I like connecting with successful women in the vodka industry – they always give me motivation and somehow inspire me. It is not an easy thing to start your own brand and build it from scratch, especially when it comes to something as delicate as vodka. The taste and quality of the ingredients are just as important as the branding, so you have to make sure it ticks all the boxes. I had the pleasure to catch up with Brooke Bloomquist - the founder of Blue Shark Vodka, and find out more about the inspiration behind her brand.
I love your story, can you tell me a little bit about the start of Blue Shark Vodka and inspiration behind it?
I’ve worked in hospitality and marketing pretty much my entire life. I started with pouring glasses of wine and pints of beer, when I was in my early 20's living in New York working at an Irish Pub part-time on nights and weekends, while working full time for Warner Music Group during the day. I then worked in a Starwood Hotel Resort in Maui, Hawaii, and that is where the idea of Blue Shark Vodka was born - or I guess you can say it all click together when my father was visiting.
Six years ago, it started with drinks by the pool, and it evolved into the first spirits distillery in New Hanover County on the coast of North Carolina. My father previously owned a business that created Bobbleheads, and when we were in Hawaii by the pool I thought, “How could we incorporate a real figurine into a bottle?” After going to the drawing board the idea for Blue Shark Vodka was born! My passion was poured into the design of the bottle that would, by design, be not just a liquor bottle, but a unique piece of art. The vision was to have a hand-blown bottle with a unique shark blown right into its base. After trial and error and four renditions of bottle prototypes, we finally were able to craft the perfect bottle! Now you can have a great looking bottle but personally I didn't have any background or knowledge on spirits that is where my dad really came in. When we lived in the Bay Area California my father Mark (or as we call him "Chief") used to work for Seagram's back in the day - so this idea to open our own distillery didn't come out of left field. After creating the perfect recipe, we were able to connect with a Polkton, North Carolina, farmer in Anson County. Farmer Jeff Griffin, of Griffin Farms, became a part of the Blue Shark Vodka family by growing the sweet Carolina Corn to ensure that the vodka was wholly a North Carolina product.
Blue Shark Vodka is made entirely from Carolina sweet corn harvested in Polkton, NC and pure North Carolina water. Farmer Jeff of Polkton, NC oversees the production of our Sweet Carolina Corn. What makes Blue Shark Vodka so smooth is a combination of the Sweet Carolina Corn and our distilling process. BSV is distilled four times, then using a reverse osmosis process, is filtered three times. Our first year was fantastic (we just celebrated year one on June 19th!) but most of our shark fans don’t know or probably don’t recall that we spent 5 years working to perfect our bottles, labels and our Vodka! Our idea for Blue Shark Vodka grew from our fascination with spirits, especially those with unique packaging and exceptional quality.
What was the biggest challenge when opening the distillery?
It was very difficult to break into an industry that is so strictly regulated specifically in a controlled state. Additionally, being the first distillery in Wilmington, NC it was very challenging to open the distillery. I mean, it shouldn’t be easy for just anyone to bottle a spirit and put it on the shelf for public consumption. There are a lot of regulations, a lot of hoops, and a lot of steps along the way. We’ve taken the time to do everything right because this is not only a family business, it’s also a community business. We take a lot of pride in bringing Blue Shark Vodka to Wrightsville Beach and New Hanover County.
Another part that is fun but challenging is the marketing. I would say that marketing a small, batch craft brand is both the easiest and the hardest thing to do. Going head-to-head with the big boys and earning your place among the national brands gave us a devoted following, and building on that base is a challenge we tackle every single day. Educating people is the first hurdle, getting them to understand how delicious and versatile top-shelf Vodka really takes some doing, but the wave of enthusiasm for batch craft, fine spirits means a new set of challenges for Blue Shark Vodka!
What do you love most about your job?
No day is the same when you operate a family business. Being a small family operated business every day brings something different. Seriously though, being an entrepreneur is more than just a job, or even a career, it truly is a lifestyle choice for myself and my family. We’re a tight run operation and family team and we build our lives around our passions, our family, and of course, tradition.
What makes Blue Shark Vodka different and how are you building awareness of your brand?
Blue Shark Vodka is one of a kind, for the unique artwork on the bottles and the exceptional taste. Two other major achievements I would be remised if I didn't mention were two ratings/awards. Each spring, the San Francisco World Spirits Competition assesses hundreds of entrants with tastings involving a panel of expert judges from the spirits industry including mixologists, spirits buyers, and media from across the United States. We won Silver! Plus, we recently received a 93 rating from TASTING PANEL magazine.