Interview: Caskers.com co-founder Moiz Ali

September 10, 2012 § 11 Comments

As I stand on what feels like the edge of the tallest mountain looking down into the weeks, months & years ahead as I prep the launch my own whisky, Brenne, I am proud to find myself in like-company.  There are a handful of other entrepreneurs who are in the midst of introducing their own whisky-focused companies – it’s an amazing feeling to be in this place in life period, but to be in this moment with others who have also brought to fruition their dreams is, well, magical.

Following the heels of last week’s post where I published my interview with the blogging team of the It’s Just the Booze Dancing crew, I thought it time to shine some light on more of these amazing whisky-loving folks.  This week I present to you one of the two co-founders of Caskers.com.  A very new and very cool craft spirits sale site.

And if you like what these guys are doing, they’ve given you the invitation code WHISKYWOMAN to use HERE which lets you skip the “request invite” step & gives you immediate access to their site.

Caskers.com co-founder Moiz Ali

What is Caskers.com? (Why is it so unique and what makes it different?)

Caskers is a website where we curate, market and make available for sale craft spirits.  We work with industry experts, master distillers and mixologists to find the best craft spirits being distilled today, and then feature those spirits on Caskers.  Our goal is to help customers discover great spirits and help craft distilleries earn brand-recognition among consumers.

We don’t aim to be the Walmart for spirits and stock every item ever made.  Our goal is to feature only amazing craft spirits and only for limited periods of time.  This way, we can help customers discover great spirits and eliminate the clutter that currently fills up the shelves of most liquor stores.

When did you launch Caskers.com?

We launched into public beta on June 18, 2012.

How long did you work on it until the time you were ready to launch?

My co-founder, Steven Abt, and I recognized the problem while we were both in law school in Boston.  After a few weekend trips to places like Chicago, New York and San Francisco, we realized that we couldn’t get access to spirits that we tried in other major cities when we came back to Boston.   We knew there had to be a better way.

In late 2010, we came up with the idea of Caskers and then at the beginning of 2012, we quit our jobs and began focusing on Caskers full time.

That must have been a thrilling feeling!  But your based in New York, right?  Fill in the gap for me, please.  How did this become a concept in Boston to a full-blown company in NYC?

We are based in NYC.  While we came up with the concept of Caskers in law school (we both went to Harvard in Cambridge, MA), my co-founder and I both ended up taking jobs as lawyers in NYC.  He worked at Wachtell Lipton and I worked at Simpson Thacher.  Even while we were lawyers, we always kept talking about how this concept would be a great business venture.  And while being a lawyer was fun, we knew this would be better!  We quit our jobs at the beginning of 2012 to found Caskers!

Tell me about the types of products you feature in your flash sales?

We like to think of them as private sales rather than flash sales, because we don’t want to imply that the products we’re selling are being discounted because of quality or that we’re having some type of close-out sale.

The products we feature are the best craft spirits being distilled today.  We get recommendations from industry experts, master distillers and mixologists (not to mention customers!) and then our team tries everything to see what spirits really stand out.  Once we find a sprit that we think is amazing, we work with the distillery to feature it on Caskers.  We really are looking for the best stuff out there – we’ve already rejected a number of distilleries that reached out to us because they weren’t the right fit for Caskers.

Who should join Caskers.com?

Everyone!  Well, everyone over the age of 21 actually.  The spirits we feature are incredibly unique.  They have distinct aromas and flavors.  While we readily admit that people have different palates and preferences (for instance, Steve prefers rye and I prefer bourbon), the spirits we feature are amazing and you’ll be able to find something you love on Caskers.  And even if you don’t drink, you’ll like the stories that we tell on Caskers.  At Kings County Distillery, the label on each bottle was originally created by a typewriter the master distillers found on the street in Williamsburg.  At Caledonia Spirits, the owner of the distillery was a beekeeper for nearly 50 years before he decided to incorporate his organic, raw Vermont honey into gin and vodka.

Caskers has something for everyone.

What does it cost to join?

Caskers is free to join!

What was your inspiration for creating Caskers.com?

Steve and I both took a number of weekend trips during law school, and realized that the spirits we tried in Chicago, LA, New York and San Francisco just weren’t available back in Boston.  To us, that was crazy and we knew there had to be a better way!

You have had tremendous growth and success in the short time since the site has been live, what do you attribute that too and where do you hope to be this time next year?

