She’s a woman. A mother of nine children and a grandmother of five. And, she doesn’t drink alcohol. Yet, Paula Dezzutti is shaking up the male-dominated spirits industry. Born in Connecticut, Dezzutti’s first two words as a baby were “I do,” and today, the founder of Local Choice Spirits, CEO of Striped Pig Distillery and best-selling author on Amazon can’t stop “doing.”
The 55-year-old, who goes by “Pixie,” a nickname given to her when she was a child sporting a pixie haircut and that stuck into adulthood thanks to her petite 4-foot-11-inch frame, founded Local Choice Spirits in Charleston after waking from a dream on New Year’s Day 2011. “In the dream, I was told to create a platform where I would be the mother hen to a number of birthing spirit brands and give them the greatest chance of successfully navigating this archaic distribution model. I was even given the name of the company,” says Dezzutti. “I woke up and thought, ‘That was some bad Chinese I ate last night.’”
With an impressive background in investment banking, financial planning and real estate development, Dezzutti was always looking for new investment opportunities, but when she was approached to be an early investor in a technology company that purifies alcohol, she hesitated. Not only would she be a woman trying to break into a male-dominated industry, she was also faced with the frightening fact that most brands fail.
But, with a knack for numbers, Dezzutti began launching liquor brands based on an incubator model of sharing responsibilities and roles, with a focus on full partnerships rather than sponsorships, and using the marketing prowess of people who already have a strong following. “It’s an economic model that’s just so much more efficient, and you have someone at the helm who already has the relationships and can navigate that distribution channel, which is really difficult,” she explains.
Launching Like a Boss
Dezzutti has launched more than 50 brands, with around 14 currently in the market. She has teamed up with entrepreneurs, musicians, celebrities and, most recently, Local Choice Spirits, which became the official liquor partner for Titan Fighting Championships, a UFC partner. Some of her biggest names to date are The Legendary Hatfield & McCoy Family Brand Whiskey; Gas Monkey Cinnamon Tequila with Richard Rawlings from Discovery Channel’s Fast N’ Loud; The Real Housewives of Atlanta star Dwight Eubanks and his Eubanks Gin Collection; and underground hip-hop artist Boosie Badazz’s Boosie Juice Vodka. With a philanthropic heart, she’s also introduced Fifty States Vodka, a completely made-in-America vodka, along with veteran-owned Gold Star Vodka, which gives money to Folds of Honor to fund scholarships for children of soldiers killed in war. Dezzutti is credited with pioneering a charitable business model, giving back $2 per bottle to community members and fundraisers that partner with the company. “I want to be the Amazon for liquor purchases, where people buy our products because we’re giving the money back on our premium products,” she says.
One Sip Wonder
Since Dezzutti doesn’t drink, she usually takes one sip or dips her finger into the liquor for a quick taste. So, how does a teetotaler thrive in the alcohol industry? “In the beginning, I enrolled in taste classes and sat down with other sophisticated tasters,” says Dezzutti, “but, after being a celebrity judge for many taste competitions and conventions over the last 13 years, I’ve grown into an expert. I think it’s also the fact that I don’t drink, and my taste buds are not traumatized.”
She also believes her astute palate comes from cooking with her Italian family and never shying away from spices and herbs. Her personal spirit favorites are the Local Choice Lime Tequila, which creates a distinct margarita thanks to kefir lime; the Boosie Juice Strawberry Kiwi Vodka; and the Local Choice Black Cherry Bourbon, which she says, “feels like lip gloss rolling on your lips.” Flavor profiles and aromatics are very important to Dezzutti, and she touts using the best ingredients, fruits and spices for spirits that are ready to drink. Her spirits have scooped up more than 40 awards and won numerous blind taste tests across the United States and internationally.
Shaking Up the Industry
In a stodgy industry where there’s little diversity, it hasn’t always been an easy road for Dezzutti, who’s experienced many slammed doors and disparaging comments. “I get ridiculed for being a woman. I constantly field ridiculous comments like, ‘I belong back behind the kitchen sink, or shouldn’t I be at the front of the bar in a T-shirt,’” she reveals.
Now, Dezzutti is doing everything she can to disrupt and diversify what she calls “a secluded industry.” More than half of her brand partners are women and of various ethnicities, and she’s currently mentoring a group in Kentucky to create the first African American distribution company. “I’m like the ‘We are the World’ campaign. My dream is that one of the big spirits’ players will embrace my incubator and education model for building brands that serve all of humanity,” she says.
Until then, Dezzutti will continue spreading her magical pixie dust.
For more information, visit localchoicespirits.com.
Angela Caraway-Carlton is a Miami-based freelance writer, travel and lifestyle expert, and television producer. Her works have appeared in Indulge Magazine, Time Out, Elysian, Aventura, South Florida Luxury Guide and Modern Luxury Weddings South Florida & the Caribbean. Caraway-Carlton has covered lifestyle trends in South Florida and beyond for more than a decade.