What more can we say about the ready-to-drink category that you haven’t already heard? By now, you should be fully aware that ‘RTDs’ are booming and that their success was only amplified by the circumstances of the pandemic. At a time when on-premise consumption was restricted, it’s no surprise that imbibers were on the prowl for cocktails in canned form.
But some got into the game far before it became a trend. Bronya Shillo was a particularly prominent early adopter. The founder of Fishers Island Lemonade was greeted by a much different landscape when she launched 7 years ago. Back then few consumers even knew what RTD was short for, let alone what one could taste like. Nevertheless, she opted to spread her proprietary recipe—from an exclusive resort off the tip off Long Island—to the masses. Fast forward to today, and what initially started as a house cocktail at the relatively obscure Pequot Inn has evolved into one of the fastest growing canned beverages in the US.
More than just its unique origin story, the brand’s growth has leveraged a point of distinction within the liquid itself: it’s one of the only canned craft cocktail brands made with a dual-spirits base—a combination of premium vodka and whiskey, with notes of lemon and honey.
Even with the contemporary explosion of the category, many RTDs are actually flavored malt beverages (think, Smirnoff Ice and Mike’s Hard Lemonade). They contain no distilled spirit whatsoever. As such they are taxed at a lower rate and face less restrictions in many state markets that remain more open to beer, say, than liquor. However, consumers are becoming increasingly receptive to the quality that comes with a spirit core. As are gluten-free drinkers, who are forced to avoid flavored malt beverages altogether.
Shillo, for her part, has never wavered in her approach, keeping her recipe consistent since day one. And now, Forbes is able to share exclusive intel that the brand is introducing its first-ever line extension. Joining the original on shelves will be a 7% ABV Spiked Tea as well as a Pink Flamingo. A 5% ABV Fishers Island Fizz will provide a lighter, effervescent alternative to the original offering. There’s even going to be a frozen variation—Lemonade Spirit Pops.
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Below, Shillo shares some thoughts on the brand (and category) that she helped champion.
How did you get into the RTD business?
In my mid-20s, I was helping my family run The Pequot Inn each summer, and the house cocktail, Fishers Island Lemonade [FIL], was the most popular drink on our menu. One especially busy evening at the bar, a customer had ordered a FIL and a beer. As I reached into the cooler to grab a beer, I thought to myself, “I really wish this were a can of FIL,” and I had that a-ha moment right there of putting Fishers Island Lemonade in a can.
What was the market like at the time?
As I began brainstorming how to make this idea happen, I realized that there were no other craft cocktails in a can. I thought this idea could really take off because it would enable our fans to enjoy the cocktail wherever and however they wanted to spend their days, but also year-round.
What were the most important considerations when bringing this drink into this new format?
To me, it was very important to stay true to the recipe that had been enjoyed and passed down over generations at the Pequot Inn. It is a dual-spirits based cocktail made with premium vodka, barrel-aged whiskey, lemon and honey. Our original Fishers Island Lemonade recipe is the foundation for all of our new high-quality, flavorful offerings.
Why did you decide that now was the time for expansion?
This is our first-ever line extension since introducing Fishers Island Lemonade seven years ago. When we initially launched back in 2014, there were no other canned cocktail brands in the market like us – we wanted to make sure we spent time establishing our flagship brand and educating consumers on Fishers Island Lemonade. Fast forward to today, the ready to drink category has experienced tremendous growth. More and more consumers continue to come into the category, and with the strong trends pointing to spirits based canned cocktails, more flavor and high-quality ingredients, we believe now is the perfect time for us grow our Fishers Island Lemonade family.
Do these new variations also have a connection to the Pequot Inn?
Yes. Our Fishers Island Spiked Tea, Pink Flamingo and Fishers Fizz have all been recipes that we’ve been serving for years at events and tastings. We have had such an amazing response from our fanbase on how delicious our Fishers Island Lemonade cocktails taste, that it was only a natural fit for each of these to be introduced as their own stand-alone Fishers Island Lemonade expressions.
And there’s a new initiative that you’re introducing along with these new expressions?
We are launching our brand campaign, “Find Your Island,” which, at the core, is all about enjoying Fishers Island Lemonade in your happy place. We want to inspire people to enjoy FIL where they go to relax, whether it’s at the beach, at a barbecue, while boating, golfing – or just spending time with friends and family – it could be anywhere.