SpinDöktor was born on the ski slopes of Boston Mills.
Blanton Unger was judging a skiing competition and really wanted a beer. But beer isn’t allowed on the top of the slopes.
So he improvised, sneaking vodka into his root beer.
“It tasted surprisingly good,” he said.
So good, in fact, that Unger and business partner Dana Pawlicki have launched Hudson-based D-Spin Beverages to bring SpinDöktor, a hard root beer with 8 percent alcohol, to the market.
The malt beverage is now showing up in bars, convenience stores, gas stations and groceries throughout Northeast Ohio— every place from grubby punk rock bars to suburban grocery stores.
It’s sold in a single-serve, 16-ounce black and silver can and retails for $1.79. The can features a skull wearing a physician’s head mirror.
The skull label and logo was designed to appeal to the action sports and motor sports crowd — adults who enjoy such activities as skiing, skateboarding and riding bikes. The product also has proven popular in urban Cleveland, likely because of the colors and skull.
“We do think there is an audience that is older, they’re grown up, they’re more responsible but they want a beverage to identify with this earlier lifestyle that they’ve kept up or they haven’t but they still identify with,” Pawlicki said.
Unger added: “We’re trying to brand this as a lifestyle product just as much as an alcohol product.”
SpinDöktor is joining a growing flavored malt beverage category that already includes Bud Light Lime-a-Rita and Straw-Ber-Rita, the Mike’s Hard line, Sprecher Hard Root Beer, Twisted Tea and Four Loco.
“It’s the best time to launch a flavored malt beverage since 2001 when all the spirits companies got into the game,” said Brian Sudano, managing partner with the Beverage Marketing Corp. Strategic Associates in New York City.
He estimated that retail sales within the category could hit $2.9 billion this year and capture about 3.5 percent of the overall beer market thanks to the great success of the Lime-a-Rita and Straw-Ber-Rita brands.
Retailers, in turn, are much more open to making room for flavored malt beverages because of their increasing popularity and higher price points.
Root beer is an interesting choice because the category has focused on flavors like lime and berry, Sudano said.
But the industry could be on the verge of moving into more traditional soda flavors, he added.
“They are getting ahead of the curve,” he said.
Neil Mentzer, craft beer manager for Cleveland-based Beverage Distributors, which is distributing SpinDöktor, said the product has been selling well.
In two months, the distributor has gone through 350 cases.
“That’s pretty good for a no-name, brand new beverage,” he said. “The repeat business has been great.”
Unger and Pawlicki worked with Bell Flavors & Fragrances in Chicago to develop the recipe, which involved plenty of back and forth on just the right mix of vanilla, licorice and wintergreen and alcohol. They also didn’t want it to be too sugary.
It has a root beer aroma and flavor, although it doesn’t foam like nonalcoholic root beer.
“It’s delicious,” Unger said. “It’s brewed with a reverse osmosis malt base ... so it tastes super clean. It goes down easy.”
While D-Spin is based in Hudson, SpinDöktor isn’t made in Ohio.
It’s being made on contract at the Minhas Craft Brewery in Monroe, Wis. The company’s goal is to penetrate the Northeast Ohio market and then move into Detroit, Chicago and New York City.
Ultimately, Unger and Pawlicki would like to take SpinDöktor nationwide.
They also have plans to produce a light or diet version, and release other flavors.
The name SpinDöktor stems from the skiing trick “D-spin,” an inverted trick in freestyle skiing.
“Then we were looking to take this to the action sports crowd and the spin is the basis for most of the tricks you do and the doctor puts you back together when you get hurt,” Unger said with a chuckle.
Unger, 30, and Pawlicki, 42, estimated that they’ve known each other for about two decades, first meeting through their mutual love of skiing.
Pawlicki, who has a law degree from Cornell University and an MBA from Ohio State University, grew up in Hudson, and now lives in Maplewood, N.J. He runs an investment firm in Manhattan.
“I felt this was a great opportunity,” he said about why he got involved.
Unger, who has a marketing degree from the University of Colorado and an MBA from Kent State University, grew up in Peninsula and still lives there.
His lifelong dream was to work as a product manager for an energy drink, action sports or alcohol company.
“This seems to be a great mesh of all of them,” he said.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.