Imagine a world without hangovers. Go on, imagine: ten-day benders without alcohol poisoning; all-night binges with 8 a.m. board meetings the next day; the end of brain-numbing, stomach-souring, entire-day-losing debilitation at the groping, productivity-pilfering hands of booze. It's glorious, this make-believe world where adults can drink whatever they like, as much as they like, and not feel like the crusty lining of a septic tank the morning after.
Sadly, such a world can never exist. Not ever.
But that hasn't stopped four friends from the suburbs of Denver from trying to create it, from attempting to subdue the shakes, diminish the dry heaves and tame the inevitable katzenjammer once and for all. Cynicism, it turns out, ain't got nothin' on iX MiXer.
iX MiXer's next party is April 16 at the Squire Lounge, part of a Make-a-Wish Foundation karaoke charity event. For more information, go to www.ixmixer.com or www.facebook.com/ixmixer. Contact the author at email@example.com.
Boyhood friends since the seventh grade, Nick, Jeff and Guy met at Littleton's Deer Creek Middle School in 1992. Guy, recently transplanted from a small Episcopalian elementary school in Atlanta, was "scared shitless" by Deer Creek's size, but Jeff befriended him. The two tried out for football: Guy found the perfect athletic outlet for his modest height and frame and went on to play all four years at Mullen High; Jeff, an aspiring quarterback, broke his arm on the second day of practice and his mother never let him take another snap. So he joined the basketball team and ran track at Chatfield High. Nick, also at Chatfield, played hockey — mostly EA Sports' NHL '95 on the Sega Genesis. District restructuring after his sophomore year sent Nick to Dakota Ridge, but the three remained friends despite different daytime routines, bonding over countless NHL '95 tournaments with complex brackets and a homemade traveling trophy, an amateur work of art built from a standard trophy base with a gold spray-painted jock-strap cup glued (with chewing gum) in the original figurine's place. "We were just fucking lame," Nick admits.
Though they lived in different dorms during their freshman year at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the three friends took a spring-break road trip to California, where Guy got himself a hideous two-headed panther tattoo. They shared an apartment their sophomore year, partied together constantly their junior year, and went to Vegas together when they all turned 21. Guy remembers losing one of their friends on the Strip for the better part of a night; Nick remembers Guy getting on top of a table at the exotic rumjungle nightclub inside Mandalay Bay and stripping down to his skivvies before a bouncer showed up. While on the trip, Nick introduced Guy and Jeff to his friend Lisa, a Littleton native, Chatfield grad and CU senior.
Eight years later, these four would form a private corporation with the goal of overcoming the mighty hangover. But at the time, they were just intent on acquiring one.
Fast-forward to 2008: Nick Rolston is a bartender at the Squire Lounge, Guy Adams a former restaurant manager turned private investment firm owner, Lisa a CU employee and Jeff a salesman for a start-up software-development company (which is why he asks that their last names not appear in this story). Lisa and Jeff are married. One morning, after a raucous Bloc Party concert at the Ogden Theatre, Jeff was driving back to Denver from a sales meeting in Greeley. Somewhere along I-25, he realized that he was more hung over than he'd ever been in his entire life and decided that the Jack-and-Cokes he'd always relied upon for good times were to blame.
Alcohol — which stimulates urine production (dehydration), irritates the lining of the stomach (nausea), decreases blood-sugar levels (fatigue) and expands blood vessels (headaches) — is the obvious cause of the common hangover. But Jeff wasn't interested in quitting the sauce, and he certainly couldn't control how liquor is made. What he could control, however, is how he mixed his liquor. With college football season in full swing, Jeff took to mixing vodka with Boulder-based Izze soda at weekly Buffs tailgates. He found relief in Izze's natural ingredients, as well as the absence of high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives and caffeine. He was hooked – until he discovered that most bars don't carry Izze. At which point Jeff, with the support of his wife and best friends, made a $115,000 decision.
The beverage development process begins with product ideation. Point Brands — the eventual name of the friends' private corporation, with Lisa as president, Jeff as CEO, Guy as director of operations and Nick as director of marketing — knew exactly what it wanted: "an all-natural, sparkling alcoholic-beverage mixer enhanced with vitamins and electrolytes to keep you hydrated while drinking and minimize the effects of a hangover," Nick says.
"People ultimately understand the value of vitamins and electrolytes," adds Jeff. So if they're looking to Gatorade and other sports drinks containing vitamins and electrolytes to cure the common hangover, they might as well begin the recovery process the night before. As for real sugar (sucrose), no caffeine and other all-natural ideals: "We didn't want to be associated with anything unnatural," Jeff explains. "We wanted to be associated with something that is as good as it gets when you're talking about a mixer for booze."
