An apartment in Williamsburg may seem an odd base for a full-court press into the United States drinks market.
But Jean-Francois Daniel, the 29-year-old cofounder of Fair Trade Spirits, thinks Brooklyn’s the perfect launch pad.
“If there’s a sense of community,” he says, “people understand the product.”
Daniel was inspired to found Fair Trade Spirits three years ago. He’d worked in the Cognac industry, but was fed up with the commercial spirits business and set out on a round-the-world backpacking trip. He visited 25 countries and saw firsthand the struggles of small farmers beset by globalization—like quinoa growers whose land had been bought up for massive commercial-scale quinoa production, leaving them landless and out of work. “I thought ‘Spirits are made of grains, and quinoa is a grain,’” he says. A year later, he sold his first bottle, to a friend who runs a Parisian brasserie. This year he’s on track to sell more than 60,000, largely in Europe.
Locavore liquor it’s not. But all the ingredients in his spirits—which include, besides the vodka, goji berry and coffee liqueurs—are fair-trade certified. And since that certification was created to ensure a living wage for farmers in developed countries, the company works with growers in Tibet (goji berries), Malawi (sugarcane), Mexico (coffee) and Brazil (quinoa). Daniel has visited all his suppliers himself.
The company’s credentials strike a chord around the world, but have found an especially warm welcome here in Brooklyn, where it’s sold in more than 50 stores and restaurants. “When the subject of fair trade comes up, they’ve got open ears,” says Jeremy Adona, mixologist at Williamsburg’s Dressler, of his clientele. He serves all three Fair Trade products, and thinks the vodka is too good to be wasted in, say, a Bloody Mary. “It’s unique, and it has tons of flavor,” he says. “I’d have it up, with a twist and an olive.”
Amy Louise Pommier, manager of the Prospect Wine Shop, has been carrying the company’s products since they first came to the United States in late 2010. “This being Park Slope,” she says, “our customers love that it’s fair trade.” Still, it’s the quality that brings them back: “The coffee liqueur tastes like coffee beans—not coffee candy.”
But many Brooklynites are wedded to their Grey Goose, and most Americans know little about fair trade. Nonetheless, Daniel thinks that American drinkers are his crowd. When it comes to bringing their power to the market, he says, “the younger generation is ready to rock.”
Editor’s note: Dressler has closed.