I think we’re just filling a need that has been there for awhile.  Spirits aren’t like soft drinks – you don’t just choose between Pepsi and Coke when you’re young and stick to that brand the rest of your life.  You want to try a broad range of spirits and taste everything out there.  We know people have limited resources, both in terms of time and money, so we help people try the best spirits being produced today.  So long as we do a great job curating spirits, I think we can continue to grow quickly.

What were you doing (professionally) before Caskers?

I was a corporate lawyer for about 2.5 years before starting Caskers.  I worked at a firm called Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, after graduating from the University of Florid and Harvard Law School.

Steve was also a corporate lawyer before starting Caskers.  He worked at a firm called Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, after graduating from Princeton and Harvard Law School.

Have you always loved craft spirits?

If you’re a cop, I’ve loved craft spirits since I was 21.  Otherwise, yes! I love that they have original flavors and love thinking about master distillers when I drink them.  These guys and girls work tirelessly to produce something unique and interesting.  They really are pioneers.

How has running your own business, particularly in the Spirits industry, changed your life?

It makes me want to run to work everyday!  It makes me love craft products – not just in the spirits industry but in everything.  I want to eat food from farmer’s markets, sit on chairs made by an artisan whose passion is to make great furniture, and live in a unique home that was designed by an architect who knows what he is doing.

Would you do it all over again if you could?

In a heartbeat.

Final thoughts from me to Moiz Ali & Steve Abt: Thank you so much for sharing your story and for letting us have a peek behind the curtain! I love that you’re really helping edit down & pick out the great craft spirits from a sea of choices for the educated consumer – which in today’s busy world is very much appreciated.  Job well done, guys!

Interview: It’s Just the Booze Dancing blog crew

September 5, 2012 § 17 Comments

It was 3am.  I was staying up late to put the final edits on a blog post I wanted to publish the next morning.  Naturally, I was nursing a dram and tabbed over to my Twitter account to see if anyone else was sharing in my late-night debauchery.  Why yes!  Two of my favorite blog & twitter friends, @BoozeDancing & @CooperedTot.  After a quick round of witty whisky banter, I asked them what they were both doing awake.  Same answer: editing blog posts.

A couple people I’ve met asked (only after they assumed “yes”) if I was a “full time blogger” to which I had to laugh.  Did they really think I hung out in coffee shops all day tweeting around ideas that would come together in my weekly posts?  Sounds good! But no, for me, as it is for many of my fellow bloggers, blogging is a passion-project only. Something I think we all actually loose money on (I know I do!) and something we do in between balancing the thousands of other things on our plates.  Why? Because we love it. Because I LOVE the #WhiskyFabric community.  Because I LOVE the conversations that evolve from the topics we are all living & writing about.

I thought it time to interview the Dancers – shine a light on some of my late-night editor companions and let you in to see a glimpse of what it’s like to run a successful blog.  I asked the following questions to each of the 4 writers of the It’s Just the Booze Dancing blog and I love how each of their uniquely wonderful personalities shine through in their different responses.  Please enjoy their truthful, funny, thoughtful & of course, entertaining responses:

IT’S JUST THE BOOZE DANCING – Interview

Who are the writers of the BoozeDancing blog?

G-LO: The Wookie, The ROK, Limpd, & G-LO

The ROK: I go by the alias ‘The ROK’ on the blog.

LimpD: LimpD will suffice.

The Wookie: is a 38 year-old booze, brew, travel, and food lover that like the other Booze Dancers lives in South Jersey just outside of Philadelphia.  By day I am a civil engineer and construction management expert consulting on large scale building projects around the world.  When not at work I love exploring new brews, spirits, and foods.  Beyond booze and food I enjoy cold weather sports and outdoor sports like skiing, ice hockey, snorkeling, and sailing.

How did you all come up with your pen names?

G-LO: G-LO is derived from my real name, and was coined by a guy that used to do improv comedy with my wife about 9 or 10 years ago. I’m not really sure how it happened, but the neighbors caught wind of this nickname and it stuck. There is nothing funnier than hearing yourself called Mr. G-LO by The Wookie’s youngest daughter. And in a whisky related story, Joshua Hatton referred to me as G-LO when he asked Dr. Bill Lumsden of Ardbeg and Glenmorangie a question that I posted on his Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society Blog. Dr. Bill asked, “G-LO? As opposed to J-LO?”. Dr. Bill was very disappointed when he find out that I was a guy.

The ROK: Not much creativity here, ROK are my initials. At neighborhood gatherings, I would write my initials Toby Keith style on the red solo cup and so it kind of stuck as a nickname since its kind of like ‘rock’

LimpD: When we began the blog, I was in need of a hip replacement and had a pronounced limp.

