WISK white logo-> All episodes <-

April 18, 2024

S1E5 - How to disrupt the ready to drink space with Tuan Lee

This week with Tuan Lee we dive deep in how a team of 4 people are disrupting the ready to drink cocktail space, how passion leads to unexpected ev...

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WISK white logo-> All episodes <-

April 18, 2024

S1E5 - How to disrupt the ready to drink space with Tuan Lee

This week with Tuan Lee we dive deep in how a team of 4 people are disrupting the ready to drink cocktail space, how passion leads to unexpected ev...

Apple Podcast player linkSpotify Podcast player linkGoogle Podcasts player link

Show notes

Episode Notes

Tuan Lee, co-founder of Vervet, a craft cocktail bar in a can, shares his journey and the unique offerings of his brand. He discusses the inspiration behind Vervet, which is to bring the craft cocktail ethos and quality ingredients to the ready-to-drink cocktail space. Tuan talks about the different flavors Vervet offers, such as the Angelicano, Pale Mary, Tiki Tea, and Sundowner, and how they are made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. He also discusses the challenges of distributing and selling cocktails in a can, as well as the future of the industry.


  • Vervet aims to bring the craft cocktail ethos and quality ingredients to the ready-to-drink cocktail space.
  • Their flavors, such as Angelicano, Pale Mary, Tiki Tea, and Sundowner, are made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
  • Distributing and selling cocktails in a can can be challenging due to varying compliance laws and regulations.
  • The future of the industry looks promising, with an increasing demand for high-quality ready-to-drink cocktails and a growing variety of options.


00:00 Introduction to Wisking It All and Vervet

08:21 The Rise of Craft Cocktail Bartenders and the Ready-to-Drink Cocktail Space

14:27 Differentiating Vervet: Fresh Ingredients and Creativity

26:25 Lessons Learned: Packaging Challenges and Best Practices

31:01 The Vision for Vervet: Making Quality Cocktails Accessible


Follow Vervet on Instagram!

Check Vervet on Facebok!

Connect with Tuan Lee via Linkedin!

Learn more about Vervet!


Angelo Esposito [00:00:06]:

Welcome to Wisking it all with your host Angelo Esposito, co founder of WISK.AI, a food and beverage intelligence platform. We're going to be interviewing hospitality professionals around the world to really understand how they do what they do. From chefs to owners, mixologists to bar managers, you name it. We want to provide you guys with a ton of value, anything hospitality related. We're here today with Tuan Lee from Vervet. Tuan, thank you for being here.

Tuan Lee [00:00:44]:

Great to be here.

Angelo Esposito [00:00:45]:

I always like to start off the show just by getting a overview of what you actually do. So tell me a bit about vervet for our listeners.

Tuan Lee [00:00:52]:

We're based in Los Angeles and Vervet is a craft cocktail bar in a can. We're inspired by the diverse world class food and lifestyle scene here. We're a premium brand. We bring a California experience to the ready to drink cocktail space with sparkling farm to can cocktails. They're made by our co founder, Hope Ewing. She's a master bartender and writer. And right now we launched with our 7% abv product in the market and we have 4% and 0% cocktails in the pipeline for next year.

Angelo Esposito [00:01:24]:

Okay, gotcha. I think it's always interesting to see where people started from to get where they are. And so let's get into a bit of your background. Right? Like where did you start? Were you always involved in the hospitality slash beverage sheen? Or how did this all come about?

Tuan Lee [00:01:39]:

I started as a busboy in Olive Garden.

Angelo Esposito [00:01:42]:

Oh, wow.

Tuan Lee [00:01:42]:

And I bartended through college and even after college. So I've always been in food and beverage and I've all, I just love cooking as well. What really drew me to cooking is my love of cultures. I think that's why when Anthony Bourdain launched that show, I was like part of the early fan base. This is it. And the storytelling component, which is another big passion of mine. I worked as a photographer. I still am a photographer, but I worked as an advertising photographer for my paycheck.

Tuan Lee [00:02:10]:

So I did that after I left bartending. So that's how I got started. And those two interests combined and living here in Los Angeles, I wanted to combine the both of that and share the story of Los Angeles, the cultural wealth here. So that's what launched it. That's what inspired it.

Angelo Esposito [00:02:28]:

That's really cool. I didn't actually know you were into photography. I, a little off topic, but I picked, picked up photography at the beginning of the quarantine, so to speak, so around March and it's been really therapeutic for me. Just to get a different perspective. And for me personally, I love taking pictures of nature, but I find there's something super soothing about photography. I know you were more into the advertising space. I'm sure it's a little different, but definitely a cool hobby, to say the least.

