Q&A with Cordial & Liqueur Category Winner Kevin Faul of Tamarelo

Aug 12, 2021
Washington, D.C.

Tamarelo was named Cordial & Liqueur Category Winner of WSWA’s 2021 Brand Battle. Located in Los Angeles, California, Tamarelo is the first American made tamarind liqueur. Tamarind is a fruit enjoyed by many across the globe but is still relatively unknown by most Americans. Tamarelo is hoping to change that.


Tamarelo will represent the Cordial & Liqueur category and compete for the Brand Battle Championship on September 14.


To learn more about how Tamarelo came to be and how it’s approaching the U.S. marketplace, Michael Bilello, WSWA’s Senior Vice President of communications and marketing, as well as WSWA Access craft program manager, talked with Tamarelo Founder and CEO Kevin Faul.


MICHAEL BILELLO: Congratulations on winning this category! Tell us about your brand and how you came to create this liqueur.


KEVIN FAUL: We started as a company in 2017, but I started working on Tamarelo around 2012. We are based in Los Angeles, California. I started working with tamarind because 36% of the U.S, or 120 million people, are from ethnicities or cultures that love tamarind but for some reason it's just flown under the radar here for so long. I discovered tamarind when a friend of mine from graduate school, who was from Mexico, introduced me to the flavor with a piece of candy. When I tasted it, it was incredible; the flavor was unbelievable. But it was several years before I came across it again.


I was in the Milwaukee with a friend at a public market. The taco stand was selling baskets of Mexican produce on the side, and one had tamarind pods in it. I bought a few and I cracked open a couple, eating them dried. Again, I was hit with the powerful flavor. This was the moment I thought tamarind would be a great cocktail mixer. That’s when I started messing around with it. I started mixing raw tamarind into cocktails, with whiskey and gin. I knew there was something there. But I couldn’t find tamarind liqueur in America. That’s when I became obsessed with creating my own.


MB: That’s a great story. With a flavor profile that’s not familiar to many folks, how do you market it and set expectations? What is your strategy to get people to try Tamarelo?


KF: Communicating, particularly for off-premise accounts, about what it is, how consumers can use it, is important. Then the flavor sells itself. For on-premise the packaging and labeling are so important and we designed it intentionally. None of it is coincidental. In fact, we used one of the best packaging designers in the industry who's done some huge, successful brands. The label draws the consumers attention and then on the back of the label we offer a recipe for the tamarind Margarita using Tamarelo.


Margaritas are the best-selling cocktail in the world. And tamarind margaritas are the second most popular flavor of margarita worldwide. It’s such an easy bridge to show the flavor when replacing the lime juice with Tamarelo to make a tamarind margarita - so that’s a cocktail that can sell anywhere from Green Bay to Miami. And it’s working.

The other key thing for us is that there's so many cultures that already love this flavor. Tamarind is consumed by 90% of the world. Nearly seven billion people have been loving this flavor but it's still almost invisible in the United States. As more people have become exploratory with their food and their palate - you can find Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, or Indian restaurants everywhere now and these cultures love tamarind - so the bridge to tamarind is really through these other cultures in these restaurants. In the on-premise, consumers go in and find this flavor through those cultures that are already very familiar with it. It turns out we all want more exotic flavors. We want to taste new things. We also want to feel like we're on vacation when having a cocktail, and this spirit is the perfect combination of all those things. It’s not just a flavor, it’s an experience.”


MB: Can you walk us through when you’re pitching an on-premise account? How does that typically go?


KF: The first thing we do is to make them aware of tamarind. Because tamarind is used in some cocktails, more and more bartenders are becoming familiar with it – particularly because of the Mexican influence with tamarind margaritas. So, when we say we have a tamarind liqueur, for some bartenders there's this familiarity with it. For those that aren’t as familiar, once they taste it, they immediately they understand how they can use it. It’s a matter of introduction, quick education, and tasting.


Once they’ve tasted it, we explain how popular this tropical fruit is around the world. If you put it on your menu, you're going to have a big segment of your customer base that automatically recognizes tamarind and will want to try it. However, more importantly for these on-premise accounts, that is where people go to discover new flavors. By giving on-premise accounts the opportunity to introduce their guests to a new flavor as a sense of discovery, by allowing consumers to have a real experience at their restaurant or bar, is really a much more valuable proposition than just you know hey here's our price point.


