Tasting Panel | Moon(shine) Over Buffalo (Wild Wings)

Buffalo Wild Wings is the location destination for sports fans of all kinds. “Everything we do is for the love of the fan,” says Bob Ruhland, Vice President of Marketing for Buffalo Wild Wings. “From our 21 signature sauces and seasonings, to in-restaurant technologies for sports viewing, to the way we serve beer, every detail creates the ultimate social experience for sports fans,” he enthusiastically adds. Historically, the restaurant chain has existed as the go-to location for good beer. “It’s important that as a sports bar, we offer a full bar experience to our fans. Yes, beer is in our tagline, and we sell a lot of it, but it’s also necessary that we have a great line-up of signature cocktails,” says Ruhland.

Enter Ole Smoky. In 2010 the moonshine company, also known for being East Tennessee’s first licensed distillery, was introduced to the world at large. However the company’s roots can be traced back a century to the early settlers of the Smoky Mountains. Ole Smoky is the most visited distillery in the world, has won countless awards in the most prestigious spirits competitions, and its products can be found all over the U.S. as well as internationally. They are continuing the momentum of their success with the introduction of mountain-made whiskey.

“We are the leading distiller of moonshine in the U.S. and our whiskey launch will only add to our company’s achievements,” says Robert Hall, CEO of Ole Smoky. “Our moonshine cocktails do very well in bars and restaurants, and we predict the same for our whiskey. Our products are very tasty and incredibly versatile, making their on-premise possibilities endless.” 

Ole Smoky has become a great addition to Buffalo Wild Wings’ cocktail menus, opening new doors and avenues for the already explosive and inventive brand. “We have been working with Buffalo Wild Wings for over two years now, primarily focused on our Apple Pie Moonshine,” says Mason Engstrom, Vice President of National Accounts for Ole Smoky. Ole Smoky’s Apple Pie Moonshine can be found in more than 1,200 Buffalo Wild Wings locations worldwide. “When we first began developing our whiskey portfolio and deciding on what flavor profiles to go after, we immediately thought of Buffalo Wild Wings and what might work well with their consumers.” It was apparent early on to Ole Smoky that Buffalo Wild Wings would be an excellent partner due to their very similar customer bases. “Both brands have guests that are looking for something fun, rebellious, and unique,” says Engstrom.  

So far, the response from their team has been overwhelmingly positive. “Ole Smoky is a great brand with a unique story,” adds Ruhland. “The craftsmanship and pride they have in their brand, moonshine, and whiskey culture is admirable.” It’s the dedication to creating the best and boldest expressions that has made them the leader in the category. “I think it’s the balance of tradition and innovation that drove us to work with them. They’re doing some really interesting things with flavors, and we wanted to be a part of that,” Ruhland says.

This October, Ole Smoky Mango Habanero Whiskey will be nationally featured at Buffalo Wild Wings. “It’s the perfect whiskey to pair with wings, in a cocktail, or as shot with a beer,” says Engstrom. “There are many different reasons that you may visit Buffalo Wild Wings and we want to ensure that we have a delicious beverage that fits each and every occasion,” Ruhland adds.

Andrea Benzschawel, Beverage Director for Buffalo Wild Wings, is charged with the sizeable task of creating and maintaining their cocktail list. She’s eager to express Ole Smoky’s potential within the overall brand. “We believe the Mango Habanero Whiskey will do extremely well at our restaurants. The sweet heat flavor profile is something our Fans are interested in and familiar with from many of our ‘Sauce Lab’ sauces as well as other signature cocktails,” she says. “We plan to feature this whiskey in at least one signature cocktail this fall and anticipate it being a success.” This means it will land on the cocktail list just in time for the 2017 football season and run through the “big game” making it a great addition for all the  football action. “It will also be highlighted across various marketing communication vehicles in and out of restaurant,” adds Benzschawel.

It’s the combination of deep tradition and the desire to push boundaries of innovation that makes Buffalo Wild Wings and Ole Smoky a great partnership. “It is important for us to stay true to our roots yet explore new ways to create unique experiences for our fans. The excitement around the Ole Smoky brand is unparalleled – they’re pioneers in the category,” says Ruhland. “By offering Ole Smoky Mango Habanero Whiskey, we’re bringing something new that our guests are sure to love.”

Buffalo Wild Wings’ reach is far and wide, so uniformity within the brand is paramount. “In order to provide our fans with consistency at each location, and in order to promote signature cocktails across the country, we have a beverage team that is responsible for creating our national cocktail menu,” says Benzschawel. However, flexibility is also necessary. She adds, “There are regional variances that exist to ensure we remain locally relevant, but our base offerings are the same across the country.” With approximately 40,000 employees around the globe, Buffalo Wild Wings makes sure that training remains a major focus within the company-owned and franchised locations. “We try to focus on two major cocktail menu updates each year – spring and fall – to minimize the number of new items that our bar team has to learn throughout the year,” says Benzschawel. We then try to highlight various cocktails and offerings from the two menus to help draw attention and interest in our beverage menu, ensuring that our restaurants have the tools they need to consistently execute the beverages we offer.”

“We are focused on extending our unique approach – which is fixated on the social, entertainment and sports aspects of dining – to population-dense urban locations, smaller footprint restaurants and into the takeout and delivery business. We look forward the future of this dynamic brand,” says Ruhland.

By Matt Jackson 

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