Seven years after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy, Owen Meyer has declared war on boring cocktails.
“We jokingly have a mission here at Liquor Lab to ban the vodka soda,” said Meyer, describing his post-military venture, which will begin hosting hands-on, know-your-booze gatherings in Lower Manhattan later this year. “It’s a tasteless drink. … I love good vodka, but not with soda and a lime.”
A foot injury suffered while a cadet led to two bones being removed, a nondeployable status and an abbreviated career in uniform, Meyer said. Seeking something outside a cubicle farm after his medical discharge, the West Point alumni network helped him land an entry-level post with Jim Beam, where he worked as a salesman and “spirit specialist.”
Working to connect that brand to its consumers triggered his entrepreneurial instincts; Liquor Lab targets drinkers who “rather than just buying a bottle and sitting around, watching TV … want to go out and experience something while we drink,” he said.
Recently featured by Forbes, Meyer and his Liquor Laboratory plan to expand to 30 locations in five years. He offered Military Times readers some business tips, as well as some sage spirit advice:
Business: Why vets make good hires
Meyer said his four-person team will triple in the next month. He’s got veterans in his hiring pipeline because “they don’t think in boxes,” he said.
“They’re sort of free thinkers. They’re problem-solvers. I never have seen people who are very effective in a business setting if people ask them a question and they answer it with a robot answer. If someone comes to one of my places and says we want to do this and that, but we don’t have ice carving on our menu, you don’t tell them that we don’t do ice carving, you just figure out a way to solve that problem and make a sale.”
Booze: Trending at the bar
Trying to stay up on cocktail trends? “The biggest one that stands out is what we call a return to classics,” Meyer said. “Your old fashioneds, your Manhattans, your Tom Collinses. If you’re at a sports bar, they might not make them very great, but they’re still quality drinks. They’re not your vodka sodas.”
Business: Learn your craft
When veterans head into the private sector, “the difficulty is in the industry experience,” he said. “If something interests you, there’s the internet: You’ve got to really learn up. You have to really dig into it.”
“I wasn’t a food and beverage expert, but I read up on distribution and sales and marketing. You have to dig into the weeds and sort of figure out how you can apply yourself within an industry.”
Booze: Go big with batches
Sure, you want to impress the gathering by working your behind-the-bar magic, but you won’t have time to enjoy the night while you’re shackled to a shaker. Instead, consider making your cocktails in bulk.
“Really, all it takes is a measuring cup to know what you’re doing,” Meyer said. “A measuring cup and a little simple math and you can batch up drinks for your party. … If you’re going to try to make 500 margaritas two by two, you’re going to make a huge mess. You can go on Amazon and get a big-batch cocktail dispenser.”
Business: Rely on your training
Meyer said his time in service helped him streamline his decision-making process, allowing for a business plan with less waste and more mobility. The Army’s training mechanisms had an effect, too, encouraging him to “dummy-proof everything” when it comes to walking clients through cocktail-making.
“When people get in the barstool in front of a bunch of tools and brands they’ve never touched before, they need to be guided through each step and we can not make any assumptions,” Meyer said. “Obviously what we do is fun, and it’s a lot of fun to come to an event, but it’s more fun if what they are learning ends up tasting good and they can do it on their own later.”
Booze: Make it memorable
Trying to set your gathering apart? Consider ice-cube trays with unit or service-branch logos — Meyer’s planning a website to custom-make such products in the coming months.
Next-level party hosts may want a dispenser with an infuser, allowing for more complicated cocktails and providing a better conversation-starter than setting up a keg in the corner.
Looking to imbibe on a budget, or seeking a date-night option beyond dinner and a movie? Meyer recommends searching out your favorite booze brand online and finding nearby “experiences” or product launches — the drinks may be free or discounted, and the crowd may be more lively than traditional bar settings.
“Sometimes, you’ve got to sift through the junk emails you get” for event listings, Meyer said, “but that’s marketing these days.”