Since its launch in 2015, spirits brand Karate Cowboy has faced some unique hurdles in the marketplace – they aren’t a brick-and-mortar and they don’t have their own distillery. The sake-whiskey mix and its three flavors, Natural, Honey-Wasabi and Ginger-Mint, require a learning curve – one that is often aided through use in cocktails.
As a spirit that lacks comparables, Karate Cowboy Founder Mark Tinus recognized that much of their day-to-day boiled down to introducing their line of spirits to drinkers’ palates through cocktails.
Tinus also noticed a flaw in that delivery system.
“Why do our events go over so well when we run our own cocktails, but then it’s hit or miss when we’re not there,” he says.
When a cocktails goes south, the liquor often takes the blame, but, “Why does nobody ever blame the mixer?” Tinus asks.
It became even more apparent that there was something to the idea of mixers when Karate Cowboy was doling out samples of their Pineapple Mule cocktail at Columbus Beerfest. After many asks of where they could get the drink, and many answers of go to the grocery store and buy the ingredients, Tinus realized, “Let’s make the mixer.”
Simple Times Mixers’ name is a good indication of what’s packed inside: simple, 100 percent all-natural ingredients like fruit juices, organic cane sugar and filtered water.
As the seasons change, Simple Times is phasing out its first batch of summer-friendly flavors, Blueberry Sweet Tea, Strawberry Lemonade and Pineapple Mule, in favor of more seasonal offerings. Pomegranate Mule, Blackberry Lemonade and Cranberry Sweet Tea will be rolling out for the holiday cocktail season.
Seasonality will play a big role in Simple Times’ offerings. Tinus says they are building out a roadmap of fresh ingredients and when they are in season, opting to let mother nature dictate the way instead of pushing flavors before they are ready. On the flip side, they will also be exploring if there’s a set of flavors that should be available year-round based on customer demand.
Simple Times produces their mixers at 1400 Food Lab. While Middle West Spirits handles the production for Karate Cowboy, Tinus says they wanted to own the manufacturing for the mixer brand. The commercial kitchen affords the months-old business the opportunity to build scale, inventory and better understand costs without over-investing. Shared space for now, but Tinus doesn’t rule out the possibility of their own facility in the future.
To introduce the mixers to the market, Simple Times has largely been targeting farmers markets as they await wholesale approval which will ideally put the product on shelves at local boutique grocers. The market approach has opened the door for direct feedback from customers, many of whom are repeats. Tinus says the best feedback they get is when people actually taste the product.
In a culinary climate where buzzwords like all-natural are thrown around with increasing frequency, “It’s so apparent when something is made the real way,” Tinus says.
That selling point turns tasters into buyers of the 32 oz bottles that retail for $12 and can be the base for between eight and 10 cocktails.
Simple Times make the conversion from mixer to cocktail easy with labels that equate parts of mixer versus parts alcohol, even adding suggested spirits. The basics get their shoutouts – vodka, bourbon, gin – but Tinus also likes hearing about the more creative concoctions like the Pineapple Mule with champagne or rum.
Simple Times has identified a few key markets for its offerings. The individual consumer – grab a bottle of mixer and spirits and head to a party instead of the I’m-just-bringing-this-because-I-have-to bottle of mystery wine. Simple Times also sees an opportunity with bars and restaurants that want to up their cocktail game using more natural ingredients.
While Karate Cowboy may have spurred the idea, Tinus stresses the two are separate entities, and consumers won’t find a suggestion to mix with the spirit anywhere on the label. There are a few different reasons for that.
First, Tinus wanted to avoid confusion if a mixer said pairs with Karate Cowboy but a consumer is unfamiliar with the spirit. It’s also an “in” to a market where people often define themselves: “I’m a bourbon drinker” or “I’m a vodka drinker.”
After hearing such phrases when it came to trying Karate Cowboy, Tinus decided they could continue to fight the preferences, or find a way to be in the conversation. It puts them in a need that is here and now.
When it comes to Karate Cowboy, Tinus has his sights set on the forward-looking trends in the alcohol industry. They can’t inorganically grow the need for their creative spirit, but they are ready as the trends catch up.
For more information, visit simpletimesmixers.com. A full website with an online store is coming soon.