Gabrielle Fitzpatrick was the go-to bartender for her roommates throughout their senior year at Boston College, serving drinks to friends who yearned to drink something more exciting than whatever beer was on sale at the nearest liquor store.
“I just remember my senior year, you know, obviously once we were all 21, I was able to get my bartending license and make cocktails for my girlfriends,” Fitzpatrick, BC ’17, said. “I thought, you know, it would be so great if I could just can this or bottle this and sell it but, but alas, you know, school got in the way.”
As someone whose alcohol of choice is tequila, Fitzpatrick said she realized there was a gap in the canned drinks market. So in 2020, she started Damn Right Cocktails, the first specialty beverage company to sell an organic, 100 percent agave tequila cocktail in a can.
“I soon realized that there were really no products that were a convenient, organic tequila-based premium product, and that’s kind of what I searched for when I was buying alcohol,” Fitzpatrick said.
But Fitzpatrick did not immediately enter the alcohol business after graduating from BC. She first tried her hand working at a law firm and then transitioned into the event planning industry. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the entire industry was shut down, she returned to her bartending hobby with a new perspective and decided to pursue her passion full time.
“I reverted back to my hobbies of making cocktails and that’s when I was thinking this is going to be what I want to do next,” Fitzpatrick said. “And, you know, the rest is history.”
Though Fitzpatrick was confident in her bartending skills, she said navigating the alcohol industry as a first-time business founder was challenging.
“Entering into the alcohol industry, I didn’t realize the complexity of all the legal requirements,” Fitzpatrick said. “There’s so much more than just selling the product.”
To familiarize herself with this new space, Fitzpatrick said she relied on her network within the BC community.
“I think community is the biggest thing, and having a network of people that can support you, where you can go to ask questions about certain topics,” Fitzpatrick said. “BC as a whole taught me about the power of your community and your network of people. We’re all not gonna know everything, and you’ll be surprised about how many people actually want to talk about their job.”
Through asking questions and building connections, Fitzpatrick said she developed a successful business and a strong network of professional support.
“Fear is such a thing that holds a lot of people back,” Fitzpatrick said. “Someone who I’m really close with told me [that I was] fearless. And I was like, ‘Yeah. I guess that is what honestly drove me’ because I didn’t have the fear of failing.”
Alicia Vargo, Fitzpatrick’s sales consultant and a partner at Speakeasy Wine & Spirits, LLC, said she saw the determination in Fitzpatrick’s eyes when they first spoke about Damn Right Cocktails. She took her on as a client because of it.
“There are peaks and valleys to this industry,” Vargo said. “This industry is not friendly at all, and it’s very, very competitive. And she’s just dug her nails and and just, you know, kicked and screamed and clawed to make sure that she can continue to do this.”
As the CEO and founder of Damn Right Cocktails, Fitzpatrick said her main focus is bringing in sales and raising capital from investors. Yet, in between days packed with business meetings, she still finds time to connect with her customers.
“My favorite part [of my job] is going out in the market and having customers try the product in front of me,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s the funnest part [because] they don’t know that I own the company. I try not to tell people because I want to get their genuine reactions. 100 percent of the time people enjoy it, which I’m so grateful for.”
Because Damn Right Cocktails is part of a saturated market, where there are many canned drink options to choose from, Fitzpatrick said it is important to distinguish her product from the myriad of other drinks. Part of the appeal behind her beverages is how unique they taste in comparison to other options, she said.
Vargo was persuaded to work with Damn Right Cocktails for this very reason.
“I avoid ready-to-drink products like the plague in my portfolio, and that’s because there’s so many, they’re a dime a dozen,” Vargo said. “But when she came to me with the bullet points of ‘I’m female owned, I have a female distiller, I’m the only 100 percent organic 100 percent de agave brand on the market, and 5 percent of proceeds go back to a rural education,’ and boom. She had all the makings to be successful.”
Fitzpatrick said she intentionally works to distinguish her product from other popular brands such as High Noon. Damn Right Cocktails is fundamentally a unique product because it provides a more specialized drink to the customer, she said.
“I am a niche brand that is catered to a demographic that is so unique, and unlike anything that a mass-produced High Noon could accommodate to and be appealing to,” Fitzpatrick said. “I don’t have their foundation but what I do better than High Noon, obviously is my branding, my taste, and also we’re organic. We’re a premium high-quality product.”