A mixer for booze — not a soft drink to be sold in retail outlets, nor a recovery drink to chug the next day. A product specifically designed for consumption with alcohol in bars. "We wanted to be the mixer people know about, to convince people to be less concerned with the brand of liquor and more concerned with what they taste," Jeff says. But at the same time, he continues, "We're very much trying to differentiate ourselves from, well, everything, basically: Red Bull, Izze, all of it."
To make the drink (the product-formulation phase, which began in February 2009), they needed a company like Pro-Liquitech in Louisville, Kentucky, to create the flavors. Six months of tasting trials and $20,000 later, they had two: citrus and berry. Then they needed 8.4-ounce aluminum cans, which were constructed by the Metal Beverage Packing Division of Ball Corporation in Wallkill, New York. Finally, they needed a co-packer — a facility to mix the flavors with the water and seal it inside the can — which they found in the Cold Spring Brewery in Cold Spring, Minnesota. What they got, at a total cost of $115,000, were two signature flavors, 1,000 twelve-ounce sample bottles and 150,000 cans (60,000 of which are filled, sealed and due to arrive in Denver by May 1).
Surprisingly enough, the name came easy. "We were creating a mixer aimed at fixing hangovers," Nick explains. "Mix. Fix. The common sound was 'ix.'" Armed with a logo (sketched in crayon by Lisa, graphically rendered by a friend), a slogan ("What's Your MiX?" eventually scrapped for "Electrolyte Your Night") and those thousand sample bottles, iX MiXer was unofficially released with a soft launch party on December 31, 2009, at the Squire Lounge.
"It was a very impressive showing," says Sudy Kudva, owner of the Squire. "They packed the place with at least 150 people, and everybody was drinking iX."
In January and February, they threw parties featuring iX Citrus and Berrie at J.R.'s Bar & Grill, Tryst Lounge and the Drink, as well as two bars in Aspen. On April 2, the party was at Whiskey Bar, this time with six-foot-tall, platinum-blonde iX Girls (one of them Lisa) passing out free samples and explaining the whole vitamins-and-electrolytes thing.
"The party went really well," says Cory Schwab, who owns Whiskey Bar. "The reception was really good. They brought in a good group of people, and everyone was really big on the product."
Goods are typically marketed through some combination of push and pull strategies. A top-down approach, pushing typically involves promoting a product to a wholesaler, who promotes it to a retailer, who promotes it to the consumer. Without brand recognition or contacts in the world of distribution, Point Brands is essentially forced to use a pull method for iX MiXer, promoting it directly to the consumer, who then demands it from the retailer (the bar), who then demands it from a wholesaler. Basically, this means that iX MiXer has to market itself via social networking, parties, bar crawls and other events that demonstrate to bar owners and bartenders that people will show up and ask for drinks with iX. At the Whiskey Bar party, for example, table menus suggested drinks such as the Knockout Punch (Bacardi 151 with both Citrus and Berrie), the iXarita (tequila, Cointreau and Citrus), the Red Blazer (Scotch, triple sec and Berrie) and the Mile High Iced Tea (sweet-tea vodka, peach vodka and Citrus). The possibilities, the friends believe, are endless.
"Lots of people don't know what they want to drink," Nick says. "Every night at the Squire, someone, usually female, comes in and says to me, 'Gimme something sweet and strong with vodka.' That 'something' might as well be iX."
Schwab, who has committed Whiskey Bar to be one of the first (along with the Squire) to stock iX MiXer, agrees. "Whiskey Bar is one of those bars where customers come in and they want to talk to the bartenders," he explains. "They don't necessarily know what they want, so they rely on the bartender's expertise. They also want to know what's new. Once we figure out some solid recipes involving whiskey, I think it's definitely got a shot."
Yet for all its electrolytes, its vitamins A, B6, B12 and zinc, iX MiXer simply cannot create a world in which hangovers don't exist. Lisa, Jeff, Nick and Guy — they understand this.
"We're not a fucking magical elixir," admits Nick.
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"Does Gatorade magically make you a great athlete? No," adds Lisa.
"We make no claims that if you drink a handle of something, that it's going to help with that. No. You drink a handle of something and you're going to feel like shit," Jeff reasons. "No matter what."
But, like Jeff, people are going to drink regardless of what may come the next day. "So I guess we feel like we're doing a public service to our fellow drunks by helping them not get their asses kicked as much by it," Nick says.
Drink to that.