The Wookie: The definition of wookie is “a tall, hairy alien species”.  Since I am 6’5″, an incredibly hairy dude, and a bit off center “The Wookie” seems to fit well.

When and why did you all start the BoozeDancing blog?

G-LO: Prior to the formation of the blog, the four of us spent a great deal of time sitting around the fire, drinking whisky, and just talking into the wee hours of the evening. About a month or two prior to the blog’s launch, one of us joked that we should record our fireside chats and start a podcast. Although the podcast never materialized, the blog eventually did.

The ROK: G-LO is really the creative force behind the blog. We got the idea one night sipping whisky on G-lo’s patio. We talked about it for a few weeks and then GLo just went and started it.

LimpD: We began the blog as a somewhat feeble effort to pass off our backyard drinking as research. Additionally, as we ventured further into beer and spirits, it became apparent that we had a fairly significant knowledge base that with G-LO’s urging could be used to both amuse and educate.

The Wookie: You could say that, two years ago, we started the blog to share with the world our thoughts on the “finer things in life” but that would be total bullshit.  G-lo was (and still is) the mastermind behind the blog and depending on when/who you ask you may get different answers to “why” we started.  Some of those answers include:

1 – We had a few too many and thought the world actually cared about our musings on booze and life
2 – We were trying to score free stuff
3 – We were looking for a public forum to poke fun at each other
4 – We were trying to legitimatize our “exploration” of booze and food

…. and the list goes on.

How frequently do you publish new posts?

G-LO: We typically publish between 3 and 5 posts per week.

LimpD: We aim for three posts a week and try to divide the work load based on our other commitments.

The ROK: My postings have become less and less frequent as job and family responsibilities have taken up much of my time.

The Wookie: Currently we are publishing about a post per day, Monday through Friday.

On average, how much time would you say each writer spends writing and promoting/marketing his posts per day or week?

G-LO: Writing has never been one of my strengths, so depending upon the subject matter, and my level of inspiration, it could take me anywhere from one to three hours to write a post (sometimes more, but rarely less). This does not include the time I spend fussing with the photos or actually evaluating what I’m drinking. As far as the promotions/marketing side, once again, it depends. Since I manage the Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Instagram feeds, several of the post promotions are performed automatically through WordPress. Thanks to people like yourself and other blogging buddies we’ve made along the way, promoting and marketing has been getting easier every day. I like to call it “good blogging karma”. 

The ROK: I mostly just write. G-Lo had really gotten into the social media aspects and promotes the blog on facebook and other sites such as digg and reddit.

LimpD: I spend about three hours a week writing, responding to comments and forwarding our posts out to sites like Reddit.

The Wookie: G-lo and LimpD do the lion’s share of the writing publishing 1-3 posts per week.  I write more like a sniper picking select targets to write about a few times per month.  As far as marketing and promotion goes, G-lo is our social media wizard promoting everyone’s writings through Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc..

What have been some of your biggest surprises as booze bloggers?

G-LO: Of course the biggest surprise is that people actually seem to enjoy reading our blog! The second biggest surprise is how much I enjoy interacting with all of the other great bloggers out there. It always makes me smile when I stumble upon all of the comments that we leave on each other’s blogs. We’re all so connected!

The ROK: The biggest surprise is that anyone actually reads it. I never expected to find such a large community of people who share our enjoyment of whisky and who are willing to share their experiences. In addition, the amount of time it takes to put together a well thought out posting was surprising. Whisky, beer, and just about any spirit can be so complex to try to distill the essence of the experience into 1 or 2 paragraphs takes more effort that it might appear.

LimpD: We actually seem to know what we are talking about and have provided a creative outlet for an expanding “hobby”.

The Wookie: It was and still is surprising that people actually read what we write.  I think we all write just for fun, as a hobby.  The fact that we get regular feedback from others including distillers, brewers, and the like is surprising and very cool.

What were some of your biggest hurdles/learning curves?

G-LO: I’ve been drinking whisky and beer for a very long time, but I never really sat down to analyze what I was drinking until the past few years. I always thought tasting notes were utter nonsense, but until you actually try to sit down and write them, you don’t realize how difficult it really is. Also, writing in general has never been easy for me, so the fact that I have written so much and actually enjoyed doing it is a friggin miracle!

The ROK: For me, it was broadening my taste palate. When we first starting writing, I wrote mostly about bourbon. I have a sweet-tooth so whiskey based on corn fit right in with me. Over the years, I’ve expanded into Irish and single-malt whisky’s and I find now more and more I reach for a highlands malt over the bourbons I used to favor.

