Jul. 23—When your summer party crew suggests filling up the Yeti cooler with hard seltzers, hit them up with a better, harder suggestion: Voktail. Like many great products, the new vodka-based canned cocktails got their start in Bakersfield.
The name came from co-founder Oliver Sill's young niece, who had referred to the family's favored beverage — vodka soda — as "voktails."
What started as a family joke distilled into something finer when Sill and his aunt, George Ann Caratan, trademarked the name.
As a brand, Voktail started with a plan but not a can since the duo initially envisioned the brand as something else entirely.
"Voktail was going to be a pop-up bar for parties and events," Sill said. "We worked with mixologists (on recipes). It would be a full-service bar serving our menu of drinks."
The pair took the concept out, participating in 2019's Brunchfest and pop-ups around town including Dot x Ott, before realizing it was not the right fit.
"With both of us having full-time jobs, managing bartenders it was too much," Sill said.
Sill and Caratan remained in touch with the alcohol reps they had met and, during a fortuitous meeting, one of them gave them the winning idea.
"They took our three most popular flavors and said, 'You should can these drinks.'"
Voktail in cans launched in December 2020 with two flavors: lavender refresher and spicy jalapeno blood orange.
"We were each leaving 20 cases of Voktail in our trunks," Sill said. "Luckily it was winter. We were selling them out of there."
Response was good among local stores, bars and restaurants, some of whom started carrying the cans right away.
"What's great is the local support when you start a business in Bakersfield and Kern County in general. Before we were even done canning, Sully's put in its order. As a local Bakersfield company, they were on board and they wanted to help out."
Sill said they are headed into their third canning, with 22,000 cans, triple that of the initial run.
That growth has been aided by two factors: local distributor Advance Beverage picking up the product and a partnership with Great American Craft Spirits, a SoCal company that helped facilitate online sales.
Local drinkers have enjoyed the now-three flavors — lavender for its fresh, slightly lemon flavor, spicy jalapeno blood orange for those who want a hot kick of citrus and a classic blood orange for those who want something milder.
"We had some people tell us, 'I love the spice but I can only drink one or two of them. On my second one, I get heartburn.'"
In Sill's experience, which includes home tastings with official score cards, lavender has been the No. 1 pick.
"When George Ann and I would go to bars, we'd sit at the bar with the bar managers," he said of the initial sales push. "Then we'd pour (Voktails) for everyone sitting at the bar. All the men, any time that we were at the bar, they'd say, "I'm not going to drink that. It's a girly drink.
"Nine times out of 10 you give it to them and they love it."
The flavorings are all natural and the beverages are vegan and gluten-free.
"All of our cocktails are vodka-based. We wanted to stay away from the (hard seltzers) White Claws and Trulys and High Noons. When you drink those, it's a mild hint of any flavor and the taste's not natural.
"The flavor that's on our can, we want our consumers to be able to taste the blood orange, the lavender."
Sill said they're also easy to drink but watch out: Clocking in with a 7 percent alcohol by volume — other canned beverages average 4 to 5 percent ABV — they pack a punch.
Along with expanding their reach locally with Advance Beverage and further with online sales, Voktail also has its eye on adding to the lineup.
Sill said flavors in development include their unique take on lemonade and a variation of the drink that started it all, vodka soda, that would be citrus-forward. (A vodka-based margarita flavor is also being considered, Sill said.)
Order Voktail online at voktail.com or purchase locally. Advanced Beverage continues to expand the brand's reach, and cans are already available at Beverage House Liquor, Calloway Market, Country Club Liquors & Delicatessen, the Fastrip at Rosedale Highway and White Lane, Hageman Liquor, Old Town Liquor, many Sully's Neighborhood Markets, Verdugo Market locations, West Side Liquor Store and Delano Liquor in Delano. Keep an eye on Voktail's Instagram (@voktail) for the latest additions.
Voktail is also served at Bakersfield bars and restaurants Ethel's Old Corral, Luigi's Restaurant and Delicatessen, Moo Creamery, Pour House Bar & Grill, Pyrenees Cafe, and Two Goats & The Goose as well as Giannfranco's Trattoria in Carpinteria, Fresno's Dog House Grill, and West End Bar and Grill in Cambria.
Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter: @realstefanidias.