We recently had the chance to catch up with Drew Adelman, CEO of Devotion Vodka to discuss summer cocktails, concerts, and more!
Have A Night: What made you start Devotion in New Jersey?
Drew: I'm a Jersey boy, born and raised, and I had nightclubs all over the country including the west coast, but I wanted to start something new and exciting. We dealt with all imports, so I wanted to make something American made, and then take it a step further making it sugar-free and gluten-free.
HAN: What was the biggest obstacle for you making the transition from nightlife/hospitality into the liquor business?
Drew: One of the big obstacles with that switch was when I had 29 nightclubs across the country, the distributors would jump at everything I said, now I'm a supplier and the distributors barely listen to me because we're a smaller company. We're gaining all of the traction now, but I was on one side of the bar, and now I'm on the other. Back then, all the nightclubs and bars were my competition and now it's the opposite. It's the same world, but a different world.
HAN: Knowing the industry, is it a help when you are selling?
Drew: Definitely. It helps being from the industry because I have great relationships with other people that own places, which definitely helps. It helps because I know what to say to these people, because I know what I wanted suppliers to say to me when they used to come in, so I use those trigger points when I'm selling on my end.
HAN: Besides leveraging personal relationships, how else were you able to gain traction in the early stages?
Drew: Honestly, what no one wants to do, it's the hard work. It's setting out in the morning and going door to door and knocking. Pick an area, and go do it. Next day, same thing. When I started this company, it was only me. All the sales, promotions, tasting, I did everything. When we hire people now, I like to get them with the same work ethic that I have. We might not have the budgets that everyone else has, but we'll outwork you.
HAN: What do you think is Devotion's biggest differentiator?
Drew: There really is a big difference in the taste. We went through extra steps, we use top grade water, and we use natural essence of the fruit, since we're sugar free. And we went even further and made the vodka gluten-free. We like to go the extra step. Plus we're at a moderate price, $19.99 on the shelf for 750ml bottles. We're not beating you over the head with the price like some of the others are. We go head to head with the big guys all the time and we end up winning.
HAN: When you started the company, was gluten-free a Day 1 requirement?
Drew: No, not at all. I remember meeting with the chemist, and literally I was driving down and there was an article on gluten. And when I met with the chemist, I asked, 'Can we do this without gluten, because this can potentially be something big if they're writing about it now.' The chemist said, ah let's just stick with gluten-free and make it organic, and I said I've never partied with an organic person and had a good time. But I said this gluten-free might be something worth looking into. So we did, and we use it as a marketing tool. We were the first liquor company ever to put 'gluten-free' on the bottle. We will also be the first liquor company ever to put Sugars: 0 Carbs: 0 on the back label. A lot of these companies would be scared to death to put theirs on the back because of sugars and chemicals.
HAN: We know Devotion is the official vodka of the Summer Concert Series at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ. What's been your favorite show already this summer, or what show are you looking forward to seeing?
Drew: The first concert of the summer was Luke Bryan. I'm not a crazy country fan, but after that concert, I'm now a pretty big fan. When we got there we were fortunate enough that he did a small show for about 30 people. It was funny to hear him talk to the crowd and say 'I love hearing you guys sing my songs in that Jersey accent!' They have some great shows coming up as well.
HAN: What would be your recommendation for the perfect cocktail to enjoy at PNC this summer?
Drew: We've got 4 staple drinks there, and let me tell you, they're all good. We've got 'Hopelessly Devoted to Blue,' 'Orange You Glad You Got Devoted," the 'Devoted Bull,' and 'Tiki TeaVotion.' Very easy to polish off a couple of the Tiki TeaVotions.
HAN: What are you drinking when you're not drinking Vodka?
Drew: I drink 2 other things. I drink a little bit of bourbon, a little Basil Hayden's Bourbon, and I love my red wine.
HAN: How has your branding evolved (if it has) over time, and what's your target demographic for Devotion?
Drew: We cover a lot of different areas being sugar-free and gluten-free. People love that they can drink a little healthier. People also like the price. You can save some money spending $19.99 a bottle instead of $39.99. Our customer base is 60% women and 40% men, which surprised me a little bit. We don't want to pigeonhole ourselves only going after one demo, so we're hitting on a lot.
HAN: Do you have a major goal for this year, the next 5 years, and so on?
Drew: We just want to constantly keep moving forward. We want to keep adding major accounts. We're in Whole Foods out West, we want to keep evolving that way. We want to prove to people that the small working guys can actually make a dent. As we grow, we're definitely taking a chunk out of the competition. It's just about persistence through the ups and downs.
HAN: Any plans to move outside of the Vodka space?
Drew: Early on I thought about that, but no no. As we evolve we keep adding different flavors, and end of July we'll have different bottle sizes as well. We're launching the liters, the 1.75L, the little 50ml's, and additional 750's. We have a lot of work to do before we ever consider moving out of the Vodka realm.
HAN: Anything else you want our readers to know?
Drew: Just as Tito's got a lot of early support from their home state of Texas, we want New Jersey to embrace Devotion and support their own!
We want to thank Drew again for taking the time to speak with us! Devotion is an awesome spirit for the summer (and onward), so (if you haven't already) get out there and grab a bottle! Cheers!
Cover Photo and all images via Devotion Vodka Instagram