Fairfield men launch vodka, whiskey brand Valor

September 3, 2017 GMT

The founders of Valor Spirits do not take the name of their company lightly.

Fairfield residents Alex Mackiewicz and Alex Plitsas launched their vodka and whiskey brand earlier this summer and they have already landed more than 100 accounts. Liquor store and restaurant owners not only enjoy the taste of the products, but what the brand stands for.

Ten percent of the proceeds from Valor Spirits will be donated to meet first responder and veteran needs. Plitsas served in the U.S. Army Reserve and did a tour of duty in Iraq. He is also a volunteer fireman in Mamaroneck, N.Y., his former hometown.

“The business model is to create social change and help those who are helping us,” Plitsas said.

The brand is found throughout Fairfield and Westchester counties, including dozens of restaurants and bars as well as liquor stores such as Stew Leonard’s Wines and BevMax.

Valor Spirits is made in the U.S. with domestic ingredients. It starts with bulk, high-proof spirits from Ultrapure in Darien, flavored with products from Sovereign Flavors from California, and distilled and bottled at Crown Valley Distillery in Branson, Mo. It is then labeled, packaged and sent back to Fairfield County.

Both the whiskey and vodka are 80 proof. The whiskey — a “baby bourbon” — is aged for six months in new American oak barrels. The vodka is non-GMO corn-based and gluten free.

The contour of the whiskey bottle requires that each label is adhered by hand. Mackiewicz hand-labeled several cases of the whiskey himself while visiting the distillery in Missouri.

Each type of spirit comes in 750-milliliter and one-liter sizes. The suggested retail prices for vodka is $19.99 and $23.99. For whiskey, it is $23.99 and $26.99.

“That’s competitive or under the national brands we think we are better than,” Mackiewicz said.

Giving back

Even before Mackiewicz and Plitsas knew what they wanted to sell, they knew giving back would be a key component of their business.

Plitsas was a junior member of the Mamaroneck Volunteer Fire Department when he was sent to lower Manhattan following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, for a search-and-rescue operation. The experience led him to join the Army Reserves and he served eight years, including a tour in Iraq.

He also went to Iraq and Afghanistan as a civilian for his work in security and intelligence.

“I hear of these 80-year-old millionaires giving money to charities. I’m 32. I don’t want to wait half a century to give back and do something good,” Plitsas said.

The business partners have separated themselves from the charitable giving aspect of Valor Spirits to allay conflict-of-interest concerns. Plitsas and Mackiewicz formed a board of directors to verify the charity amounts and oversee where the donations go. Frank Ricci, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters in New Haven, is chairman of the board.

The donations are earmarked to respond to specific needs for first responders or veterans, such as disaster recovery or equipment purchases.

“We wanted to make something that is better than anything else out there, is all-American and has a purpose,” Mackiewicz said. “We knew that even before we knew what we wanted to make.”

In the details

Every detail of the label was carefully thought out by the owners and a graphic designer. The 13 stars represent the original colonies and the history of America. The eagle highlights the strength of the U.S.; and the name on the label, Valor Spirits, is written in a font meant to evoke the U.S. Constitution.

Adding colors to the label, Mackiewicz said, cheapened the look, so they went with black and tan and gave the label a distressed look.

“We wanted a patriotic name that screams America. We started with (the name) Patriot, but there are so many trademark infringements,” he said. “Valor includes the mission of being American and doing it fairly.”

Machiewicz said the company has a coexistence agreement with a beer company in Vermont called Valor Ale.

Being hands-on

Stew Leonard’s Wines picked up Valor Spirits two weeks ago. Ted Marchione, the spirits and wine buyer for Stew’s, said he liked the local aspect of the brand, as well as the charitable-giving pledge by the company.

He also liked the enthusiasm and drive of the owners. Machiewicz visited the Stew Leonard’s Wines Danbury store last week to help with the display and set up a tasting at the store. Marchione liked the face-to-face interaction.

“That’s what makes it happen,” Marchione said of the visit. “We took it in because it tastes good and they make it very personal. Stew’s likes to do business with local people. If you’re local, we’ll give you a chance.”

Valor Spirits will have a tasting at the Stew Leonard’s Wines Danbury location from 4 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 16.

Much of the early momentum the brand has enjoyed may be attributed to the guerrilla marketing tactics employed by Mackiewicz and Plitsas. They set an aggressive tasting and launch-party schedule and show up in person to each one.

Last weekend, Valor Spirits made its debut at Foxwoods Casino at the Battle of the Bands events. The previous weekend, they were at the 100th anniversary celebration of the Glenbrook Fire Department in Stamford.

They arrive at events in a retired fire truck they found in Chelmsford, Mass., and bought for $2,800. Mackiewicz has a background in planning high-end events and knew the fire truck would be a good attention grabber. The truck is now outfitted to easily convert into a bar.

At events, he said, children climb on the truck and try on firefighter gear, giving him a minute or two to talk to parents about the vodka and whiskey.

“We’ve had events every week since we launched and we have them lined up for the next three months,” Mackiewicz said.

Plitsas added: “We have a 90 percent restocking rate so early indications are good that this has legs. Now it’s a matter of sustaining it. Alex and I both have high energy and that makes for good friends and business partners.”

cbosak@hearstmediact.com; 203-731-3338