Alumni launch ‘clean’ spiked seltzer company

Media Credit: Courtesy of Chris Wirth

The tequila-based alcohol's manufacturers say the product contains just three ingredients, far fewer than competitors' brands.

When alumnus Chris Wirth looked at the ingredients in alcoholic seltzers, he found that most drinks are based with fermented cane sugar and a laundry list of natural flavors.

After discovering that “natural” flavors – what he said is an “industry term” – can contain up to 100 various ingredients each, him and his wife, Camila, began to develop a “clean” alternative to alcoholic seltzers last winter. Their final product turned into the tequila-based seltzer Volley that hit the market Monday.

Wirth, his wife and his college pals Cory Grever and Caroline Shumway launched Volley drinks, made with 100 percent agave tequila from Mexico, which Wirth said is fewer calories and less sugar than unauthentic tequila. For $3 per can or $11.99 per four-pack “zesty lime,” “spicy ginger,” “sharp grapefruit” or “tropical mango,” Volley flavors are available online and in a few retail stores in New York, New Jersey and Florida.

“We thought, ‘Hey, why don’t we make a really simple seltzer?’” he said. “It’s not going to be a breakthrough recipe that has the most unique ingredients, it’s just going to be what people drink when they want a refreshing good quality drink with tequila and a splash of juice.”

During the first phase of launching, Volley is distributing in Florida, New York and New Jersey. The drinks can be found in local retail stores in Roselle Park and Paterson New Jersey, New York City and at the retail chain Vintage Liquors in Florida.

The company will launch in Texas, California, Illinois, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Connecticut and the DMV “within the next six months” and nationally soon after, Wirth said.

Wirth said he became interested in the beverage industry while working at the Jefferson Hotel starting the summer after his sophomore year at GW. He became friends with the hotel’s mixologist, Massimiliano Matté, and started a high-end cocktail mixer company called American Cocktail Company in 2013, a year after Wirth graduated.

American Cocktail Company is not affiliated with Volley, but Wirth said he is able to apply some of the lessons he learned while developing his first company.

“The American Cocktail Company still is alive and thriving, but this is a completely new venture with new team members, new investors and it’s kind of a culmination of all the lessons that were learned over the past few years,” Wirth said.

Wirth said Volley prides itself in its simplicity and transparency. All three ingredients are clearly labeled on each can, which he says alcohol brands aren’t required to do.

He added that he wanted the company name to represent the feeling he hopes customers will associate with the brand: energy and activity.

“[Volley] felt like something you would do with someone else and it didn’t feel restrictive to a particular category or a time of day,” Wirth said.

Wirth and Shumway met in their freshman year, 2009, and Grever came to GW the following year. Wirth said their friend group acted like “its own little Greek life” but Grever and Wirth were both members of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and said they were often in charge of organizing tailgates and social functions.

“Some of the lessons from organizing those parties I’m sure we are probably putting to use now,” Wirth said.

Grever, who works as Volley’s chief marketing officer, said he works closely with the company’s branding agency, Red Antler, to garner consumer data and consider it in their advertisement strategy. The company mainly advertises Volley through community outreach, on social media and through their partnership with Leave No Trace – an organization that works to reduce pollution and promote environmental responsibility.

Shumway acts as Volley’s “head of community,” dealing mainly with the company’s community outreach and “brand advocate program.” For this program, she enlists brand ambassadors or “VIPs” to advertise the company on their social media in exchange for perks from Volley like free monthly cases of the seltzer and chances to win prizes. Grever said many of the VIPs are GW alumni.

“We are making GW proud right now,” Grever said.

While the trio works together developing and running Volley, Grever said they have had time to reminisce on fond college memories like organizing social events for friends.

“That’s kind of a fun part of it, full circle and 10 years later now we’re launching an alcohol brand,” he said.

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