Tuan Lee [00:02:54]:

Yeah, no, absolutely.

Angelo Esposito [00:02:56]:

And are you still doing it these days? Like, with every running a company, I'm sure takes quite a bit of time.

Tuan Lee [00:03:00]:

I have one client that's vervet, so it's our startup. I visually help tell the story of vervet, but, yeah, absolutely. Photography is a part of my DNA at this point. I love it. I still go by the definition of what photography is like, that Henri Cartier Bresson always said, it's to capture what is in your heart, mind and eye on one plane. But I think that's just the best, simplest definition of photography. And that's why I love it.

Angelo Esposito [00:03:26]:

Wow. I love it. That's an awesome quote. And you know what? It's funny how we met because we got introduced by Sunil. And Sunil is the managing director of Techstars Toronto, which was the first tech star program in Canada. And I was lucky enough to be part of it, or say, my team with WISK. But what's funny is he introduced us. And it's so cool to see this Techstars community, how international it is.

Angelo Esposito [00:03:48]:

Like, we're based in Toronto, you're based in LA, but I'd love to hear a bit about your experience in techstars. Right, because you got into Techstars Korea, if I'm not mistaken.

Tuan Lee [00:03:58]:

Yeah, that's right. And it was an incredible experience, for one. And what made it so great was my classmates. That made it really special. And I think what also made it special was, I don't know if I'm correcting this, but I think it was the only program in 2020 that was in person that made it very unique. To be able to have an in person program. You can get so much out of the experience when that takes place.

Angelo Esposito [00:04:22]:

Yeah, that's very cool. Very cool. And I want to hear a bit about before. Textures. Textors is pretty difficult and high caliber for the most part. It's quite quote unquote prestigious to get in. And to get in, you need more than just a good idea. And so I love to hear, how did you come up with the actual idea behind vervet, and how did that start? How did that wheel start turning, so to speak?

Tuan Lee [00:04:42]:

I think I shared with you my love for food and beverage. Some of my closest friends are working in the industry. And hope, my co founder, who's my girlfriend, also was a veteran bartender here in LA. And what started it all was like taking this world class food and then translating it to cocktails was the exciting proposition. And this all came together obviously because of the people in my life. And with this idea, I get to satisfy my need and desire to share the stories, the immigrant stories of Los Angeles, and to talk about the California farms. With Hope's also shared love for food and beverage and her expertise as a craft cocktail bartender, I knew this could happen. And then another part of this is all of us founders, interestingly enough, and this is a fun fact about us, we all met in a bar.

Tuan Lee [00:05:33]:

I'm serious. Hope was the bartender in our neighborhood, and my other co founder and I, Alex, who's born and raised in Los Angeles, we would go there and sit at her bar and just have her delicious drinks. Alex also has a love for bars and cocktails, and he has the added bonus of being a lawyer, which alcohol business requires a lot of legal compliancy. So it really worked out. So it just clicked. And then we have another founder. Rob and I worked in advertising over the last ten years, and I knew together with him, we could put together all the design needs, all the visual aspects of the company.

Angelo Esposito [00:06:10]:

That's amazing. It's amazing how like, so many good things happen when, in terms of meeting in a relaxed environment. Because I even remember when I went to a web summit a couple years back, that's how I met this awesome person who ended up now being part of WISK. But his name's Chris, also known as jillionaire, who's part of major laser. And so it was super cool. But what was funny was I realized that all the good connections happened after the actual event. So the event was great, don't get me wrong, but it was all these night events and bars where people have their guard down and you get to know people and make that human to human connection and just really, really make interesting connections, to say the least. So I really can relate to the whole bar thing.

Angelo Esposito [00:06:53]:

And funny enough, thinking back, even whisky, if I think back of when we first started with the idea, the first pitch I did, I was in a bar and I ended up chatting with the owner about what he does for inventory and how can I make him happier. And it was funny. We actually had him on the podcast a couple episodes ago, but it was just nostalgic to think about. It was 2014, I believe. And yeah, a lot of good can start from a bar. And evolve. So, anyways, a little tangible.

Tuan Lee [00:07:19]:

It's a special place, and I think every neighborhood has these bars. They're like, they call it the third space. And it's like your neighborhood's public living room, this other space that you could go to and interact with people from your community and the bartenders, which are some of the greatest people in your community. And I couldn't agree more. Bars are a special place.

