Alix Peabody is a new kind of liquor industry CEO, one on a mission.
The first-time founder has a plan to shake up the male-dominated alcohol industry with an eye-popping coral canned rosé called Bev. Her secret weapon? A “Break the Glass” message that takes aim at traditional tropes of masculinity.
Peabody drained her life savings and bought 300 gallons of rosé to launch Bev in 2018. Now, she arrives at 6 a.m. sales pitch meetings—where distributors are used to seeing men in flannel shirts explain the new Sam Adams lager—with a team of 10 women who bombard the room with decks of memes, boombox-led stretches, and pink donuts. It looks like she’s selling a brand, but really, she’s trying to reshape an industry.
“For so long, the alcohol industry has capitalized on people’s insecurities rather than their strengths,” says Peabody. “It has perpetuated a culture that is so unhealthy and unfair to both men and women. We want to redefine what that culture looks like.”
Now, she’s landed a partnership with Reyes, the biggest beer distributor in America. We got in touch with Alix to hear about going from $12 in the bank to a fundraising round of $2.2 million, and how she’s popping the top off of a beer-dominated market.
Q. Bev came about in an unlikely way. Tell us how it started.
A. I’d had these weird health issues that nobody could figure out. I’d had six surgeries in 18 months and was $20,000 or $30,000 deep in medical bills. So I started throwing parties to help pay off my medical bills. They were basically ragers at my aunt and uncle’s house in Sonoma. These were 200-person parties and they were during the day so they were called the Sonoma Daygers. You’ve read all about all the kinds of parties that go on in tech land in Silicon Valley: dingy and creepy, with women flown in from LA and paid to be there. The Daygers were the opposite. We would get crazy costumes, like boas and sparkly hats, and by the end of the night everyone was wearing something random and bright and dancing the funky chicken like nobody cares. If I were to liken it to anything, it would be Burning Man: radical self-expression, inclusive, everyone’s having a good time.
Q. When did you sense there was a business opportunity here?
A. I got addicted to the idea of the “female-owned party.” I wanted to build it, but I didn’t really know how. I quickly realized that if I wanted a brand that was going to take flight, I needed something actually tied down to a product. I had this ‘aha moment’ where I realized that the lowest common denominator of every party you’ve ever been to is alcohol. I started to look at the alcohol industry, and that’s when I realized that it’s really screwed up. When you look at what’s for women or depicts women in a strong way, there’s nothing there. You get Skinnygirl Margarita and White Girl Rosé and that’s the end. Everything is by and for men. Date rape culture really stems from a hyper-masculine social scene. The alcohol industry at large is the biggest perpetrator of that culture.
Q. How did you go from a square one idea to launching a company?
A. I cashed my 401(k) and bought 300 gallons of rosé. Then I set out to fundraise. I researched some angel investors and what parties they were going to, and flooded those parties with product. Then three days later I’d say, “Oh I’m raising.” Then they would tell me, “That stuff’s everywhere!” And I was like “That’s so crazy!” Just kidding—I’d put it there. I raised about $2.2 million. Now, we’re launching with the largest beer distributor in America, Reyes. We’re the only product they’ve ever taken on in their history from launch. And we’re their first canned wine. It’s really exciting.
Q. Why do you think your distributor took that leap with you?
A. The reality is, no one’s ever done anything like what we’re doing. I don’t say that to sound cocky. It just doesn’t exist to have an alcohol company that’s women run, women owned, women built and is not just ‘pink it and drink it’.
Q. How did alcohol become so male-dominated?
A. The alcohol industry is weird because of Prohibition. Many of the people in distribution who became powerful at that time were doing something very illegal. Now, distributors are mostly billion-dollar family-owned businesses, often the same businesses that were started by people who were doing criminal activity during Prohibition. That’s who we’re dealing with—people who are really kind of scary, to be honest. I was just talking to one of our distributors the other day who was telling us stories of his childhood and how he’s been stabbed eight times. It’s been a male-dominated industry for so long. We’ve been lucky to get to work with high integrity distributors, but in this industry that’s not always the case.
Q. Why do you think that’s shifting?
A. The liquor industry in America is dramatically changing. Historically, women went to the grocery store and men went to the liquor store. Which, by the way, is why the liquor store was dingy; it was the place only the man went. Now, in large part because of the legalization of booze in grocery stores, women are buying the household wine. So, there’s a huge hole in the market for something like Bev.
Q. The identity of the brand is a real eye-popper. Where did the design come from?
A. I wanted it to be female without being ditzy. I wanted it to infer a woman’s name, Bev, and try to give her a personality. But it’s also just a cute name for ‘beverage’. We wanted it to be sleek, bright, unapologetic, slightly retro, and personable. My favorite color is bright coral and we were making a brand centered around being unapologetically yourself. So, I said, “I’m going to unapologetically make this can bright coral.” The original logo was just our handwriting. We literally wrote ‘Bev’ and ‘Made by Chicks’ on the side of the can and made a font out of it.
Q. Bev started with 300 gallons of rosé. What kinds of numbers are you looking at now?
A. The Reyes distribution partnership has been huge. We went from pretty much zero accounts to over 100 in two weeks. Bev now has a team of 10 people. And we’re launching in new markets across the country, starting with SoCal, Nashville, and NYC.
Q. For anyone looking to follow in your footsteps, what does it take to be a good entrepreneur?
A. You will face extraordinarily difficult decisions and challenges. Entrepreneurs don’t fail because they fail; they fail because they give up. You’ve got to know that they can throw anything at you and you’re not going to give up. At one point during the fundraising period, I had $12 to my name. It was really awful. And literally, eight days later, I had raised half a million dollars. It was the hardest and also the most beautiful time in my life. It sucks a lot of the time. But, when you feel like your entire world is falling apart, that means you’re close and it’s about to happen for you.