By REID TUCKER
At first blush, “Chaste” doesn’t seem like the most fitting name for an alcoholic beverage company, the first product of which is a bottled rum cocktail.
But then the brilliance behind the name Freeport’s own Ricky Fannin and Bess Grasswick chose for their new craft spirits company sets in. Open a dictionary, look up “chaste” and read the third or maybe the fourth definition behind the ones about virgin-this and virgin-that. Merriam-Webster has it is as “simple in design and execution” and “pure in thought and act,” and “proper.”
The process of making a shelf-stable bottled cocktail – rum, citrus, pineapple and coconut, for the record – taste just as good as one made to order was far from simple. It took hundreds of tries before Fannin, a seven-year veteran behind the bar at WaterColor Inn & Resort in Santa Rosa Beach, got the balance he was shooting for when he first thought of turning his signature mixed drink, “The Ricky,” into its current form as Chaste’s “No. 850.” That’s all beside the point – what’s important, and what sold Fannin on the name is the “proper” part.
“I wanted to make the most perfectly proper cocktail, but make it so that people could serve it whenever and wherever with minimum fuss,” Fannin said. “It’s a legitimately good cocktail, and it’s got enough kick too. After the first one goes down you won’t have a hard time getting down another. Just like our company tagline says, it’s ‘proper made easy.’”
The No. 850 itself might make serving a good cocktail easy, but getting the Chaste brand off the cutting-room floor and into local stores, restaurants and (as of this week) an online retailer, was the result of many long nights and longer road trips. All told it took the better part of two years from the time Fannin let Grasswick try his popular mixed drink and asked her if she’d like to go into business with him until this October, when Chaste went on the market.
The intervening time between 2011 and this fall saw the two, childhood friends born and raised in Freeport, abruptly change the course of their lives. Fannin graduated from Florida State with a degree in social science but was considering going back to school to begin taking pre-med classes. Grasswick, who got her degree in sociology and anthropology from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga., was looking forward to grad school.
Grasswick, who runs the day-to-day operations at Chaste, said there was no hesitation on her part when Fannin asked her to be his business partner, despite neither of them having experience in launching or managing a liquor company. The pair agreed that their varied life and job experiences and educational backgrounds gave them a unique perspective on what they wanted to achieve with their nascent brand. Persistently putting in the hard work on both the creative and business end paid dividends in they learned from every new experience with the aim to get everything right even if it took a few tries, Grasswick said.
“I feel like we were meant to do this,” she said. “I think a lot of our ideas come from our backgrounds and diverse experiences, and that makes us confident that what we are trying to do is the right thing.
“Our desire and expectation was to have a product that we could be proud of, knowing that you have to have a unique product on the market to be a viable brand. For lack of a better word, it’s got to be top-shelf if you want to succeed in this industry.”
As for the product itself, Chaste No. 850 was envisioned from the first to be a versatile product with a lot of built-in year-round utility. The goal was to make a cocktail that was easy to drink on its own or to pair with all kinds of foods, to mix with other ingredients to make new concoctions or to be used as an ingredient for cooking. Grasswick says the 850 has been used to make everything from a dirty sangria to a ham glaze, and that kind of versatility is what sets their product apart from others on the shelf.
“Sometimes when you think about ready to drink cocktails you don’t see past the convenience, and for us we wanted a convenient product that was also correctly executed with the proper ingredients and flavors,” she said. “At the same time we also wanted it to have utility for our consumers, whether that’s a resort or restaurant or someone entertaining at home.”
Now that Chaste has had its official launch and has had some time on the market, Fannin and Grasswick spend most of their time going door-to-door, promoting their product the old-fashioned way. Getting to know people and their business is the best way to cultivate future carriers, Fannin said, which goes back to why he got into bartending in the first place.
“I just like meeting new people and talking with people,” he said. “When you make those real connections with other people and establish a relationship with them you can achieve most anything you set out to do. It just takes a little help along the way.”
As for future mixed drinks in the line, that’s a long way down the road and the young entrepreneurs aren’t ready to talk about it, but they were quick to point out that they have been kicking around some ideas. The plan for now is to focus on spreading the Chaste brand throughout Florida and then onward to the rest of the Southeast, and they’ve already made significant inroads locally. As has been his goal all along, Fannin said Chaste’s early success results from the desire to make a timeless brand that is at the same time accessible to everyone, no matter where they’re from.
“I would like to have our company be remembered,” Fannin said. “I want it to be timeless, and you can’t do that by just catering to one group or another. We had people telling us to just gear the product toward the beach crowd, but we disagreed. This is not a just beach thing. This is a Walton County thing. It’s a drink for everyone. The 850 encompasses what is best about the whole Panhandle.”
For the full list of retail locations carrying the Chaste No. 850 and more information about the company, visit http://www.chaste.co and like them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CHASTECOCKTAILS. Online orders can be made at http://www.winefolder.com/sku03001_CHASTE-NO-850-RT
By REID TUCKER