Angelo Esposito [00:07:40]:

Yeah. And it's what? It's been cool because you mentioned the whole kind of cocktail space. And one thing that's come up in other conversations I've been having is just how, when you actually reflect on it, the idea of that celebrity chef has translated to the mixologist side. Right. Like these celebrity bartenders, so to speak. So it's an interesting kind of parallel where we see now that there is a career path, so to speak, in that cocktail space that maybe didn't exist ten years ago.

Tuan Lee [00:08:08]:

No, you nailed it. Absolutely. I think one of our pilot models is you saw chefs translating their talents and their visibility. Like chef Emeril Lagasse early on translated to, like, spaghetti sauce, like taking his recipes and things like that. But even before him. Right. There was also well known chefs. But I think right now, in this modern era, craft cocktail bartenders and personalities and other star tenders, as they're sometimes called in the industry, are taking that and being entrepreneurial with it and exploring opportunities beyond the bar, which is wonderful.

Tuan Lee [00:08:43]:

They're partnering with brands. Existing teams are starting their own.

Angelo Esposito [00:08:46]:

And I'm curious to hear a bit about taking that story from, okay, how you guys met similar passions chatting up in the bar. How did that go from, like, where did the idea then start evolving into, let's do this, let's make this a company? Because it's one thing to chat and maybe be passionate, but where was that tipping point where it went from? This is cool. It's an idea to, like, hey, guys, let's do this.

Tuan Lee [00:09:07]:

I think a lot of it was, I saw an entrepreneurial opportunity, and there's goals, I think, that we wanted to meet in our life, and we looked at our current model, what was happening, and the entrepreneurial route just seemed so attractive, and I was ready for that, and I pitched the idea to everyone else. Are you guys too, where are you at in your life? Because the prospect of being able to work with the closest people in your life on an exciting project and mission with this financial rewards was just. It was just too much. It was an easy yes. And that's what happened. We jumped right in, and we could see quickly that the ready to drink cocktail space was going to explode. We started this project four years ago. There was virtually no other brands doing it, and the only social beverages that were ready to drink in cans were beer and wine.

Tuan Lee [00:10:03]:

So we knew that the timing was right.

Angelo Esposito [00:10:05]:

That's amazing. And so when I think about timing, I also think about right now, with a lot of states or just areas around the world in general going through these lockdowns and a lot of stay at home type of messaging, how has that affected this space? Right. The drinks at home space, it's actually.

Tuan Lee [00:10:23]:

Had a positive effect for the brands that were already already in the market and on the shelves. We just saw explosive growth. On the positive side, it really allowed consumers at home to fully investigate this and to connect with their existing interest for ready to drink cocktails. So it just exploded for us personally. We were not on the shelves, so we didn't get connected. We're just pre market, just about to go there. We had other go to market plans, like with stadiums and existing in place before COVID But what we're doing is we're building an e commerce store to connect because we're fortunate enough to have some national press and people are becoming aware of us, and the local press has really been celebrating us, and we're very lucky for that. And with our e commerce store, we're hoping to.

Tuan Lee [00:11:14]:

They're at home, and we want to get them into their hands safely delivered, conveniently.

Angelo Esposito [00:11:19]:

That's awesome. And you know what? I love hearing entrepreneurial stories and the wins. I want to go through some of the uphill battles, too, because I think it's super important to share some fumbles or failures along the way because listeners could definitely learn and pick up some lessons. On the positive note, since you went there, you mentioned stadiums, you mentioned pressure. I'd love to hear more about that. Talk to me a bit about the wins that you guys had, because I think it's always great to share some of that success.

Tuan Lee [00:11:42]:

So one of these wins, we made the product and we wanted to share it with the city, Los Angeles. So we were doing all these events, as many events as possible. I kind of just operated on the belief the harder you work, the luckier you'll get. What came out of that was a partnership with Aegis, and that was so exciting for us. Someone in their office had tasted us at an event and thought, wow, this would be a great partner because we are very excited about the ready to drink cocktail space as well. So we're in the midst of closing and booking a three year exclusive partnership with them, we'll have access to the right venues and customers and sports and music entertainment.

Angelo Esposito [00:12:25]:

Right. And just, just to jump in real quick for our listeners that don't know, can you just describe what AEG does?

Tuan Lee [00:12:31]:

Yes, absolutely. AEG is the largest entertainment company in the world right now. They own many festivals such as Coachella, and they own many stadiums and sporting and live entertainment venues, like here in Los Angeles, the Staples center. And they also, the other stadium is the Galaxy Stadium, which is. Galaxy is a soccer team here. But that's just LA. And in the California market. But they have global footprint.

