Meet the guys from Alabama who bottled Bushwacker
For Alabama entrepreneurs Carter Echols and Michael Smith, a trip to the beach isn’t complete without mixing up a batch of Bushwackers.
This creamy, alcoholic concoction is as synonymous with a beach vacation as the rhythmic lullaby of crashing waves and the fiery hues of a spectacular sunset.
But, oh, what a mess they have to make.
âI was on the coast in Apalachicola with my brothers,â Smith recalls of a particular Bushwacker mishap. âWe made it for the women, and it spread all over the kitchen. “
So Echols and Smith figured there had to be an easier way.
Why couldn’t they just buy some bottled Bushwacker, already mixed and ready to pour? No fuss, no mess.
Their creative wheels began to spin and the two old friends began to come up with a plan.
Along the Florida Panhandle, the Bushwackers have been around ever since a former owner of Pensacola’s Sandshaker Lounge tasted the frozen cocktail on a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands and returned and started serving them at the Sandshaker in 1975. They became an immediate hit.
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These days you can pick up a Bushwacker pretty much anywhere on the Gulf Coast, from Live Bait in Orange Beach and Pirate’s Cove in Josephine to The Hangout in Gulf Shores and, of course, the Flora-Bama Lounge in Perdido Key. .
(In 2010, then-President Barack Obama sipped a Bushwacker on a surprise visit to Tacky Jacks in Orange Beach while in the area inspecting damage from the Deepwater oil spill. Horizon.)
But after doing some research, Echols and Smith couldn’t find anyone who had bottled the recipe.
âWe’ve found that many people have had the idea of ââbottling Bushwacker over the past 30 years for the same reason we have,â Smith said.
âIt’s four or five different ingredients depending on what recipe you’re using, and you can’t always find them. We thought, âIt must be in a bottle. So that spurred the idea.
âAnd we’ve found that everywhere we go, a lot of people have had the same idea,â Smith adds. âWe basically feel like we were just stubborn enough to keep doing it. We just kept banging our heads against the wall until we got it right.
“The beach in a bottle”
Echols and Smith, who are a year apart, have been close friends since growing up together in the small town of Linden, the seat of Marengo County in Alabama’s black belt.
They played football, baseball and basketball together in high school and fished in Echols Grandfather’s Pond.
After they went to college – Echols in Auburn and Smith first in West Alabama then in Troy – Echols returned to Linden to work in his parents’ grocery store for about 20 years while Smith built swimming pools. , was developing websites and later partnered with a live streaming company.
Echols had moved to Sarasota, Florida, and Smith was dividing his time between Marengo County and Warner Robins, Georgia when they came up with the idea to put Bushwacker in a bottle in the summer of 2019 (Since launch). from their business, Smith also moved to Sarasota.)
At first, they hoped to come up with a bottled Bushwacker blend that could be mixed with half and half or heavy cream to make the signature cocktail.
But they couldn’t settle for a mix they liked, so they started over again, this time with the idea of ââmixing all the ingredients – dark rum, coconut, coffee, chocolate. and cream – in a bottle ready to pour.
âWe threw out the window everything we had been working on for the last six months,â says Smith. âWe said, ‘We have to put the Bushwacker in a bottle, and when you pour it into a glass, it’s a Bushwacker all in one, all by itself. “”
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They experimented with their friends and family members until they did it to their liking.
âWe learned the hard way why it was difficult to mix when working with something that’s a cream,â says Smith. âWe can’t give the advice on how it’s made because that’s what we got lucky and worked so hard on, but it’s pretty straightforward. We have the basic traditional Bushwacker recipe from the Virgin Islands / Caribbean.
To wrap it, they designed an oval-shaped bottle adorned with a few coconut palms.
âWe wanted to make sure the bottle looked like the beach, looked like the beach,â says Smith. âEveryone we spoke to about Bushwacker remembers, ‘Hey, that reminds me of the beach, the Virgin Islands, the coastal areas of Florida. So our goal was to bottle the beach.
“We are in the money now”
By early 2020, after signing a recipe and finding a contracted distiller to mass produce and bottle it, they were almost ready to launch their product.
Their timing, however, couldn’t have been worse.
The COVID-19 pandemic threatened to shut down their business even before it was operational.
âBack then, we were pretty much told to forget that,â Smith recalls. âCarter and I put pretty much everything we had in there. We believed in it so much, and we said that forgetting it was not an option for us. “
So they stuck with the plan.
Their first shipment of 110 cases of Bushwacker arrived in early May 2020.
âWe didn’t know what to expect,â Echols recalls. âI was so proud of our 110 cases that we did the first time I was like, ‘Man, we’re finally doing it, Michael. We’re in the money now.
They cold-called distributors to put Bushwacker on the shelves, and they spread the word on social media.
âWe took a photo and set up a Facebook page and were blown away by the number of people who love Bushwacker, who wanted to tell us about Bushwacker,â Smith said.
âSince then, we’ve been overwhelmed by people in their area who wanted it,â Smith says. âIt was more about how fast we can do it and speed it up and basically just hang on to the bronco. “
By the end of 2020, Bushwacker was in around 300 stores, and they had added their home state of Alabama to their distribution footprint. In the first half of 2021, the number of stores where it is available has since more than doubled, and they are looking to expand into other southern states.
âWe’re down to about 700 (stores) now,â Smith says. âWe’re adding about 150 stores per month right now. “
A little over a year after the arrival of that first shipment of 110 cases, their last order was for 6,000 cases, says Smith. That’s 72,000 bottles of Bushwacker.
âWe expect it to last between three and six months before we do another batch,â Smith said.
And, yes, it’s now available in their hometown of Linden, in the Bottle and barrel packaging store which has just opened this spring next to the parents’ grocery store in Les Echols. Echols’ mother, Suzanne Echols, and her brother-in-law, Eddie Pruett, run it, and Bushwacker is in the foreground of their store.
âThis is a brand new liquor store in Linden that is a very strong advocate for Bushwacker,â Smith said. “They sell more Bushwacker than any other store in the state.”
On the Bushwacker Spirits website and Facebook page, you will find recipes for everything from martinis to milkshakes.
But while the Bushwacker boys love it when their clients experiment, Echols loves to remind people why he and Smith bottled it to begin with.
âWe put that in a bottle for convenience, and it’s really wonderful just on ice,â he says. âWe’ve taken all the guesswork out of it for you. “
For more information on Bushwacker Spirits and to find out where it is available, go here.
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