In 11/2011, Charles Cheung and I formed a company that aspired to express our love of music, art, and food in a liquid form, a spirituous Gin more specifically. Thus, Genius Gin was born.
We worked with close friends and confidants to develop the flavors, the right proof, and I remember Jeret Pena saying that the lab sample at 57% was “Flavor Country”.
I remember that early tasting with Jessica Sanders where I was nervous and riddled with anxiety. That first Genius martini, as Bill Norris opened up Midnight Cowboy early for us to talk about the gin.
It was a riveting time. A tough time. One in which no sales projections could ever match the actual market reception; especially in Gin, the still under-appreciated spirit.
We struggled with money, we struggled with each other. Our main distiller left and we had to pivot.
Thanks to Justin Elliott, I met a, at the time sane person, who helped provide Sotol plants for one of the greatest achievements of my life. We pot stilled the first Texas Sotol. This was my love letter to Mexico, of which these days that passion has even grown beyond my heart’s comprehension.
I remember asking Carlos C. Camarena, “hey, do your suppliers ask for part of your company to give you agave?” I can guarantee you his answer was somewhere in the neighborhood of F*&k No!
Thus, the once sane supplier, became quite infatuated with money and the market opportunity of Sotol. He wanted ownership in something he never even built. We couldn’t reconcile and after thousands of dollars spent on equipment to scale the Sotol, my heart was broken and we parted ways. The ultimate opportunity for creativity and innovation: done, dissolved, and dirty.
So what do you do? Gin doesn’t sell like you’d think. Sotol would, but ya know, we broke up and its acrimonious.
Enter Highborn Gin stage left.
With the massive support of folks like: Dennis Gobis, Justin Lavenue, Billy Hankey, Antonio Matta, Michael Phillips, Alexis Mijares, Josh Loving, John Garrett, Matt Daniels, Jessica Sanders, Bill Norris, Justin Elliott, Tacy Rowland, and SOOO MANY MORE. We saw a glimpse of success.
Moving plenty of cases thanks to the community and Victory Wine Group, we began to rebuild.
In fact, a not to be named “Real Good” & well-funded soon-to-be-opened distillery took interest in our little company. They took us out for drinks, set up meetings, talked strategy…
They even sent us an OFFER for the company. A preliminary evaluation with a fair offer, signed and delivered. All that was left was the review of various documents one has to provide for the DUE DILIGENCE phase of any acquisition.
I had a bad feeling about the gentleman involved with the offer, the guy who would be CEO of the new distillery. He liked me, valued my opinion (seemingly), and even offered me a larger role distilling for the company. On the up and up for me, you could say.
After months of exchanges, lawyer interactions, and negotiations, THE DAY CAME! A partial lump sum of the acquisition offer was sent to our account! Or at least that’s what we were told…..
“Hey, money’s not there” I say. He says “Oh there was a mistake with this and that”. To assure me that the offer was still progressing as planned, he sent me a screenshot of the funds transfer into our account. Our name and everything clearly outlined in the screenshot.
The picture was a fraud. The time spent in Due Diligence was an effort in futility. I was lied to. I was embarrassed. I felt hopeless and distraught. I put faith in someone and their word. He took months to manipulate me and my perception of what was a great opportunity.
So, ok. What do we do? How do we exist? We need to either expand or shutter. Thanks to the Austin Fire Department, that decision becomes a bit clearer.
Due to a TABC error when approving our license in 2012, the proper “heads up” to the Austin Fire Department was never triggered. Years later, a big distilling accident occurred in North Austin triggering a retroactive check of TABC licenses within Travis County. DING DING DING!, that’s right! AFD realized they had never fully vetted our distillery.
Albeit very cordial, collaborative, and nice to work with. AFD put the red stamp on everything and ceased all of Genius Liquids operations.
We didn’t feel like enriching our absentee and negligent landlords’ property with a hefty $$$ sum in upgrades. So here, we were left thinking about our reason to be. I must admit I wasn’t the most communicative about the situation and for any of you that felt out of the loop because of this, I apologize.
But finally after ALL of this, I have good news.
We are moved into a new distillery in Bastrop. It’s bigger, better, and more beautiful a space than I could have imagined.
We were almost done. We were almost out. But here we are, just Charles Cheung and I, back to what made us start this whole thing in the first place, a passion for spirits and people.
There WILL BE more Highborn Gin. There WILL BE a Highborn Vodka. We want to work with folks on creating their OWN BLENDS of Genius Gin. And if everything works out as I hope, there will both be MORE SOTOL, and a place for aspiring distillers to come to our space and learn how to distill their own projects.
Things are looking up, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the folks who’ve all made this a reality. I love you and appreciate you deeply.