LimpD: We started a little behind the curve and G-LO has invested a significant amount of time pushing our blog with Twitter, Facebook, etc. I found that my taste preferences (softer beer, unpeated whisky, shiny packaging and no demon bourbon) were a bit of mixed blessing. While I certainly had a comfort zone, I was initially a little unwilling to expand my horizons and that hindered my posts.

The Wookie: It took us a bit of time to figure out how to promote what we do and bring all the social media tools together.  G-lo is our social media “guru” and helps keep the blog’s visibility high.

How do you stay motivated?

G-LO:  I will be the first to admit that there are days when I’m not very motivated to write, but then someone comments on a post, or throws a #FF our way on Twitter, and I remember why I enjoy doing this so much. 

The ROK: This is the hard part for me. It gets harder and harder to find the time to down and focus on a blog post. G-Lo keeps it going.

LimpD: Now, I really like to try things and as the Philly/South Jersey area has expanded its offerings, there seems to be a new beer or whisky or bourbon that catches my eye.

The Wookie: It’s still fun.  For my part the blog is more a place to catalog my exploration of new things than to share it with anyone.  Trying new things is the motivation, writing is just a record of my experiences.

What do you like best about being a blogger?

G-LO: Here are just a few of the things that I like best about being a blogger: interactions with our readers and other bloggers; interactions with brewers, distillers, bar/restaurant owners, and other industry professionals; the thrill of finding the next “Holy Grail” beer or whisky, and then sitting down to write about the experience. There are so many more things that I love about blogging, but I think you get the idea.

The ROK: The free samples. The folks at Master of Malt have been generous in sending us samples to try. It’s really great to get to try something that would probably never make it into a review and be able write about it.

LimpD: The comments and feedback. It is great to write a post but it is even better to have someone respond even if it is to critique the review.

The Wookie: The blog has gotten us invites to and tastes of new things that many others would not get to try.  It seems the more we write about things we like the more we are asked to try things we like.

What do you like least about being a blogger?

G-LO: My only complaint is not having the time to write as much as I’d like.

The ROK: To do it well, really takes a lot of time.

LimpD: At times, I find it hard to objectively review something that to me is just awful. You want to review a product and provide some insight without just slamming something.

The Wookie: Until there are paparazzi camped out in front of my house I don’t think there will be anything I don’t like.  You write when you want to write and stop when you don’t feel like it.

If you had it to do all over again, would you still have started?

G-LO: Most definitely! My only regret is not knowing as much as I know about Social Media when we first started out. Lots of trial and error in the beginning as far as getting the word out about our blog. 

The ROK: It was really G-lo that started it all, so if he started it again, I would freeload off his efforts again, too!

LimpD: Absolutely, I just wish we had started sooner.

The Wookie: G-LO was the mastermind and just took us all along for the ride.  I guess if he says yes to doing it again I would say yes to jumping on board for the ride.

Any tips for people considering starting a blog?

G-LO: The common thread in all of my answers has been about how much I truly enjoy the interactions that occur because of the blog. The best way to gain readership is to read other people’s blogs and to leave thoughtful and relevant comments. There is a plethora of great writing happening across the blogosphere. Get out there and get to know the writers. And most importantly, never take yourself too seriously, and try your best to have fun with your writing!

The ROK: You need to consistently post fresh material in order to build an audience. It takes some time, but if you publish consistently and continue to learn about the subject you are writing about, like minded people will find you.

LimpD: I would suggest that collaboration is a key to starting a blog. That spreads the workload and varies the opinions as each writer has some preference. For us, G-LO tends to smokey, peaty whiskies; the ROK is a big fan of bourbon; the Wookie likes to find things off the beaten path; and I look toward the softer, mellower whiskies. The same goes for the diversity in our preferences in beer. I would like to think that this difference has allowed each of us to expand our palates and enhance our knowledge. Also, you don’t want to drink alone; where is the fun in that.

The Wookie: My number one tip is to start blogging with a group of friends/writers rather than going it alone.  Producing blog content as a single writer makes it tough to publish regularly and tough to get feedback.  If you start with a group of writers you can pick up the slack for each other when someone does not feel like writing and also provide feedback to each other.  If nothing else your little group becomes your primary audience and you can just have fun writing things for your circle of friends.

Final thoughts from me to the BoozeDancing crew:  I continue to be inspired by your humility & dedication – not just to your own blog but to mine and so many others.  You all are important members in the whisky community and as both a reader & blogger, I thank you for your continued support & commitment.  Cheers!

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