Tuan Lee [00:13:00]:

But in California here alone, there's just large number of some of the top music festivals that they own as well.

Angelo Esposito [00:13:06]:

That's awesome. And then you also mentioned some press, right? So I believe you guys were covered in some pretty big news outlets, so to speak. So I don't know if you want to share some of those wins as well. I thought some of that was pretty cool that I saw on your website.

Tuan Lee [00:13:18]:

Yeah, man. Yeah. Just recently, the Washington Post chose us as one of the canned cocktails to look for because there's so many right now, just to be included on a short list. We were very happy about that. Forbes did the same, included us. Like, this is the modern cpgs to look for right now. And we've had great local press too, as well. That ranges, like from Eater LA.

Tuan Lee [00:13:40]:

We were just mentioned there, Los Angeles magazine, and they've been interviewing hope as well to talk about, hey, this tastes so different. This tastes like an actual cocktail. So what's going on here? They've been so surprised and wanting to learn more. And we're so fortunate they're wanting to share it with their readers.

Angelo Esposito [00:13:57]:

I love it. And on that note, I want to learn more. So what makes you guys different than, let's say, a traditional cocktail in a can company? Right? I know there's a lot of expertise, but why is that taste so different? What makes you guys different? And. Yeah. Like to share that part of the story with us.

Tuan Lee [00:14:13]:

Yes, absolutely. That's a great question. I think one thing is when we take a look at a drink or a drink recipe, we care about the entire. We look at it holistically, we just don't focus on the quality of the spirit. We look at everything that goes into it. So we want everything to be as equally as high quality. For example, we launched with a 7% abv product. So we care about that 7%.

Tuan Lee [00:14:40]:

That's alcohol. But we also care about the 93%. That's not. Our disruption in this space was we wanted to bring the craft cocktail ethos of working with quality, fresh ingredients from local farms. We wanted to bring that to this portable format. So that's what makes us different. We work with fresh juices only from California. We're lucky enough that California is our farm, which happens to be the largest farm in the country.

Tuan Lee [00:15:05]:

So all of our beautiful, fresh, unpasteurized juice that we clarify. So that was our big disruption. We didn't want to work with what's commonly known as beverage formulation labs. We felt like we tried to make cocktails with those products and they didn't turn out as good as we wanted them to with working with that material, just for due diligence. But, yeah, that's what really makes us difference, is our dedication to premium fresh ingredients. But I think the other part is to our creativity. And that creativity, really, we can't take credit for that. It really is the diverse scene here in Los Angeles.

Tuan Lee [00:15:41]:

We're just so inspired by the global flavors here.

Angelo Esposito [00:15:45]:

And so, speaking of the inspiration behind flavors, why don't you tell listeners the different flavors you currently have and what's inside them? Because I think as I look through them on the website, I'm getting quite thirsty. But I'd love for you to maybe share each can and what's inside.

Tuan Lee [00:15:59]:

Yeah, absolutely. We started here with this one first. This is our angelicano. Basically, this is a riff of a Negroni or an Americano, which your cocktail listeners will know in cocktail bartenders. We wanted to do a sparkling Negroni spritz, but we wanted to California and we wanted to lafy it. And what that meant was we wanted to give it a sense, an identity and a sense of place with this one, our Negroni spritz. Hope, actually is the genius here. She made her own Bianco vermouth for this.

Tuan Lee [00:16:33]:

And she made her own red amaro, basically a California version of Campari. We really wanted to practice our ethos in it. For example, we wanted to use a natural red coloring, and we wanted to leave out some products and control the amount of sugar. And we wanted to give this flavor profile that really represented us and our location. So in our red amaro, like, there's Saigon cinnamon, in addition to, like, traditional ingredients like Gentian. And all of our orange peels comes from southern California, from Santa Barbara. So it's a really great, light, California style Negroni spritz. Next, we love the tomato cocktail.

Tuan Lee [00:17:13]:

Bloody Mary was invented by a french bartender. But what we wanted to do was, how do we salute it, pay respects to it, and update it to us? So Pope clarified the tomato juice, and we got this beautiful golden tomato water, which is where all the flavor is, right? The flavor is not in the fibers of any fruit. We got this beautiful golden tomato water. Then we built the tomato cocktail profile. In this case, we use a great craft gin made by Ventura spirits. That's the spirit base, the tomato water. And then hope made her own citrus celery bitters, habanero bitters, and some sea salt. It's a clarified bloody Mary.

