He matured at Unilever, worked at LVHM’s Möet Hennessy, and created his own Spirits brand, Leblon Cachaça which he sold to Bacardi in 2015. It wasn’t his last one, either: in 2019, he also launched Hercules Mulligan, a Flaviar-exclusive ready-to-drink Old Fashioned with a killer recipe and a blockbuster-worthy story that inspired the brand.
Hercules Mulligan is one of the most popular brands in our Club, so we immediately seized the opportunity to sit down with Steve and pick his brain about this and that.
How did you end up in the Spirits industry and work your way to becoming a founder of multiple Spirit brands?
Steve: Yeah, it's a good question. So I was a food & beverage guy working for Unilever for years. I loved it there. I love food. I love beverages. I happened to be on a plane where I was flying next to a CEO of a major Spirits company and got recruited.
I just liked the guy, and I don't know how it happened; it was just so spontaneous and quick. Next thing you know, I'm working for Diageo and Möet Hennessey, and I worked there for a few years.
I have a Brazilian background, I lived in Brazil for years, married to a Brazilian, and I was creating brands for this company.
And then, I created a brand called Leblon Cachaça and decided to do that on my own. I built a distillery in Brazil, and after selling it to Bacardi, I continued developing other brands.
Well, I wish I could live to be 100 and would not age. I would take that.
How would you describe Hercules Mulligan in three words?
Daring, sincere, unique.
What is your favorite music and what drink goes with it?
I like a lot of music. I like jazz; I like rock; I like classical; I like Brazilian music. I got to say, Hercules Mulligan goes great with Dropkick Murphys, and their song is I’m Shipping Up to Boston. To me, it's a great song for this brand.
What would you eat and drink for your last supper?
I've thought about that. To be honest with you, it'd probably be a burger and fries, and they have to be thin-cut fries like you get with the steak frites. It would definitely be a burger. I probably would have a Pinot Noir or Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Assuming Hercules Mulligan is your favorite brand, what's your second favorite brand or spirit?
I would have to go with Campari; I love bitters. I love a good Negroni. I love just bitters and soda. Campari with bitters is one of my favorites.
Please tell us more about Hercules Mulligan as a brand and a product.
Steve: So the story starts with who Hercules Mulligan himself is. Or was. Hercules Mulligan was an Irish-American immigrant from the 18th century who had a tailor shop in lower Manhattan and was best friends with Alexander Hamilton. They were college roommates and key members of New York's Sons of Liberty, the underground group that sparked the American Revolution.
And during the war, when the British occupied New York City, Hercules stayed in the city and ran his tailor shop. In those days, tailor shops were like speakeasies where people would come and socialize by getting fitted, buying clothes, and simply chatting with their friends.
Being Irish, Hercules was very charismatic. His shop was a major hangout, with the English officers being literally a block away. He was a great host. He served drinks and would go to great lengths to make everyone feel comfortable.
The twist to our story is that Hercules Mulligan was a spy and his drinks were not only good, but they would cause his guests to loosen up and chat a bit more. So much so that Hercules heard and then passed on multiple secrets to George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. Those secrets did change the course of the war, namely the Continental Army and George Washington's life.
It's a riff off an Old Fashioned where we take 50-50 Rum and Rye. We add macerated ginger, fresh ginger root, and bespoke bitters. It's 86 Proof. We have three different inputs in terms of Rums, three different inputs in terms of Rye, and it's just a great drink.
How did you first discover or learn about Hercules Mulligan, the person?
Steve: I'm a history fan, and I love reading about American history. I discovered Hercules Mulligan when I read Ron Chernow’s book on Hamilton in 2015. I know Ron Chernow, and he pointed me towards the New York Historical Society, where I found an out-of-print biography about Hercules Mulligan from 1937. That's where I discovered that he would serve drinks, particularly Rum and Rye.
And that sparked the idea. I just saw the name: Hercules Mulligan. I thought it was a brilliant name; who would name their son Hercules Mulligan? I love the Irishness and the strength of Hercules. So it's pretty cool.
Is there a historical significance of using Rum and Rye?
Steve: Yeah. In the colonial period, Rum was the predominant Spirit, and it came from the Caribbean. But during the war, the British blockaded the country, which sparked the production of Rye Whiskey in the outlying area of New York. So it was kind of the two quintessential Spirits of the period.
Could you describe the flavor profile of Hercules Mulligan and a few short words, sentences?
Steve: It's 86 proof, so it's a serious drink. You get some sweetness from the Rum and the “ryeness,” obviously, from the Rye. It's got an honest hit of ginger and a bit of nuance from the bitters.
