NEWS & OBSERVER: Cola-flavored vodka from NC wants to be the shot you didn’t know you needed
There’s a new North Carolina liquor that asks only one question: Where’s the party at? Last month, Coladka, a cola-flavored vodka, debuted to the world, made by longtime veterans of the Triangle bar industry. Coladka is the creation of Drew Schenck and Kevin Barrett, owners of the popular downtown Raleigh cocktail bar Dram & Draught. Schenck said the 72-proof, virtually black vodka will take on the flavored shot market, invented by the likes of Jagermeister and Fireball.
“We watched Jager become the big shot and replace some other things, then saw it decline and Fireball become the big thing,” Schenck said. “The next Fireball wins.” The owners believe Coladka is that next thing, an idea cooked up at a beverage convention and then brought to life by Barrett, a career bartender who has crafted cocktails in downtown Raleigh for years.
“(Schenck) came up with the idea and dared me to come up with a good version,” Barrett said. “I was confident I could. …Years of working in bars and working with different flavors, that I could come up with that flavor, to kind of reverse engineer it. … This has not been a flavor that’s been available in the past.” Coladka uses a vodka base from a Michigan distillery and the flavoring is manufactured in the Triangle. Barrett said the cola taste doesn’t aim specifically for any one brand — Coke, Pepsi or RC Cola — but just that sweet flavor, created with brown sugar, orange, cinnamon and vanilla oils. Getting on liquor store shelves is always the hardest part for a new brand, but Coladka has existed for all of a month and already has distribution to nine states, Schenck said, including North Carolina. The company signed a distribution deal with beverage giant Southern Glazer’s, one of the country’s largest distributors. Coladka enters a drinking market currently enamored with spiked seltzers, still in love with craft beer and, particularly in North Carolina, exploring craft spirits. Schenck said Coladka will mainly be a shot in bars, but that it’s also made its way into cocktails. “Guys my age are drinking it on the rocks or with soda water and a squeeze of lime,” Schenck said. “You can mix it with Irish cream and shake it up. It’s called an ‘Irish Soda,’ and it’s dangerously delicious. It’s the kind of thing you could drink 10 of and not taste the alcohol.”
Barrett said he never planned to get into the liquor business, but is even more surprised that he’s in the flavored vodka market. Dram & Draught is one of Raleigh’s most popular cocktail bars, featuring a seasonally changing menu and a pricey selection of rare and collectible bourbons. “I thought it might be something with whiskey,” Barrett said, of ever creating his own spirit. “But the opportunity arose, and it’s been a fun challenge.” Schenck and Barrett said they started working on the product last year and brought it to market this summer. Bottles are currently for sale in local ABC stores and some Triangle bars, they said.