Tuan Lee [00:17:52]:

And then we got inspired from the bubbles of Michelada, and that's why it's carbonated.

Angelo Esposito [00:17:56]:

Okay, wow. And what's the name of that one again?

Tuan Lee [00:17:58]:

Pale Mary.

Angelo Esposito [00:17:59]:

Oh, good name. I like it.

Tuan Lee [00:18:00]:

I know Hope's also a writer, so she came up with that name.

Angelo Esposito [00:18:03]:

Clever name.

Tuan Lee [00:18:04]:

I know, it's really great one. We know that margaritas and Moscow mules are, like, incredibly popular, so we really wanted to do something for that community, but what we want to do is just show them something cool. So we got inspired by tiki, which started in Los Angeles. And filipino bartenders are the heroes. They're the ones that came up with all the recipes, so we wanted to, again, that's a part of our brand narrative, and our mission is to share these stories. So by being inspired by tiki, we got to make a margarita or a Moscow mule. With this in mind, with this inspiration, we made our own prickly pear vodka. We did an oolong tea cold brew, and hope made our own falernum.

Tuan Lee [00:18:42]:

As your tiki enthusiasts will know, that's a liqueur used in tiki cocktail making. But falernum has allspice, ginger, clove, and vanilla, so it tastes like a tropical margarita or Moscow mule. It's really cool. And this here is our sundowner, and we wanted to do something for the kombucha lovers and people who love shrub cocktails. The shrubs are just, when you make a cocktail with vinegar, you get your tang, your acid from that. Instead of citrus, it's called a shrub, and we would do something with strawberries. We live next to oxnard strawberry growing capital of the country. So we got these beautiful, beautiful strawberries, and we wanted to make a strawberry cocktail that wasn't overly sweet.

Tuan Lee [00:19:22]:

Hope actually oked it and added vanilla. So it tastes like a barrel aged strawberry cocktail. So it's really cool. It's like an adult strawberry soda.

Angelo Esposito [00:19:30]:

That sounds amazing. Wow. Okay, so those, all four are really sound amazing. So question for you so far, what has been the most popular one on the list?

Tuan Lee [00:19:39]:

Boy, that's a tough one, Tiki. T is always going to. Every time we take it to an event, TKT does great, but that's expected. We assume that would happen. And I would say, gosh, sundowner and Angelicano, people really love those. I think that pale Mary has the most devoted followers. The pale Mary followers are just very passionate about it. They might not be the largest right now, but they're very passionate.

Tuan Lee [00:20:04]:

They're just like, we've never had a Bloody Mary like this. This is finally like a modern update to the Bloody Mary that we've been waiting for. Their savory cocktail lovers. When they're like, I don't like sweet cocktails. And yeah, we've been surprised by each one. But I would say TKT is expectedly kind of the one that really is a crowd pleaser.

Angelo Esposito [00:20:25]:

Gotcha. And so what does the next step look like? So you got these four amazing flavors, all naturals. They all sound delicious. How do you go about, number one, marketing it, but number two, distributing? So I'm not too familiar. And this is where you'll guide me with how cocktail in a can works. Can you distribute to liquor stores, grocery stores? Is it per state? I have no idea. Can you sell online? So I'd love to hear maybe, what does that side of things look like apart from events? How do you get this out to the end consumer?

Tuan Lee [00:20:56]:

That's a great question. One way is through our e commerce store and delivery partners, such as drizly, which is an alcohol delivery tech platform. So we're working with both, but we're still growing with independent chain retailers just to make sure our product is on shelves. We have a great salesperson working with us. Shout out to ondine. And she's basically meeting with buyers and in our target markets and getting them onto the shelves. And of course, the national press really helps with that. We're in the very beginning of launching into the market and getting that.

Tuan Lee [00:21:32]:

Next time we talk, I'll have a better answer.

Angelo Esposito [00:21:34]:

I know, I love it.

Tuan Lee [00:21:35]:

That's going. But we're going to need a distribution partner at some point.

Angelo Esposito [00:21:38]:

No, that makes sense. I was always curious, like, when it comes to things with a lower ABv, when you sell online, are there restrictions per state? Can you order if you're in New York, or is it right now an LA thing or a California thing? And you're looking to expand beyond that? Selling t shirts, obviously, no problem. You can sell anywhere in the country. How does that kind of play when it's online alcohol?

Tuan Lee [00:22:00]:

It's very asymmetrical. Almost each state is different. Some groupings of states you can collect together, and they have the same sort of compliancy. So that becomes a region, but it is very asymmetrical and complicated. The alcohol compliancy laws are pretty old and they don't get around to updating them very often. It's three tiers, and so it's complicated, to say the least. So as we grow and with the right distribution partner, access to our product will become much more convenient and much more simple. Right now, it's challenging to do that.

