New distilleries are popping up across the nation, as the craft movement expands from coast to coast, border to border. This includes Southern Champion of Texas.
This distillery is the newest venture by Merrilee Kick, who is also behind the successful ready-to-drink line BuzzBallz. We recently spoke with Kick about Southern Champion, Texas spirits, and how she expanded from RTDs to a whole line of craft-distilled products.
SW: What was the background of this new venture?
MK: Southern Champion is an extension of several bodies of work: our spirits line, our ready-to-drink line, and our wine lines. In the past, we only were BuzzBallz LLC and we made BuzzBallz in a round plastic container as a single-serve cocktail (in both wine and spirits versions). We wanted to expand the company and the name change made sense as an overall umbrella organization to host not only the BuzzBallz lines of business, but also the spirits and wines that are forthcoming in 2016.
SW: Where does your distillery fit into the Texas spirits scene?
MK: As a Carrollton, Texas-based entity, we are one of the only manufacturers in the state. We also are probably the only woman-owned distillery/winery in the state. We have about 60 employees and can triple in manufacturing capacity if need be. We have a state-of-the-art warehouse, high-speed filling lines, and robotic packaging. All of this is family-owned and supported. We are members of the Go-Texan campaign, and we are certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise, which is important to big buyers. By expanding our portfolio, we have more to offer to our distribution network nationwide.
SW: What was your goal with spirits produced by Southern Champion?
MK: Our goal was to create beautifully packaged spirits (vodka, rum, tequila, gin, and bourbon) that will win taste competitions versus competitors in that space. With a top quality item, we should win people’s hearts by the way it tastes and also the way it looks.
SW: What demographic are you after with Southern Champion?
MK:We expect that millennials will love the packaging and taste. Our bourbon, vodka, rum and gin has been winning blind-taste competitions across Dallas with random demographics, so we feel confident that will help launch the brands. I think, based on taste and packaging, we will have some converts who loved their big-brands who switch to us, and become loyal to us instead.
SW: Will BuzzBallz be produced now under the Southern Champion brand?
MK: BuzzBallz will still be produced under the company named BuzzBallz LLC. However, BuzzBallz LLC is now “owned/governed” under the umbrella company called Southern Champion. All of our RTDs will be produced under the BuzzBallz franchise. All of the spirits will be under the franchise name of Southern Champion, and all of the wine will be under Kick Family Estates (ie: Closet Freak).
SW: Branding is something I know you take great care with. Can you explain a bit behind some of the branding/names chosen for the new spirits?
MK: The brands are all very personal. Most of it is based on places we’ve lived.
Crooked Fox Bourbon: this is based off a guy that used to work for me whom I dearly loved. I trusted him with everything. However, he betrayed me, and our company — and it hurt. All along, I felt like something just wasn’t right, but didn’t trust my instinct about him. So, as a trophy, he wins this award and name, and we hope the brand is wildly successful.
XIII Kings Vodka: this is based on when my family lived in Stockholm Sweden for five years. Sweden is very proud of its culture and its vodka. We wanted to make something that looks like the combination of glittering snow, Vikings, and 3 Kronor Hockey — things very Swedish.
Andrew John’s Premium Gin: this is based off the piney mountains in Montana, where I grew up and my kids spent every summer. The juniper is wild there, and gin is an ancient form of herbal treatment by the Indians. The mountain in the background is actually the mountain behind my summer place at Big Sky.
Pelican Harbor Rum: this is based off our time in California where we would go out to support our brands in the market and after work, we would go to the beach. We noticed in Cali that people were so laid back, so cool and without a care in the world. So we came up with the slogan, “Livin’ like a Pelican, Doin’ whatever the Hell’ican”.
Closet Freak Wine: This is our moscato and our sangria. It is based on what appears to be a delicate lady on the outside, but really is a freak when her environment changes (ie: temperature), ie the name Closet Freak. We are looking for a chain retail outlet to sell these. These are a limited supply product and will only be run once a year.
SW: What are the suggested retail prices for these products?
MK: This is depending on the state taxes and rules at the distributor level. In general, our vodka, rum and gin are around $19.99 to $21.99, and our bourbon is upper $26.99-$29.99 for a 750ml bottle.
Kyle Swartz is the associate editor of StateWays Magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org