The nose has some amazing aromatics from ginger. We use fresh, not dry ginger, a very tricky route to work with. It's a sophisticated Spirit blend. The Rum itself is a blend of three different Rums: you got a Jamaican Rum, a Demerara Guyana Rum, and a Rum from Puerto Rico - all aged.
Then we have three different American Rye Whiskeys, one of which is our own, from Five & 20 Distilling in upstate New York, and another comes from Vermont. We got a fascinating base.
What are some good food and food pairing options for Hercules Mulligan?
Steve: It tastes good neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail, so it goes great with the meat. It certainly goes well with a rack of lamb or a burger. It can hold up to anything that I would call high-fat or savory.
Why is Hercules Mulligan doing a crowdfunding raise?
Steve: It’s a unique opportunity, both in terms of the brand proposition and the product itself. We have had unbelievable success launching the brand. Hercules Mulligan has the highest repurchase rate among Flaviar consumers. The sensory feedback from them was outstanding.
We just said you know, to fuel our growth and the growth of this brand, what's the best source of funding? And we're not looking just for money. We're looking for people that can help us with our brand. What is the better source than our consumers who love the brand?
So that's the idea - it is partnering with our consumers, who already said they love this brand and purchase it often, making them what we call advocates and investors for our brand.
You partnered with Flaviar - why do you think this is the best fit for your brand and the campaign?
Steve: The Flaviar community has driven the success of Hercules Mulligan. I don’t know a community of spirits aficionados more passionate than this one - they are very involved, provide meaningful feedback based on ratings, reviews, and of course (repeat) purchases.
What Flaviar is doing is revolutionary - they already know the audience, they have access to data, and are a rockstar team. Flaviar helped incubate and accelerate our brand by offering it to its community, they supported us with know-how, design ideas and marketing initiatives. I believe working with Flaviar gives you an unfair advantage - they have the expertise and the perfect audience, a combination that provides the fastest and most reliable way to collect data and do product iteration.
The Flaviar community seal of approval brought us to where we are today and I’m sure it will help us in the future as well. This is why we wanted to give something back to our fans at Flaviar and give them a unique opportunity to be the first ones to join the crowdfunding campaign, get involved in the industry, and own the brand that they helped build and that they love.
What are some of the things that set Hercules Mulligan apart from other ready-to-drink cocktails? The quality flavor profile and the brand story?
Steve: This is a unique one; it’s a true craft cocktail in the bottle. There are no preservatives, no flavor systems.
If you look at a lot of the ready-to-drink, ready-to-serve cocktails, they'll say XYZ “with other natural flavors.” The question is, what is with other natural flavors? Many people don't know that “with other natural flavors” is a euphemism for “it does not contain the specified flavor.” In other words, the flavors might be natural since they’re not artificial, but they’re not coming from, let’s say, ginger.
They’re coming from other sources, plant or animal-based. Animals could even include insects. When you combine it and create the molecules, it will impart a similar flavor, which doesn't make any sense to us.
If you're going to put something in the bottle, you should use the actual ingredients. So, no WONF (With Other Natural Flavors). Hercules Mulligan is a real craft cocktail.
Who can participate in the Hercules Mulligan crowdfunding? Is it only for Flaviar customers, or is it broader than that?
Steve: Yeah, definitely broader than that. This is our opportunity. You know the word is out about this brand, and it's already got quite a following, whether they're Flaviar Members or not. It’s an opportunity for craft Spirits aficionados or Hercules Mulligan / Hamilton fans to participate in an enjoyable brand franchise.
What has success for Hercules Mulligan looked like to date?
Steve: So far, we’ve sold over a thousand 9-liter cases. Just to give you an idea, each case is twelve 750ml bottles, which means over 12 thousand bottles of Hercules Mulligan. We are among the highest repurchased brands on the Flaviar platform. We scored 8.2 out of 10, and half of the ratings are 9 or 10 stars!
That is a representation of a group that's very discerning in terms of their Spirits. Interestingly enough, 22% of people, almost one-quarter of people who bought the Hercules Mulligan bottle, purchased another bottle multiple times. The ratings speak for themselves.
What does the future hold for Hercules Mulligan? Maybe some future expressions or bigger plans for the brand?
Steve: We're launching in the New York Metropolitan area right now to get the brand going into bars and stores. We’ll continue our campaign in terms of direct-to-consumer in the United States and Western Europe. And once we establish a New York City market, we’ll expand through the Mid-Atlantic area and go from there.
We do have some other expressions lined up. We have a Rye and Rye, which is kind of a riff off of Manhattan. It will be a blend of real high-quality Rye Whiskies and combined with maraschino cherry bitters.
It’ll be a lovely cocktail in the glass, similar to what we're doing with Rum and Rye. And then longer term, we looked at creating a third expression called Eyr and Rye, a combination of Irish Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, and orange bitters.