2020 was a big year for Two Worlds Whiskey! Despite coinciding with the start of a global pandemic, our first edition La Victoire Batch 1 launched to great acclaim!
In a year that was difficult for everyone, we want to take a moment to look back at what we are grateful for in 2020.
How Far We’ve Come!
I started 2020 full of hope. One year earlier, on January 1, 2019, I had started working on Two Worlds Whiskey with only my idea and my ambition. One year later, I had established the company, developed the brand and designed the packaging, built the dream team to create the best bourbon possible, developed the recipe for our first batch, and purchased the stock to make it.
By January 1, 2020, the 11 barrels used to create La Victoire Batch 1 had just been blended in Kentucky and were awaiting pickup to make their way across the Atlantic. The packaging design was complete, and we were busy building prototypes to figure out how best to bring that design to life. The stunning and historic venue La Cercle de l’Union Interallié had been booked for our March 20th launch party, and our fabulous line-up of guest speakers had been confirmed. There was still a lot to do to prepare to launch, but we had come so far already, and I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel!
In February, we launched the full Two Worlds Whiskey brand home website and introduced the full history and vision behind the brand to the world. We finalized the packaging prototypes, and due to news of a virus taking hold in China, selected packaging producers in Europe to be sure it would be ready for bottling in March. By the end of the month, the whiskey had finally arrived in France! We settled on a bottling date the week of March 16 just in time for the launch party March 20, and launched ticket sales.
Launch party tickets sold out more than a week out from the event. Friends and family prepared to make the journey to Paris from as far as Kentucky and Kenya to celebrate with us on what was set to be a wonderfully glamourous launch night. I worked feverishly to prepare the crowdfunding campaign on KissKissBankBank set to go live on launch party day, March 20. The bottles, corks, and labels arrived at the bottling site just in the nick of time, and all was set for the bottling of La Victoire Batch 1 – the moment I had been joyfully anticipating since I first started working on the idea back in January 2019.
Then on March 16, everything came to a screeching halt. French President Macron announced that France would go into lockdown for at least 15 days, probably more. The bottling site was forced to close immediately, before we were able to get our precious first edition safely into bottles. I scrambled in the few hours remaining between the announcement and the shutting down of the bottling site to get La Victoire into stainless steel holding tanks to ensure the quality of whiskey we had worked so hard to create would not be threatened.
That accomplished, I pivoted to get the word out to guests, panelists, and event partners that the launch party would be cancelled. The packaging production also halted. Since it was such a small run, nearly all pieces of the presentation box had to be created by hand by artisans in Paris and Portugal who were now confined to their homes.
Despite all the setbacks, I decided not to throw up my hands and despair, but to move forward with the one critical aspect of the launch that I could still control : the crowdfunding campaign. What was meant to kick off with a glamorous soirée in one of the most exquisite venues in all of Paris was instead inaugurated in my very modest living room with my husband at my side and a small audience of friends and family cheering us on through a facebook livestream. It was not what we had hoped and planned for, but at the very least it was!
Against all odds and with huge thanks to our family, friends, and fans, our crowdfunding campaign concluded successfully on April 16 having raised more than 24,000 euros! With this we were able to pay our last major bills to finish the production of our first edition. We also celebrated our first really big shoutout in the press thanks to an April 6 article in Fortune by Paris-based journalist and author Lindsey Tramuta, as well as featured interview in the French wine and spirits magazine Speakeasy and an interview on the bourbon podcast The PodCask.
In May we celebrated another great feature in the press, this time with a gorgeous article in L’Honoré, a luxury lifestyle magazine published in Paris, as well an in-depth interview in the Paris food and lifestyle blog Lost in Cheeseland.
While France was still in lockdown, our bottling site was able to re-open and restart work, albeit without any outside visitors allowed. The good news for us was that our first edition finally got bottled in early May! The sad news for me was that I was not allowed to attend the bottling in person due to safety restrictions.
My disappointment was short lived, however, as in May production on the boxes also relaunched, and by the end of the month I was able to watch in person as the first edition bottles were very painstakingly and lovingly tucked away in their boxes by our incredible bottling team in Cognac. At last La Victoire Batch 1 had come to life!
In June we had the honor of a full-page feature in our first industry-focused publication, BarMag, a print and digital magazine dedicated to professionals in the wine, spirits, and hospitality industry. We also worked with local French artisans to produce the rest of our crowdfunding rewards, including premium organic cotton made-in-France Two Worlds Whiskey tote bags and custom designed Two Worlds Whiskey thank you cards to be signed by yours truly with thanks to our incredible supporters.
Seeing how the pandemic had changed the way we were all buying spirits, in June I also started working on building out an e-commerce platform on our website and the logistics capabilities to be able to fulfill orders once we were live. I realized quickly that our tiny apartment in Paris where both my husband and I were now working from home fulltime in less than 400 square feet was maybe not the best fulfillment warehouse!
By July I finally got to do the most rewarding thing of all – deliver the first bottles to our KissKissBankBank backers! I began with those who had ordered in France, and in many happy cases I was able to deliver in person and watch with delight as our first customers laid eyes on their bottles for the first time. It was incredibly moving and fulfilling for me after the months of delay to finally be able to deliver to our equally delighted customers.
