Brett Moskowitz writes about cocktails and spirits for a variety of publications including Food & Wine, Esquire, Saveur, Tasting Table, Liquor.com, Neatpour, and others. Lives in New York City.
When alexis ohanian, The Reddit co-founder, approached the members-only spirits subscription club Flaviar about bringing an Armenian brandy to market, seeing it as a unique opportunity to honor his paternal heritage.
“My father’s side fled during the genocide,” Ohanian told me in an interview. “He grew up quite Americanized, but food and drink were the most important parts of the culture that were passed down.”
Ohanian spent some time in Armenia as an adult and became familiar with the tradition of taking injections of local brandy, called “konyak”, made from sliced apricots. And he wanted to expose Americans to the highest quality aged Armenian brandy.
So when he received the investor update on Son of a Peat, a whiskey Flaviar made for his members, he saw that the company was capable of bringing its own spirits to market. It was a new address for Flaviar, and he thought it opened the door for him to have his own product. Ohanian decided to pitch his idea to the team.
“For most Americans, this is their first show. “If we can make it a thing in America, I would love to do it,” Ohanian said. “It’s not often that I do this with one of the companies I invest with; I spoke with Jugo Petkovic and Grisa. [Soba]The founders of Flaviar, about creating my own spirit. I came up with the idea of Armenian brandy. They were like “this is weird, but we’ll look into it.”
He says there are not many Armenian exports that people are aware of and he has a hunch that Armenians will like brandy better. “I hope I can be a good ambassador for it.”
Flaviar agreed to make the brandy for Ohanian who decided to call it Shakmat, “chess” in Armenian. “Chess is a big part of the Armenian identity. This is the Armenian konyak. “
Shakmat’s launch is an expansion of the relationship between Ohanian and Flaviar, who recently began developing their own spirit brands after initial success, building a consumer base with subscription deliveries of spirit tasting boxes.
Since starting operations in 2012, Flaviar has grown to include thousands of annual subscribers in the US and Europe. Plus, the $ 210 annual fee gives members access to live tastings and discounts on exclusive bottlenecks and private labels.
After initial funding from a local angel investor, and then one of the first investments from Speedinvest’s first fund, Petkovic says, Flaviar went through Y Combinator in the summer of 2014.
It was there that Petkovic and his co-founder Grisa Soba met Ohanian. “He, among several other YC partners, ended up personally investing as well. We’ve raised a few undisclosed rounds of funding since then. “
Ohanian says what attracted him to Flaviar was his unique approach to connecting with consumers in the spirits market. “This was before ‘direct to consumer’ was a thing,” says Ohanian. “State laws on liquor sales started to change, due to electronic commerce. And that [Flaviar] realized that he could build a relationship with customers around liquor. We can focus on curing really great juices. And we have enough credibility now that we can do ours. “
The private company bought competitor Caskers.com earlier this year and has an ambitious vision based on the idea that spirits are still inaccessible to most consumers who are interested in learning about what’s out there.
“We always envision Flaviar as a lifestyle club that members would belong to for years,” says Petkovic. “We believe new products are best discovered through curated selection, education, and engagement with a community of people who share your passion.”
Shakmat launched in the US on November 12. Ohanian says he was excited for the opportunity to provide a platform for a deep cultural tradition and donate 10 percent of the proceeds to the community by supporting Armenian reforestation efforts. (Armenian forests were severely depleted during the Soviet occupation due to the need to use wood as an energy source.)
The first version of Shakmat includes 2,400 bottles of the 23-year-old XO brandy with 80 proofs (40% ABV), but don’t be surprised if another run hits the market soon. Flaviar members can purchase the bottles for $ 95 and non-members for $ 110.