What the Hell Is Mighty Swell?
Introducing the post-millennial wine cooler
We were recently guests at a going-away party for some good friends of ours. Because bringing drinks to share is what you do at parties, I brought a six-pack of grapefruit Mighty Swell, curious as to how my friends would receive it.
While the menfolk stood around the fire pit outside, drinking beers and shooting the shit (I learned later that I'd missed a fairly epic rant about the scourge of the small plates trend in dining out), we ladies chilled out in the air conditioning and discussed our feelings about the fizzy new canned cocktail born and bred here in Austin.
Our initial impressions were positive. I liked the balance between the sweet wine and the bitter grapefruit note. "It re- minds me of my Boone's Farm days back in the Nineties," laughed one girlfriend.
"But it's definitely a step up from the wine coolers we drank back then," chortled another.
"I hate the term 'wine cooler,'" bristles Sean Cusack, the entrepreneur who originated the Mighty Swell idea and shopped it around to various distributors before partnering with Clayton Christopher, founder of Sweet Leaf Tea and Deep Eddy Vodka. "We set out to create something that hasn't been done."
So, it's not a wine cooler. What is it? The wine cocktail's shelf placement in local stores won't help you define it. At the Hancock Center H-E-B and the Sunrise Mini-Mart on Anderson, you can find Mighty Swell amid the hard ciders. At the beer-focused Mueller H-E-B, it's shelved inconspicuously alongside the Lime-a-Ritas and other flavored malt beverages.
Officially, Mighty Swell is a canned sparkling wine cocktail made with real fruit juice and wine made of fermented orange peels from a producer in Florida. Mighty Swell launched in Texas this April and will make its festival debut at this year's Austin City Limits, where it is sure to be received enthusiastically, given the perpetual need for refreshment (and oblivion) amid the high temperatures and crush of humanity.
Also available in Oklahoma, Tennessee, and soon Colorado, Mighty Swell is eminently versatile. You can enjoy it straight out of the can, or come up with your own craft cocktail: Make a summer shandy by blending a local pilsner and some Mighty Swell lemon, or make a grownup sno-cone by freezing lemonade and bourbon, then pouring a floater of Mighty Swell peach on top.
The sleek packaging and emphasis on its virtues – all-natural, gluten-free, GMO-free – are meant to appeal to a more feminine set, right? Those who enjoy their Pinot Grigio diluted with Fresca, yes?
Not necessarily. "When we were originally thinking about this, our thought process was that it would skew 60-40 to the female demographic, but we've found that men really do enjoy this product," says Cusack. "It's very refreshing, great for the outdoors, and people get tired of drinking beer.
"You see guys drinking it out on the golf course," he continues. "This is an interesting option for people whom we thought would be a small portion of our demographic."
Christopher describes the audience for the sparkling cocktail as "a little more sophisticated and quality-conscious demographic" looking to branch out from craft beers. He describes the brand as "fun, young, healthy, and active," the product meant to be enjoyed outside, as illustrated by the water-sports trope of the marketing collateral. While not necessarily hooked into an Austin-centric identity, Mighty Swell encapsulates the profile of the monolithic "New Austinite": millennial, moneyed, and always in search of the next new hotness (bonus if it's gluten-free and goes well with barbecue and/or tacos).
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