With the origin of whiskey dating back to medieval times in Scotland and Ireland, and American whiskey dating back to the first colonists, pledging to redefine the flavored whiskey drinking experience could be considered a risky move. Two longtime friends and financiers did just that.
In 2017 over a round of shots, Amani Macaulay and Chima Burey were asked, “If you could make your own flavored whiskey, what flavor would you make?” Burey’s dream was to make a whiskey that tasted like the Werther’s Original or Sugar Daddy candies he enjoyed as a kid. When Macaulay eventually left his career in finance, Burey “threw out the crazy idea that they should make a caramel flavored whiskey.”
Now they have. The duo’s Duke & Dame Salted Caramel Whiskey, created in 2018, is all about giving consumers a drink that has both balance and complexity. The two also wanted their consumers to have a royal experience, hence the name Duke & Dame.
“The name captures the emotional connection that consumers have with the whiskey,” said Burey. “When consumers drink Duke & Dame, they don’t cringe or make the ‘whiskey face.’ Rather, they’re pleasantly surprised that a whiskey is making them smile, making them feel amazing, magnificent, royal and regal. The honorific titles of ‘Duke’ and ‘Dame’ represent these feelings.”
The pair created the flavor profile of the caramel whiskey to entice whiskey newcomers and honor the heritage that whiskey enthusiasts are used to experiencing.
Duke & Dame comprises a premium blend of 100% corn whiskeys, including a two-year aged bourbon that introduces notes of slightly charred orange, toffee and spice. According to Burey, this premium whiskey base is perfectly complemented by natural caramel aromas and flavors, with only one gram of sugar per serving. Additionally, he said, Duke & Dame features robust caramel aromas and flavors in the first sip, followed by distinct bourbon notes (e.g., hints of oak and spice) in subsequent sips.
Currently, Chima and Burey are the only employees, operating out of Jacksonville, FL. Chima works on sales, distribution and consumer engagement while Amani focuses on finance, operations and branding. They also work with partners and vendors, such as the people at their distillery. Occasionally, they work with part-time employees to run events, tasting and to deal with other promotional activities.
Disrupting an industry with deep history is challenging, but when the pair sold their first case of Duke & Dame in 2018, they relied on their strong bond and friendship to create a good business partnership. They admit they’ve had challenges along the way, but their brand has developed into an award-winning and far-reaching flavored whiskey.
The company is also a Black-owned business, fighting for shelf space with big-brand liquor – and succeeding. Just this past year, Duke & Dame achieved over 150% growth in cases sold.
“We launched Duke & Dame in South Florida four years ago, and since then, we’ve expanded to Michigan and New York, select Caribbean Islands, including the Cayman Islands, Turks & Caicos, Aruba, Jamaica, USVI, BVI and Puerto Rico, and the Carnival Cruise Line fleet of cruise ships,” said Macaulay. “In the future, we plan to increase distribution to all 50 states and other international markets.”
In other words, stay tuned. The two have plans to expand their product portfolio to include additional flavor expressions and other alcoholic beverage offerings.
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