With Brooke Bloomquist’s background in marketing and special events and her father’s naval career and business prowess, their masterminding of Blue Shark Vodka seemed almost inevitable.
Five years ago, it started with drinks by the pool while Bloomquist was living in Hawaii, and it evolved into the first spirits distillery in New Hanover County. Blue Shark Vodka, the “shark that doesn’t bite,” arrived in New Hanover County ABC stores on June 18, and it has been making a splash ever since.
“My dad – I give him lots of credit – he is a huge entrepreneur at heart, and he has worked and started lots of different companies. His background is in working for Seagram’s back in the day, so it is not too farfetched for us to go into the spirits business,” Bloomquist said.
At that time, craft breweries were taking off across the country, and Bloomquist and her father, Mark, said, “Hey, we should get into the spirits business,” she said. With Mark Bloomquist having previously owned a business that created Bobbleheads, they thought, “How could we incorporate a real figurine into a bottle?”
It was important for Brooke Bloomquist, president of the company and a University of North Carolina Wilmington graduate, and her family-directed team for the product to have a tie to the ocean, given that all their lives have been spent on or near an ocean.
“With my dad having graduated from the United States Naval Academy, and my sister and I growing up swimming, and everywhere we have lived, our geographic paths have taken us either by the Atlantic or the Pacific oceans,” she said. “This became a fun project.”
They decided on the name Blue Shark Vodka paying homage to the “most docile shark” in the ocean.
In 2017, while in the process of developing their brand, Brooke Bloomquist was working with Live Nation when tragedy struck on the Las Vegas strip. She was working at the Route 91 Harvest music festival, the site of the country’s deadliest mass shooting, and luckily escaped with her life and a renewed sense of purpose and focus.
“We had been working on Blue Shark all along, but after that, it was a catalyst that really kicked things into high gear,” she said. “I decided that life is too precious not to do something you’re passionate about.”
Her passion was poured into the design of the bottle that would, by design, be not just a liquor bottle, but a “piece of art,” she said. The vision was to have a handblown bottle with a unique shark blown right into its base. After trial and error and four renditions of bottle prototypes, the Blue Shark Vodka team decided on a design that ensures each bottle is unique with “no two bottles ever being the same.”
Once the bottle design had been decided, according to Brooke Bloomquist, the question became, “It’s great that we have an awesome- looking bottle and beautiful label, but how are we going to make a product that tastes just as good as it looks?”
After their team had concocted a recipe, they were able to connect with a Polkton, North Carolina, farmer in Anson County. Farmer Jeff Griffin, of Griffin Farms, became a part of the Blue Shark Vodka family by growing the sweet Carolina Corn to ensure that the vodka was wholly a North Carolina product.
“He and his family have become like family to us. They are wonderful people, and he is the most loving and gracious man ever,” Brooke Bloomquist said.
According to a YouTube video from Blue Shark Vodka, it is just as important to Griffin as it is to Brooke Bloomquist and her team to keep the local economy supported by keeping business local.
“We have a small but mighty team – from our photographers to those who do our marketing materials – and we try to use everyone either locally here in New Hanover County or in North Carolina,” she said.
Admittedly, she said, only the bottles are not North Carolina crafted but blown in California through old business connections her father, the company’s chief creative officer, had when he was in business there years ago.
Locally, the work at their distillery reflects the most important aspect of the product. The corn is distilled four times, then using a reverse osmosis process, it is filtered three times for a “super, crisp, clean taste,” officials said.
“The more you distill and filter, you filter out the impurities and get rid of the harsh taste. It is true craftsmanship,” Brooke Bloomquist said, adding that they are proud that the vodka is gluten-free and non- GMO.
“Wilmington has been a great town to launch a product in,” she said. “We have great supporters and a hometown following who have been really amazing and wonderful. They have welcomed us with open arms.
“This has been a super interesting journey so far, and we have only been in ABC stores since June 18,” Brooke Bloomquist added. “Sales have been phenomenal. ABC stores have been selling out, and at $27 a bottle, the price point doesn’t break the bank.”
Drawn to the unique beauty of Blue Shark’s design, many customers keep and upcycle the bottles. Brooke Bloomquist is considering a future event with a contest for the most unique repurposing of their Blue Shark Vodka bottles.
Blue Shark Vodka is available in every ABC store in New Hanover County, and other county ABC systems can order it from the state commission’s warehouse in Raleigh. By the end of 2019, Brooke Bloomquist said, “we hope to be everywhere in North Carolina.”
Next year, the Blue Shark Vodka team will decide which states to expand to next and eventually, according to Brooke Bloomquist, they plan to expand into a national company.
But no matter how big they get, she said, Wilmington will always be home.
“We plan to keep our distillery right here in Wilmington,” she said. “This is our home. We love this town.”