As I delivered to our customers in France, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, and the UK, I was also beginning to learn just how fiendishly complicated shipping to our US customers would be. Shipping via the regular post was a no-go, as the USPS will not deliver spirits, and all the professional courier services in France, including UPS, FedEx, GLS, DPD (you name it, I tried it!) refused to deliver spirits to the United States due to the incredibly complex and obtuse local and state regulations on alcohol shipping. With different regulations in every state, county, and district, shipping companies determined that the United States is simply too complicated to service when it comes to spirits delivery. I was determined to find a solution, however, and continued to spend hours and hours trying to negotiate with every shipper I could find. I figured at worst I could always just carry the bottles in person the next time I traveled to the U.S., because surely that would be possible soon, right?
July also saw our first B2B sale, with the renowned spirits-only bottle shop La Source in Toulouse adding Two Worlds Whiskey to their shelves. Liftoff!
Just as things felt like they might be starting to slow down as most of France settled into their annual August vacations, Two Worlds Whiskey got some big news that provided a most welcome jolt of energy. Our first edition, La Victoire Batch 1 won gold in the ultra-premium category of the 2020 American Whiskey Masters! Tasted blind next to some fierce competition in the very highest category of the competition, La Victoire came out swinging! We could not have been more proud! Fortunately, we had received the good news with enough advance warning that I was able to scramble to make sure that our shiny new e-shop launched the same day as the good news! We also got to shout the news from the rooftops thanks to a full episode of The New Paris podcast dedicated to Two Worlds Whiskey.
With everything finally in place and shops back open after the summer holidays, in September we launched the full-court press on bottle shops. Since we wanted to start out by selling direct rather than going through a distributor and currently our “sales team” consists only of yours truly, I started by going shop-to-shop in Paris by bike and on foot, bag in hand, tasting for shop owners. Within no time, we picked up some prestigious clients including the renowned La Carte des Vins in the 11th and even the Michelin-starred Restaurant H near Bastille!
I continued hitting the pavement in October, meeting and tasting for as many shop owners as I could, and we continued to pick up great new clients known for their outstanding whisk(e)y selections, such as Les Grands Alambics in Chambéry, Ludwino in Thoiry, the Cave Conseil network of shops around Provence, and the Whisky Shop in Paris.
We also got some great buzz when the whiskey review site Tasting Bros did a tasting of Two Worlds Whiskey’s first edition side by side with William Larue Weller 12-year 2018 and George T. Stagg 15-year 2018, both releases from the highly acclaimed and fiercely sought-after Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC). To give those not familiar with BTAC some idea of their reputation, on wine-searcher.com the current average price for the 2018 Weller is €1,326 while the 2018 George T. Stagg is €582. Despite being in such auspicious company, Two Worlds Whiskey La Victoire Batch 1 was ranked the highest! Makes our suggested retail price of €189 seem quite modest by comparison! 😉
Normally a big season for whiskey shows, Two Worlds Whiskey was scheduled to participate in a number of whiskey events in October that were cancelled due to the degradation of the health situation in France. By the end of the month, the other shoe dropped. The second lockdown was underway in France.
Once again confined to my apartment, I pivoted to focusing on driving online sales through our e-shop, which started to pick up as the holidays approached. Due to the aforementioned shipping challenges, we only ship within France from our shop, but thanks to one of our clients in November we were finally able to announce to US whiskey fans who had been asking for months how to get a bottle that we had a solution! We announced on Thanksgiving that Whisky Shop Paris offers US shipping to 20 states and Washington DC, and boy were people excited! Whisky Shop Paris had to re-stock not once but twice within the week to keep up with demand.
Not only were we thrilled to make so many US customers happy, but we were also FINALLY able to deliver to our KissKissBankBank backers in the U.S. who had been so patiently and generously waiting for their bottles to arrive. Smiling faces all around!
In December, shops were allowed to open again in France, and I was again able to get out a bit both to hand-deliver bottles to e-shop customers in Paris, but also to get out to local shops to get Two Worlds on the shelf in my neighborhood. I am proud to say that Two Worlds Whiskey is now very well represented in my arrondissement of Paris!
I was also thrilled to appear on The Urban Bourbon Hour with Chris Blatner, one of very first supporters! We got to take a taste of La Victoire Batch 1 together, and I think it’s fair to say he was far from disappointed.
I was also spoiled with sweet notes, pictures, and social media posts from our customers tasting La Victoire for the first time. Many of you decided to save your first dram to celebrate during the holidays, and we could not be more honored to be a part of your celebrations!
The good reviews kept coming in December as well with a very positive review by well-known whiskey writer in France Serge Valentin on his blog WhiskyFun, where he called our first edition a very well put together, top-notch bourbon. Our esteemed Master Blender Ashley Barnes also (finally!) received her own bottle and did a side-by-side tasting with the Al Young’s 50th edition of Four Roses (average price on wine-searcher.com : €1,557), and surprised even herself by determining that La Victoire nudged ahead of Al Young’s 50th among her absolute favorite bourbons, adding “This La Victoire First edition is something that will get talked about for years to come.”
As shops once again started to close for their end-of-year holidays, I was able to sneak away to Provence for a bit of respite and reflection on a wild year that turned out nothing like any of us expected, but one I can look back on proudly nonetheless.
It is with enormous gratitude to my partners Ashley Barnes and Monica Wolf, my incredibly supportive friends and family, and most of all to all of you — our amazing supporters all over the world who have cheered us on through it all! I can never thank you enough! Thanks so much for coming on this wild ride with us, and HANG ON, because we have more exciting tricks up our sleeve for 2021!
Happy New Year one and all, and I cannot wait until we can all get together and share a dram in real life.
Until then, please keep in touch with us! You can find us on Facebook and Instagram @twoworldswhiskey. If you’re in France, you can snag yourself a bottle on our shop or if you’re in the US, please check out The Whisky Shop Paris.