From left, founders Brian May, Alden Hoksbergen and Eric Franco collectively have decades of experience in the beverage industry. Courtesy Proof & Union
Three Grand Rapidians with a passion for high-quality cocktails are spinning out Fullbar, a lineup of separately canned spirits and mixers that allow consumers to easily and portably craft their own cocktails.
Business partners Brian May, Eric Franco and Alden Hoksbergen formed Proof & Union, the parent company of the Fullbar brand, a year ago with the expectation of rolling out various beverage brands over the years.
The three Grand Rapids natives bring together a diverse business background that has converged in the beverage industry. May has spent the past few years in management consulting working for a variety of companies, including Abercrombie & Fitch and Wolverine Worldwide.
Franco has over 20 years in the beverage industry, starting as a bar owner in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, before moving on to serve in multiple capacities for Miller Brewing Company and MillerCoors.
Hoksbergen broke into the beverage industry in college where he started bartending at New Holland Brewing Company. He later got into the distribution space working for Louis Glunz Beer Inc. in Chicago and Great Lakes Brewing Co., based in Cleveland.
The three would-be partners met while working at Founders Brewing Co. where they discovered they had a shared philosophy about the beverage space.
“We definitely found ourselves a little tired of beer and began looking at cocktails,” May said. “They’re still really lacking in portability. Beer’s done really well. There’s less of a stigma of things in cans being low quality in the beer industry.”
Proof & Union currently is working out of Vander Mill’s location in Grand Rapids. May said his group had worked up a deal with ownership to utilize the space until it’s able to acquire its own. The group has raised close to $1.5 million to launch Fullbar.
“We had really strong local support,” May said. “The fundraising, you never know how it’s going to go. We’re really happy with how it came out.”
While planning how to spin out on their own high-quality canned cocktail venture, the partners said they hit an obstacle when they realized premised ingredients don’t hold up well over time. To deliver high-quality cocktails in cans, the group decided it would be better to keep the spirits and the mixers in separate cans and ship them to market under the Fullbar brand.
Franco said because Fullbar’s cocktail ingredients are sold separately, consumers can mix and match to suit their personal tastes. Consumers can mix ingredients to create classic cocktails like a Moscow mule, gin and tonic and rum punch, or experiment with different ingredients.
“Consumers want things how they want them, when they want them,” Franco said. “We want to put power back in the hands of the consumer.”
The Fullbar line includes five different types of straight 80 proof canned spirits: vodka, whiskey, tequila, gin and rum, as well as accompanying canned mixers like island punch, ginger mule, margarita mix and soda water.
Proof & Union also is a retail-driven company, Franco added. Aside from the benefit to consumers, the flexibility of the Fullbar product also allows retailers to cross-merchandise its brand with other brands to help grow different beverage categories.
“Our brand allows the retailer to sell us as a premium spirit,” Franco said. “Mixers are a strong, growing category, and the retailer can sell us as a mixer line, as well.”
Hoksbergen said Proof & Union sources its spirits and mixers from a variety of different locations, from real Caribbean rum to Mexican tequila.
“We figured it’s best to go out and source from people who had been doing it not only well but for hundreds of years,” Hoksbergen said. “Beer and spirits are a different world. Spirits have a little more chemistry. When it comes down to making vodka, there are only couple different suppliers that make it at a super high-quality level, and that’s where we get it.”
Proof & Union plans to roll out the Fullbar lineup of canned spirits and mixers to retailers throughout Michigan and Florida by the end of November, pending final regulatory approval.
Fullbar will be the first brand launched by Proof & Union, and May promised there will be more to come. While not officially on the table, he didn’t rule out the possibility of a standalone retail location for Proof & Union, as well.
“We thought about opening our own bar and creating an experience around it,” May said. “I think it’s a dream for someday, but right now, we’ve got a lot to chew on.”
Fullbar cocktail ingredients will be available in six-packs of 80-proof spirits and four-packs of mixers.