Hail to the Grail.
Great ideas aren’t developed in silos. Georgia's small towns like Statesboro, are creating the spaces and places to encourage powerful collisions. The founding team of The Whiskey Grail, Adam Tsang and Jim Walker are one local example of what is possible when two different personalities and skill sets come together to launch a product.
Meet the Founders
Adam Tsang is a serial entrepreneur. Native to Statesboro, Georgia, Tsang took off to study computer science at the University of California at Irvine, but early in his career felt a calling back to his hometown of Statesboro. The return to his hometown was not one to fly under the radar. Tsang got to work quickly. Since 2014, Tsang’s ventures include The Saucy Shrimp, Soyumi Asian Kitchen, Two Fly Guys Media, Pep Public Relations, and The Whiskey Grail with partner Jim Walker.
Jim Walker is also no stranger to juggling multiple career hats and ventures. After graduating from Georgia Southern University in mechanical engineering, his skills as a craftsman were put to work. From automation engineering at Brooklet, building his own customization brand, Phoenix Ironworks, to taking the lead as the FabLab Shop Manager.
The Whiskey Grail is Created
Georgia Southern’ s Fab Lab is a part of the Business Innovation Group (BIG) and exists as a makerspace for aspiring entrepreneurs, business owners, the community, GS Faculty and staff, and students. Members can use the tools and staff guidance to prototype or be creative with school or personal projects. It’s through Walker’s involvement in the FabLab where the idea for The Whiskey Grail took shape.
The Whiskey Grail is a drinking vessel designed for a unique tasting experience for whiskey bourbon. Hand crafted from white oak; the grail mimics the environment that bourbon whiskey ages in. The results are a flavor profile that is unlike the usual glass tumbler (large ice-cube optional).
“As you drink the interplay between char, the oak, and whiskey; it calms down some of the harsher notes of the alcohol and lets you experience the subtle flavors in a new and different way,” shared Walker during a recent meeting.
Tacking Together a Business Plan
The vessels started as a commission for an anniversary gift for a best friend's grandparents – for Pape, a custom drinkware set – but Walker couldn’t find the right glassware to match the artisanship of his handcrafted decanter and storage box. Using scraps, he made a drinking cup.
“I just saw it as a way to make scrap into a useful product. I didn’t see it as its own entire product line and production, and then a couple of years later Adam walked into the shop.”
Adam clearly recalls his first experience with the vessels, “I was hanging around the shop and he brought out this box with all these scraps of wood in it and he pulled out a cup and said, "this is made for drinking bourbon,” shared Adam, “I remember this moment distinctly, because I had chills run up and down my spine. Just weeks before, I had joined a bourbon drinking club and I knew this product had legs.”
After taking the oak vessels to the club, Adam asked the question, “is there a difference in the taste?” Club members weighed in, with a unanimous, “yes”. Adam goes on to say, “I didn’t ask if it was better or not, that’s for the market to decide.”
Once Adam got the idea that this could be more than scrap, multiple discussions took place around next steps for getting the vessel out into the market.
Even when asked what advice they’d give other entrepreneurs, you can see how Adam and Jim’s differences make for a great partnership – and supported the launch of The Whiskey Grail.
“We spend so much time thinking about the idea, rather than executing on it. Go ahead and get something on the table, go ahead and put a product out. In tech, that’s called the minimal viable product (MVP). You can iterate on that over time,” Adam Tsang.
“Be careful with who you are choosing to do things with. Find those people who can help compensate for your weaknesses and find somebody whose strengthens can complement yours. Find those people you can rely on. You can’t know everything, but you can know a lot more together,” Jim Walker.
Success Pitching the Grail
This dynamic duo not only leaned on one-another’s differences to perfect the product and launch of The Whiskey Grail, but also embraced the resources, guidance, and experience of BIG and the FabLab.
“I honestly believe that without me joining the FabLab, Whiskey Grail wouldn’t be a thing. It’s so important for a community to have a space where entrepreneurs can collide, to meet up, and that’s this space,” said Adam.
More than the creation of the physical product, the founding pair used the coaching and mentoring at BIG. When Whiskey Grail learned that they had been accepted to pitch in front of investors at the GRIT Conference in Savannah, they knew the BIG team could support them. The GRIT conference is hosted annually by The Creative Coast, a hub to catalyze the innovation economy in Coastal Georgia.
They worked with the accelerator’s manager, Catherine Blake, to create a pitch deck and refine their plan. Adam credits the support as a key to their success, “Speaking with Catherine, she helped us put our pitch together, and the numbers to tie it all together. It gave us the complete package,” he said.
Pulling in additional resources paid off and first-time presenters, took home second place at the Savannah event, winning a prize of $2,500 in February of 2023.
Image from https://www.griceconnect.com/local-news/whiskey-grail-takes-second-place-at-grit-conference-6558641
The Future of Whiskey Grail
Following the recognition from GRIT, Whiskey Grail is working on new products that align with the Whiskey Grail brand. Until then, they continue to use content creation to drive sales. This strategy is helping them reach international audiences and grow sales- – even as far as New Zealand!
In person sales of the grail are available at the FabLab located at 62 E Main St, Statesboro, GA, or online at https://whiskeygrail.com/
Adam Tsang has also launched a podcast, UKnowAdamTsang where he meets with other entrepreneurs, community members, and creatives to share their story. Hear from other small businesses on how they started, their challenges, and success.
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