Tuan Lee [00:22:37]:

We are available across the country through our local retail partner that can ship. But it's a great solution for where we are right now at this stage. But as we grow in the next year, we're going to look to evolve.

Angelo Esposito [00:22:50]:

That with the right distribution, that makes sense. And where do you see this industry going as a whole when you look at cocktails in a can? Because I think about, let's say, craft breweries and how that's exploded in the last five, probably even longer. But like, really, I think where the masses have noticed it probably last five years or so, really, that's become a thing where now you got, before you maybe had your top two, three beers, and now it's, there's 50 options. How do you see that playing out in the cocktail space?

Tuan Lee [00:23:15]:

What I see is, first of all, this is a great time to be a consumer and of social beverages, because what's happening is they're going to have incredible amount of choice of some of the best products that you could possibly have. I would say, like right now, consumers of beer, like, you get to have the top 100 brands and craft beer. Each of them are fantastic. What a wonderful community and what a wonderful situation for consumers to be in. And I think the same is going to happen for ready to drink cocktails. And we want to meet that demand. And that's why we're here, is to make sure that the cocktail community is also able to connect with quality cocktails that they expect. So that's where I see that going.

Tuan Lee [00:23:57]:

What I also see it going is, and it's actually what we would like to do, too, is part of our drinking better ethos is to make sure that consumers want choice when it comes to alcohol content. With the next stage of Vervet, we want to complete our product line and introduce our 4% and 0% alcohol cocktails. And that's definitely a part of the drinking better process.

Angelo Esposito [00:24:19]:

I think it's pretty clear how a product like this will penetrate the event market and festival market. Do you see this type of product, whether it's your company or other people in the space, kind of penetrating the traditional restaurant and bar market? I'm thinking out loud here, but can you imagine a consumer ordering a cocktail in a can at a actual bar or restaurant?

Tuan Lee [00:24:42]:

I can see it happen a couple ways. I think the on premise consumption, like definitely hotels, right? That's a great one, especially around pools were really perfect for it. Outdoor bars. But because hope is also a craft cocktail bartender, it's bars and restaurants had a partner, right? So if you need a Negroni, a great tomato cocktail, a strawberry shrub, or a great tropical margarita, we have you covered off. And the beverage director and the craft cocktail bartender talent on the team can really focus on the core menu of being even more creative. That's in line with the creative ethos of that bar program, because these are riffs on classics. So they could actually keep exploring their creativity with that bar and restaurants brand.

Angelo Esposito [00:25:26]:

As you say, it does make sense because, right, it's four cocktails. There's unlimited amount of cocktails to make. And so you're right in craft cocktail bartenders.

Tuan Lee [00:25:34]:

What a community. The way, how much it's evolved, the creativity there, and not only with recipes, but techniques. So they're doing really incredible stuff. So this really frees them up. They don't have to worry about cocktails with this flavor profile. Hope is one of them. She had access to tools that you don't really have behind a bar and has done an incredible job. And we could deliver this for your consumers.

Tuan Lee [00:25:57]:

And they can really focus on something that's really tied to the restaurant or the bar program that really matches what they're doing.

Angelo Esposito [00:26:04]:

That makes a ton of sense. And as I mentioned before, I obviously love to hear about the wins, but I think it's always helpful to learn about lessons along the way. Feel free to share anything. The idea here would be to share anything that represents a lesson learned along the way, whether it was from the early days or to something recent. Any fumbles that you can share with our listeners? There's too many to list.

Tuan Lee [00:26:27]:

There's so many. Okay.

Angelo Esposito [00:26:29]:

Yeah, I think it's funny you said that. I was laughing in my head because I'm just thinking as a startup in the early days, just, there's so many fumbles. But, yeah, I'd love for you to share maybe just a few. Why not?

Tuan Lee [00:26:39]:

Okay, so we're basically three creatives and attorney. Right. And so that's the founding team. One thing none of us have ever done is package cocktails in aluminum cans before, like, when I worked at bar, I packaged the cocktail in glassware, and so did hope, right. Didn't think nothing of it. So when we ran pale Mary for the first time, which is our clarified Bloody Mary, it has sea salt in the recipe. So when you're packaging, we have a rinse off. After it gets filled, it goes through a counter pressure filler, and once the lid gets seamed in, it goes through a little rinse tunnel.