MB: Tell us about your experience during the pandemic. Especially with a large focus on on-premise accounts, how did you navigate this past year?


KF: Well, we officially launched Tamarelo during the pandemic. I spent three and a half to four years on just trial and error of the product. We would make a recipe and take it around to ethnic restaurants in Los Angeles with people who grew up with the flavor. I would have gone with recipe number one, but the best was the 12th iteration out of 14 recipes.


So when we were ready to launch, we were just hoping and having the optimism that the pandemic would end. But we didn’t get to market until January of 2021. It was a matter of faith. But additionally, if you looked at the numbers, off-premise sales were just skyrocketing during the pandemic.


The pandemic also gave me a chance to engage with social media influencers that we work with. We discussed more creative things to do to get our brand out there.


So as bad as the pandemic was, as rough as it was, as terrible as it was for on-premise businesses, there's a lot of opportunity coming out of the past year and a half because people are so much more aware of the cocktail industry, of mixing their own cocktails at home.


We were able hold tight and then launch right as things started to reopen earlier this year. So far, we’ve had good momentum.


MB: Tell us about your distribution of Tamarelo. What do you look for in a distribution partner? What have your relationships been like with distributors?


KF: We’re still a young brand. Currently, we're self-distributing in California, we have statewide distribution in Oregon and Badger Liquor in Wisconsin committed to us statewide. Badger said they loved the flavor and the brand, and they wanted to bring it to Wisconsin – which has the highest density of bars anywhere in the U.S. This was very exciting for us.


The success of working with Badger comes down to one person, Lacey Sadoff. She is the fourth-generation owner, she's well-traveled and has tasted many spirits. In my opinion She’s the progressive future of the industry because she responds so quickly to what’s new. When we presented the brand to her, she could see the vision right away, but relied on her team to make the call, and they understood right away what we were doing, and they said yes. What a great opportunity for us!


The best distribution partners that commit to the tamarind flavor will see great success with Tamarelo. Lacey saw the vision, she picked it up, she encouraged her sales staff to go in on it. And it's crazy! We're selling at little bars in Wisconsin and people are enjoying the flavor in the north woods of Minocqua or out west in Eau Claire  even before people in San Diego or San Francisco.


A great distribution partner is a perfect combination of seeing the vision, understating the flavor, and knowing that this flavor will be everywhere soon, and they want to be the first to share it with more retailers and consumers. When we have that commitment, the product performs really well on a reorder basis. We want distribution partners who see the future.


MB: Many new brands are creating products that are sustainable. How are you approaching sustainability with your brand? What separates Tamarelo from the others?


KF: Several things: Our water sourc - the McKenzie River in Oregon -  is 200 feet from the bottling line, for example, but one thing I have to mention that separates us is that our cork stopper is patent pending. This is an all-cork molded T-stopper. The reason we did this is because, from a sustainability perspective so much waste is in this topper. Typically, it's plastic, wood, or synthetic polymer that attaches to the cork. Just changing our topper to solid cork, we've eliminated so much waste. Now our glass bottles are fully recyclable and the topper will decompose if you toss it out, even in your yard. The only piece of waste left from our bottle that you can’t do something with is the glue and the little shrink wrap that goes around the top and is required by law. We're 99.5% recyclable or compostable. This is something that is very important to me as we move into a more sustainable future. I’d love to see more brands taking a responsible approach to the environment beyond carbon credits and offsets.


MB: How did you learn about Brand Battle? What made you want to enter the competition? Did it meet your expectations?


KF: We found out about Brand Battle from Badger. Another great thing about them as a distributing partner, is that they look out for their brands, and they’re interested in their brands’ success.


I knew Brand Battle would be a good opportunity, but I kept putting it off because I felt there was so much to share but couldn’t decide what to pick. About 24 hours before the application was due, I cut together a video that told our story and submitted it. Thankfully, we were accepted to compete.


As far as meeting expectations, WSWA represents the who's who of the industry. It is truly a privilege to have been a competitor in Brand Battle. The different brands that competed today are people who have invested their lives into their brands. The wine and spirits industry is full of hungry entrepreneurs that are building something from a dream. Everything about this battle has been positive. We're so privileged to have been part of it, and even luckier to have won this category. I’m sure the decision wasn’t easy for the judges.