Stony Brook grad thriving in craft spirit market
It takes guts to quit a steady paying job to pursue a dream. Not many people bet on themselves as boldly as Stony Brook University graduate and owner of Prohibition Distillery Brian Facquet did back in 2008.
He grew up in Commack, graduated from St. Anthony’s High School in 1991 and spent a few years in the Naval Academy before transferring to Stony Brook for his senior year. There he played lacrosse, majored in history and met his future wife Benat.
“I created a brand that’s rooted in history,” Facquet said laughing, during a recent interview, when asked about failing to put his pricey college degree in history to use. He received that degree in 1995.
“I did something stupid,” Facquet said. “I quit my job and just started doing this.”
“This” was creating an up-and-coming craft spirit brand called Bootlegger 21, which is based out of an old firehouse in Roscoe, about two hours north of New York City. The name, the packaging and even the boxes that the bottles are shipped in are all a nod to the Prohibition era in the United States in the 1920s when the sale or consumption of alcohol was illegal. People who continued to sell alcohol illegally were called bootleggers. The “21” represents the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition.
Facquet spent much of the 2000s in the corporate world, working for a couple of different technology companies. Successes in that field earned him an offer to be the East Coast vice president of Paylocity, a company that specializes in cloud-based payroll software, which Facquet was vital in creating. He turned down the offer.
“He’s always been entrepreneurial,” Phil Facquet said of his son Brian, who in 2000 went to his dad and asked him for advice about a business opportunity. Brian Facquet said that he was at Bluepoint Brewery in Patchogue.
“It was small at the time,” Facquet said. They had a few chairs, a keg and about three tables in an outside sitting area. The modest appearance didn’t scare him and he told his dad that he wanted to invest about $30,000 in the brewery. Both Facquets said that Phil was the greatest deciding factor in Brian’s decision to ultimately reject the opportunity.
“I always regretted not doing it,” Brian Facquet said. His dad admitted that he felt bad about being the voice of negativity back then, so when Brian went to Phil in 2008 and told him his new plan, his father decided to bite his tongue the second time around.
“I thought he was crazy,” Phil Facquet said.
When Brian Facquet decided to start making booze, it wasn’t going to be a hobby. He had no interest in going the route of the weekend warrior who brews beer in his garage and tried for a while to balance his steady paying job with his dream of, as he put it, “creating something that will be remembered.” He said he would go into the Tuthilltown Distillery, one of the sites of his vodka making exploits before he found a home in Roscoe, while he was on sales calls for his day job, overnight or on days when he was “playing hooky.” Eventually he decided he was going all in on Bootlegger 21.
“You’re talking to a guy that’s worked all his life for somebody else,” Phil said about his son’s decision to pursue his dream. “I’m ambitious within a corporate setting, but to risk my own money? I thought he was crazy, quite honestly.” His father came around rather easily. He still lives in Commack, though he periodically makes the trip up to Roscoe to lend a hand for a few days whenever he can.
Brian Facquet’s ambition and confidence have paid off. Bootlegger 21 now offers gin and bourbon to go along with the vodka. Facquet said that when he started the company he had a hard time convincing anyone about the merits of a craft spirit that was locally produced. “You hope you have a good product, you hope you have a market, but you never know,” he said.
The market has changed now. Hand crafted is in. Mass-produced, conglomerate spirits with brand recognition still have their place in the market, but Facquet said that he’s found the millennial consumer is willing to give the little guy a shot. He didn’t necessarily see this coming he said, but he’s thrilled to reap the benefits of a more open-minded marketplace.
The fact that this is currently Facquet’s only business venture doesn’t mean he’s suddenly become a slacker. Presumably Catholic high school and the Naval Academy made that impossible.
“I don’t know how he does it,” his father said. “He’s burning the candle light at both ends, plus the center.”
Brian Facquet’s hard work has paid off as well. The corn-based, gluten-free vodka has been awarded gold medals and double gold medals from the Best Domestic Vodka competition, the Beverage Testing Institute, and the New York International Spirits competition. The five-botanical gin and corn-based bourbon are still very new to the market.
Facquet’s goal was to create something that will be remembered. It will be difficult to remember him after extensive consumption of his product, although his entrepreneurial spirit will last long after the buzz wears off.
For more information about Bootlegger 21 and the Prohibition Distillery visit www.prohibitiondistillery.com.