Tuan Lee [00:27:15]:

We grab it, and we pack it and stack it on this pallet. And this pallet has, like, hundreds of cans. 90 something cases per pallet, I think, is our stack. And what we learned was the importance of a 360 degree rinse after the package has been filled. So we had a rinse, but apparently it wasn't a 360 degree rinse. It turns out salt and aluminum are not good. They don't play well together. So on the outside of aluminum cans, on the inside, there's a liner, which is fine, but on the outside, there's not.

Tuan Lee [00:27:50]:

So what happened was the sea salt in our clarified Bloody Mary eroded the aluminum from the outside in. So we created these little pinholes, and it leaked, and it crashed the pallet.

Angelo Esposito [00:28:03]:

Oh, wow.

Tuan Lee [00:28:04]:

Wait, not just one. Two.

Angelo Esposito [00:28:06]:

So, like, 180 cases roughly.

Tuan Lee [00:28:09]:

Oh, it was a lot. Don't quote me on the 92 cases. It could be more per pallet, but, yeah, it was.

Angelo Esposito [00:28:14]:

That's crazy.

Tuan Lee [00:28:15]:

Yeah, we lost thousands of dollars. That was our degree.

Angelo Esposito [00:28:19]:

Did you figure out, like, in the moment, how did it physically happen? Were you guys there and it happened, or was, like, you guys headed home next day, came back and just liquid all over the floor?

Tuan Lee [00:28:28]:

No, we got a call from our distillery partner, where we produce and package it to our guys. We need you to come to the distillery. They sent us some photos, and we were just like, at first, like, what happened? Did we get vandalized? Did someone poke holes in all these? So what happens is, like, when one can leaks, it is a domino effects that grows exponentially, because our pale Mary, like, one leaks, it goes on the can beneath it, the layer beneath it, and the layer beneath that. And that's why they call it a pallet crash in the industry, and it's just boom. And that was a tough lesson to learn. It was a messy lesson to learn as well. So what that happened is, like, you're shaping your best practices. That's what we learned.

Tuan Lee [00:29:12]:

And one thing that you can always do is just keep talking to as many mentors and experts in your related field and take those best practices seriously. And that's helped us shape our best practices 100%. Yeah. Now we have, we have 2360 degree rinses. We're not messing around.

Angelo Esposito [00:29:29]:

Some of the best lessons learned are the mistakes you make yourself. Of course, it's always great to save on some of those hardships by learning lessons from other people. I'm all for that. But there's some lessons that you can't avoid, and you just earn your stripes, so to speak. And I imagine as you guys went through your first beverage offerings all the way to the fourth. And correct me if I'm wrong, but did you guys get faster with the process and coming out with a new flavor? Like the time it took to get flavor one versus two versus three?

Tuan Lee [00:29:57]:

Yeah, you nailed it. We absolutely became better and better at that process because we have four and we were working in small batches and we would produce another batch. We're like, on our third batch of some of our recipes, some of our skews, but yeah, absolutely we did. We got much better. It is really a concert of a few different departments working at once. There's a compliancy part, because if we make a change to the label or if we adjust the recipe a little bit, we have to provide the right lead time with the US government agencies because it reports through them and they approve it before you can print a label. So there's the compliancy lead time, the ordering of, like, raw materials, like aluminum cans or packaging material, I should say, rather, and of course, the raw material. So, yes, we have the timing down and we're pretty.

Tuan Lee [00:30:44]:

We're very good at this now, but it definitely took a few times at bat.

Angelo Esposito [00:30:48]:

I can imagine. I'd love to look back at this podcast one day and see how far you've come. So where do you see the future of vervet in a year, two years, you know, even three years from now?

Tuan Lee [00:30:58]:

The future of vervet is just having vervet within arm's reach of everyone. We want people to be able to drink well, no matter what the alcohol level is, whenever they want, wherever they are. And that's what's exciting for us. And to see all these different groups of people come together because we celebrate so many cultures at once. Italian and French and Vietnamese, Korean. And for them to see themselves in what we're doing, I think it adds just so much value to social gatherings. And that's really the dream, is sharing this cultural celebration one can, one cheers at a time all over the world, wherever social gatherings are happening.

Angelo Esposito [00:31:37]:

Love it. And we love to end off the episode with a segment called last Day on Earth. Really simple. I have a feeling I know what's gonna be your last drink on earth, but if it would be your last meal and your last drink, just what would be your go to meal and go to drink?

