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Breakout Talent to Watch: Karl Franz Williams of Uncle Waithley's Beverage Co.

Karl Franz Williams is sailing on ginger beer's tide of popularity, while also steering the product in a whole new direction.

The beverage brand he founded, Uncle Waithley's Beverage Co., craft-brews a ginger beer that features a spicy kick from Scotch Bonnet peppers, authentic Caribbean credibility, and all-natural ingredients to appeal to today's discerning consumers.

Williams, with a degree in electrical engineering from Yale University, is a CPG industry veteran who spent time working in manufacturing and brand management at Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo before leaving to concentrate full time on his own businesses. In addition to Uncle Waithley's he operates acclaimed bars and restaurants in New York and Connecticut.

He launched his ginger beer company to solve for the challenges he faced in finding a unique mixer to use at his Harlem rum bar, called Solomon & Kuff's Rum Hall. The product is also an homage to his family—named after his grandfather, who farmed ginger on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, and made ginger beer himself.

Williams said he thought there was an opportunity to bring a “fresh, nuanced taste” to ginger beer, while also providing a non-alcoholic beverage for consumers seeking a craft-brewed experience.

“Ginger beer has a great history in the Caribbean, but I thought there was a way to make it even more Caribbean, so that's why I added the Scotch Bonnet pepper,” he said. “It's prized throughout the Caribbean for its heat, but also for its flavor.”

The pepper adds vegetal notes to the beverage, he said, which blend “amazingly well” with a variety of spirits, including not only rum and tequila, but also whiskey, vodka, and gin, Williams said.

The product is described on the bottle as “‘Vincy' Brew—Ginger Beer with a Scotch Bonnet Bite”—a reference to its origins in St. Vincent. The beverage also includes turmeric, which gives it its distinctive color, as well as lime, ginger, and mineral water.

“Ginger beer is something that takes a lot of care to make, and it is something that we in the Caribbean take a lot of pride in,” Williams said.

The company uses what it describes as a “small batch vintage fermentation” process, during which the ginger beer is allowed to rest for three days for richness and maturation.

Using all-natural ingredients and boasting authentic Caribbean roots distinguish Uncle Waithley's from other products in the market, the company says. The Scotch Bonnet pepper is also a differentiating ingredient.

Uncle Waithley's is expanding its retail distribution, and is in the process of rolling out to Stop & Shop in the Northeast. In addition, it is also introducing some new flavors that fit within its authentic roots, including Ginger Beer with Sorrel, a hibiscus-based drink that is popular in the Caribbean, and Ginger Beer with pimento-wood-smoked pineapple, which features the flavor of the pimento wood that is used to jerk meats in the region.

All the new flavors will include the Scotch Bonnet pepper, Williams said.

He noted that while several diverse-owned brands have emerged to attract investment in the spirits industry, there have been few in the mixers and non-alcoholic craft beverage space.

“We are completing that ecosystem,” he said.

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