As the whiskey industry recently celebrated Women’s History Month, stories of women trailblazers in the business have brought about a higher consciousness of equity and diversity in spirits.
One such story is that of Brittany Merrill-Yeng, the co-founder and managing partner of Skrewball Whiskey, the original peanut butter whiskey.
She spearheaded one of the fastest market rollouts in the history of the spirits industry and oversees one of America’s fastest-growing spirits brands with at least double-digit growth each year she’s been in business.
Merrill-Yeng is a chemist, turned attorney, turned spirits brand owner that took a small, family-owned company that began with a creative peanut butter whiskey shot in her San Diego bar, and grew it into a national favorite.
Skrewball saw an astonishing consumer retail growth rate of 1,976% in 2021, as the brand sold more than a million cases in just its third year on the market.
And this month, she announced that Pernod Ricard, looking to extend its footprint in the flavored whiskey category, acquired Skrewball for an undisclosed amount.
“It’s overwhelming to see how far we’ve come with a ‘screwball’ idea and a dream,” she said. “We are very excited to see what the future holds for this brand under Pernod Ricard. The engine behind the company – its strategy, global reach and brand building expertise – will greatly support in taking the brand to new heights and we are excited to see it soar.”
Merrill-Yeng is an industry disruptor and a woman making waves in a male-dominated industry. She recently visited with The Whiskey Wash about her whiskey journey and what it takes to go from a screwball idea to mergers and acquisitions.
The Whiskey Wash: What brought you to the world of whiskey, and what was your path to Skrewball?
Brittany Merrill-Yeng: “My husband, Steven, worked in the restaurant industry for years and had created the original Skrewball Whiskey shot at one of the restaurants he and his family worked at. The shot became a favorite among regulars and it sparked this idea to create a product for people to enjoy at home. That’s where my prior knowledge came in handy. I have a background in chemistry, which was essential when we were formulating the product to have all the premium flavor notes and quality that we wanted.”
TWW: What has your experience been thriving in male-dominated industries whether it’s being a lawyer, a chemist or a whiskey trailblazer?
BMY: “Although the spirits, science and law industries are male-dominated, I am lucky to have met so many women in these industries through conventions or different networking events that have made me feel welcome and empowered. I try to pay it forward as much as possible by offering that same warm welcome and support that I’ve received from other women in these industries.”
TWW: How did Skrewball come about and what was it like taking on something revolutionary in the whiskey industry?
BMY: “I had no prior experience in the spirits industry when my husband and I had decided to embark on this journey to bring Skrewball to life. My background and education were in chemistry and law. My husband, Steven, is the reason we have such a particular love for the peanut butter flavor in Skrewball.”
“Steven was born in Cambodia and when he was just one, he got polio, leaving his right leg paralyzed. Because his family did not have access to quality medical care at the time, they moved to Thailand, where they lived in a refugee camp for six years and struggled to have the basics like food and water. His family eventually received sponsorship from a family in San Diego, which brought them to the U.S. The sponsor family gave the family baskets of food, which, most memorably for Steven, contained jars of peanut butter. From then on, Steven has always associated the taste of peanut butter with freedom, and it inspired us to create Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey.”
TWW: What advice would you have for women looking to get into the spirits industry?
BMY: “Be supportive of one another. Having a network of women to share experiences with and lean on for advice in this industry has been extremely valuable to me.”
TWW: What makes Skrewball special and what are some of its accomplishments that you would brag about?
BMY: “We have a unique, loyal and very engaged group of people who are Skrewball enthusiasts, which we’re especially proud of. We’re always keeping this audience in mind when making business and branding decisions. Another major accomplishment that I’m very proud of was our business growth. We had one of the fastest market rollouts in the history of the spirits industry and at least double-digit growth each year in business.”
TWW: Where do you see your slice of the spirits industry going in the near future?
BMY: “The industry has seen a huge rise in demand for ready-to-drink cocktails in the past couple of years. People are active and want a convenient drink that still tastes great. We anticipate this trend continuing to grow and become more widespread among spirits brands.”
TWW: What can we expect from Skrewball in the next five, ten years?
BMY: “We’re eager to increase our brand awareness and grow our community of Skrewball fans in the coming years. Our plans are evolving constantly to respond to what consumers are looking for, so expect to see exciting partnerships, product innovation and new Skrewball experiences that go beyond sipping the spirit.”
Gary Carter has been at the helm of metro newspapers, magazines, and television news programs as well as a radio host and marketing manager. He is a writer/editor/photographer/designer by trade, with more than 30 years experience in the publishing and marketing field. Gary enjoys working to build something great, whether...