Tuan Lee [00:31:51]:

My gosh. Despite how many times I thought about this question, as soon as you're asked, it's just so tough to make. I'm vietnamese and Korean, but I grew up with my mom, so my last meal is perhaps my mom's ban sao. And for your vietnamese listeners out there, people are familiar with vietnamese food, what's often described as the vietnamese crepe. It's incredible. That'd probably be my last meal. I'd be pretty happy with that. For my last drink, it would be a flight of vervet.

Angelo Esposito [00:32:19]:

It would have to be. It would have to be.

Tuan Lee [00:32:21]:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think that flight would actually be more like a four can shotgun.

Angelo Esposito [00:32:27]:

That's amazing. That's amazing. Honestly, I don't blame you. That sounds pretty good to be able to be drinking something that you've built from the ground up with an awesome team, and that's one way to celebrate life. So last day drinking vervettes sounds pretty awesome.

Tuan Lee [00:32:41]:

Yeah, absolutely. It does.

Angelo Esposito [00:32:43]:

It's amazing. Tuan, I want to thank you for taking the time to chat today. And honestly, it's really cool to connect not only with another techstars company, but a techstars company that's really in the beverage space, I think that's awesome. I love what you're doing. I love what your team's doing. We'll definitely have you back on the show in the near future to see your progress and how far you've. You've come got.

Tuan Lee [00:33:02]:

I've enjoyed my time with you so much. And, yes, of course, I'd love to come back.

Angelo Esposito [00:33:06]:

Awesome. Have a good rest of the day, and we'll be in touch.

Tuan Lee [00:33:08]:

All right, thank you.

Angelo Esposito [00:33:10]:

Take care.

Meet Your Host & Guest

Tuan Lee

Tuan Lee is a visionary entrepreneur driven by a passion for scaling values that resonate deeply with him: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Innovation, and Sustainability (DEIB). With a diverse background spanning hospitality, visual communications, and marketing, Tuan embarked on a transformative journey that led to the founding of VERVET, his own beverage CPG company. From its inception, VERVET was designed to challenge conventions while preserving essential elements. Tuan has actively cultivated diverse communities and forged partnerships with fellow leaders to advance these core values, including pioneering inclusive investment in underrepresented founders. He believes in prioritizing people and the planet, emphasizing that they must come first in business practices. In addition to his professional pursuits, Tuan treasures his role as a father to his daughter An, whose name symbolizes peace in both Vietnamese and Korean. While navigating the joys and chaos of fatherhood, Tuan finds solace in family, cooking over fire, embarking on road trips, and exploring the great outdoors with his loyal canine companion. As he continues to make strides in business and beyond, Tuan Lee remains committed to growing value and transforming the world around him, one innovative endeavor at a time.


Meet Angelo Esposito, the Co-Founder and CEO of WISK.ai, Angelo's vision is to revolutionize the hospitality industry by creating an inventory software that allows bar and restaurant owners to streamline their operations, improve their margins and sales, and minimize waste. With over a decade of experience in the hospitality industry, Angelo deeply understands the challenges faced by bar and restaurant owners. From managing inventory to tracking sales to forecasting demand, Angelo has seen it all firsthand. This gave him the insight he needed to create WISK.ai.

Recent Episodes

S1E5 - How to disrupt the ready to drink space with Tuan Lee

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Show notes

Episode Notes

Tuan Lee, co-founder of Vervet, a craft cocktail bar in a can, shares his journey and the unique offerings of his brand. He discusses the inspiration behind Vervet, which is to bring the craft cocktail ethos and quality ingredients to the ready-to-drink cocktail space. Tuan talks about the different flavors Vervet offers, such as the Angelicano, Pale Mary, Tiki Tea, and Sundowner, and how they are made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. He also discusses the challenges of distributing and selling cocktails in a can, as well as the future of the industry.


  • Vervet aims to bring the craft cocktail ethos and quality ingredients to the ready-to-drink cocktail space.
  • Their flavors, such as Angelicano, Pale Mary, Tiki Tea, and Sundowner, are made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
  • Distributing and selling cocktails in a can can be challenging due to varying compliance laws and regulations.
  • The future of the industry looks promising, with an increasing demand for high-quality ready-to-drink cocktails and a growing variety of options.


00:00 Introduction to Wisking It All and Vervet

08:21 The Rise of Craft Cocktail Bartenders and the Ready-to-Drink Cocktail Space

14:27 Differentiating Vervet: Fresh Ingredients and Creativity

26:25 Lessons Learned: Packaging Challenges and Best Practices

31:01 The Vision for Vervet: Making Quality Cocktails Accessible


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