We sat down with Amanda Sussex and Shayla Hamlin of Bring Your Own Cocktail–BYOC–to chat about starting and owning a small business, cocktails, and of course, brunch.
BYOC was created out of the love that founders Shayla and Amanda shared for quality cocktails and the power of a great drink bringing people together. Not only are their cocktails convenient, but they are made with the finest and freshest ingredients–their only ingredients are fresh-squeezed juices, local premium distilled alcohols, and simple syrups to add a touch of sweetness. They make their drinks with vodka, tequila, rum, and gin from District Distilling, Don Ciccio & Figli, and other local distilleries.
After purchasing some of these bad boys myself, I can personally say they are phenomenal. I love them for their convenience and accessible on-the-go qualities. Not to mention that they are delicious and taste like a bartender just squeezed you a margarita.
BYOC’s beverages are expertly packaged to be enjoyed on a picnic, at the beach, at home, at a party…literally wherever, whenever. At 15 percent ABV, their cocktails pack a punch. Read on to find out where you can get your hands on these cocktails and hear about Amanda and Shayla’s take on the D.C. cocktail scene, owning a small business, and brunch.
You founded BYOC last year in D.C. What gave you the idea to create a ready-made cocktail-to-go?
Shayla: I’m not a big beer and wine drinker, so I was always looking for a cocktail option. I was thinking about starting a company and heading into the entrepreneurial space and I wanted to do something fun. Amanda and I both were working in health policy and wanted to do something more creative.
There was a huge void in the market for cocktails on-the-go. Beer and wine are everywhere because they are the most convenient. We wanted to create something that was ready to-go, high quality, but also just as convenient as beer or wine.
Tell us about your mixology backgrounds.
Amanda: We love good cocktails! We knew what we liked. Part of knowing what makes a good cocktail is being a connoisseur and part of it is experience playing hostess. We both love to entertain and know what works and what is convenient. We love seeing what’s happening on the D.C. scene and staying up to date on the latest trends.
What inspired the concept?
Shayla: Making sure the ingredients are fresh and high quality is our main goal and the most important aspect of our concept. Amanda was drinking a fresh-pressed juice and had an “ah ha” moment. From then on we wanted to keep that underlying concept behind our cocktails–local, fresh, and healthy quality ingredients.
You are friends and business partners, much like our founders, Becca and Cori Sue. How did you two meet?
Amanda: We met at work. We were both from the Midwest, clicked right away and became friends. We liked to go out for great drinks and nice meals. Our shared love for cocktails, food, and being out and about in D.C. brought us together.
We also have similar working styles. We’re both are take charge kinda gals and pragmatic. We have strong personalities and similar goals. We saw a business ownership in our future very early on.
Shayla: Seeing each other’s work ethics and work styles was very beneficial. We could see that we were both problem solvers and would be a great business partners.
Tell us about your flavors. What inspired you to create these drinks?
Amanda: We have five flavors out right now. Stay on the lookout for our fall flavors coming out in early October.
The C-Suite margarita was a no-brainer. D.C. loves its tacos, so we wanted to create a drink that complemented that–and who doesn’t love a margarita? The Moscow Mule has been growing in popularity. Every bar has it’s own take on this drink. A Mule can be so much more, so we wanted to draw on the classic Mule and make it better. We have the margarita and Mule all year round, and have about three flavors that will change seasonally.
Our seasonal flavors are inspired by local produce. This summer we have the Water My Melon–a watermelon, lime, vodka, and mint drink. It’s super refreshing and is the epitome of summer. The Rose Found Paradise is a pineapple, rum, and rosemary cocktail. The pineapple is super fresh and the rosemary adds an element of complexity and savory finish. The Zen and Juice Cucumber is great and one of our most popular cocktails. Even non gin lovers will love this drink. It pairs well with everything.
Do you have a favorite flavor, and why?
Shayla: The margarita. I just love tequila and the sour and sweetness.
Amanda: The cucumber gin. It tastes like the you’re the spa. It’s very refreshing.
What has been your biggest challenge as small business owners?
Shayla: The short answer–licensing. Alcohol is highly regulated. It took us about a year to get all of our licensing in order. We’re actually licensed as a distillery. Ready-to-drink cocktails is such a new concept that the regulators really didn’t know how to deal with us, so with a lot of explaining we got them on board. We hope the people who come after us will appreciate all of our hard work!
Amanda: It was challenging just being a new product in an industry and having to explain the concept 100 times. It’s great that we’re pioneering this concept, but people don’t always understand the product until they try it–so we have to hustle that much harder.
We’re out hustling and doing tastings all the time all over D.C. to get the word out. We have to educate consumers. This market hasn’t ever been tapped into and that’s a challenge we have to overcome. We promise you won’t feel like you’re drinking a wine cooler.
What are you most proud of now that BYOC has launched?
Shayla: We’re most proud of sales. We’ve been so fortunate that other small businesses have been really receptive. Sales launched back in April and we started with two stores and now we’re in over 20 different locations. Just to see our product on the shelf for the first time was amazing. Gilt City reached out to us and wanted to partner with BYOC which felt really wonderful. So be on the lookout for us on Gilt DC soon!
You’re carried in markets and stores in the D.C area. Where can we find you?
We’re in about twenty liquor stores and venues throughout D.C. We just finalized the details and we’ll also be at Shakespeare Theatre Company starting in August. We’re talking to nail salons, theaters, concert venues, stadiums, hair salons, etc. There are lots of things on the horizon for us.
What do you think about the D.C. cocktail or bar scene? What’s your favorite bar and restaurant?
Amanda: We’re big fans of The Columbia Room, which was just named the best cocktail bar in the U.S. The cocktail scene in D.C. is really blowing up and coming to the forefront. We love going around to local distilleries, speakeasies, and bars to try new things. Republic Restoratives has my favorite Mule–other than BYOC’s.
Shayla: I love Republic Restoratives as well. And District Distilling for obvious reasons. They have amazing quality spirits (obviously) and have some amazing bartenders. The food is wonderful and the staff hilarious–you feel like you’re at home when you’re there. The atmosphere is great there–it’s our Cheers.
What is your favorite aspect of your drinks? Convenience? Taste? Quality? All of the above?
All of the above! We never get tired of them–and we’re not just saying that because it’s our company. Every time we drink them we’re still like, “Wow. That is an amazing margarita.”
The novelty of the product is always a “wow” factor. It really tastes like someone just pressed a watermelon for you and added vodka. They’re also the perfect hostess gift. Cheers to your hostess gift never getting lost in the sea of red wine again!
What’s up next for you two ladies?
We’re going to continue to hustle and getting into other venues. We plan to tap into any market that they have wine and beer. So any fast casual restaurants, stadiums, Amtrak… who knows! We just finished finalizing all of our fall flavors, so look out for those in the beginning of October.
Now, onto brunch. We have to ask a few important questions! Bloody Marys or mimosas?
Brunch in or out?
Shayla: Brunch in–it’s all day affair. I like to have a couple of mimosas, eat well, linger, and connect with friends. I hate being rushed.
Amanda: Both. If I’m hosting then I’m definitely going to serve BYOC.
What’s your favorite brunch item?
Shayla: Just plain bacon. No healthy turkey bacon–the real stuff!
Amanda: I love a carby brunch so the bread basket with hazelnut spread. I like to eat sweet at brunch.
If you could five people to brunch, who would they be?
Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Sara Blakely, Oprah Winfrey, and Beyonce. All women bosses—we love their hustle!
A note from the Bitches: we partnered with BYOCocktail on this post. While this post was written independently by us, we do receive compensation from the company.