and smooth, but something happens to it when the ice starts to slightly melt. It is as if different and additional flavors are discovered.
Tell us briefly about your background in the industry.
My background in spirits started with Bedlam. I was an attorney prior to starting this company, as were Scott and Sam. Brad’s background is as an HR executive, and Ron was a mechanical engineer. Scott and his family had a lot of distillation experience, but we truly believe that our naivete in this industry has helped us develop a product, package, and marketing strategy that is fresh and exciting to the consumers.
What would you like bartenders to know about Bedlam Vodka?
As Bedlam has a body to it, you can now mix drinks with a vodka that actually adds to a flavor profile instead of having to hide and bury a burn. The fascinating and fun aspect of Bedlam is that the flavor profile lends itself to traditional whiskey, tequila, and rum drinks. Our head bartender, Jesse Cortez, has developed amazing recipes with Bedlam from an Old Fashioned, a Mojito, and even a Paloma, drinks that you would never dream of putting a traditional vodka in. In addition, most craft cocktail bars traditionally only have one or two vodka drinks on their menus, but we are changing that bar by bar as Bedlam provides such a unique base spirit that bartenders are having a lot of fun creating with it.
Talk to us about the name and the packaging.
Once we served “Bedlam” up as a potential name, it immediately resonated with the team for two reasons. First, as a nod to the history of the recipe, Bedlam is the name of the region that Scott’s ancestors lived in Ireland when they first began making their home spirit out of rice in the mid-1800s. Second, we felt that as this vodka would be an industry-disruptor to the notion that vodka had to be tasteless and odorless, the definition of “bedlam” fit nicely: “A scene or state of wild uproar and confusion.”