After graduating from Yale, Karl Franz Williams joined Procter and Gamble’s brand management team, later moving to marketing at PepsiCo. After a few roles with increasing responsibility, he joined PepsiCo’s innovation and beverage development team but found himself consulting with mixologists instead of scientists. In 2008, he translated this love for well-crafted drinks into 67 Orange Street, the follow-up to his pioneering restaurant Society Coffee. In 2016, Williams revived the iconic 80+ year old Anchor Spa in New Haven, CT, turning it into a popular modern cocktail bar that still celebrates its historic roots. He is a sought-after speaker and consultant in branding, small business development, bar management, and spirits/mixology. In January 2022, he launched Uncle Waithley’s Beverage Company which makes Uncle Waithley’s Vincy Brew, an all-natural authentic Caribbean ginger beer with scotch bonnet pepper.
Question: You launched Uncle Waithley’s Beverage Company in 2022. How did that come about?
Answer: Uncle Waithley’s (UW) started out as a solution to a problem. I was the co-owner of a rum bar called Solomon and Kuff. I was leading the bar program, and I wanted to build a rum program like none other, one that really celebrated the Caribbean roots and history of rum. I knew that I would need a great ginger beer to complement the program. But I couldn’t find one that used only fresh ingredients, and had the nuanced and unique taste I expected from the homemade ginger beer that I grew up drinking. So, my bar team and I collaborated on the initial recipe for UW. We incorporated scotch bonnet pepper to really make it special and add that distinctly Caribbean flavor. We let it rest and age, just like my grandparents did. And we added citrus, something my father taught me. At first this recipe was only served at the bar. But Solomon and Kuff closed in Aug of 2019. During the pandemic, I decided to add the ginger beer to the drinks to-go menu at 67 Orange Street. It was a huge hit. We found that a lot of people were looking for sophisticated flavors in drinks that were alcohol-free. Our ginger beer gave them this experience. It was then that the light bulb went off. People in the Caribbean have long taken pride in making their own unique and special ginger beer. Recipes were passed down from generation to generation. And now here was this huge demand opening up for younger consumers who wanted sophistication and flavor without alcohol. I immediately begin working on refining the recipe further, introducing mineral water to mimic St. Vincent’s natural springs. Reducing the sugar content. Adjusting the ratios of lime, turmeric and ginger, until I felt I had the perfect product. Then I started work on the packaging. Finally, I called a couple friends of mine who I had collaborated with on Solomon and Kuff and asked if they wanted to help me bring Uncle Waithley’s to market. Mike and Monica jumped right in and Uncle Waithley’s Ginger Beer was officially on its way.
Question: Where did the name Uncle Waithley’s come from?
Answer: Uncle Waithley’s is named after my grandfather, Waithley Williams. My father is also named Waithley Williams. So, it is a true homage to family and culture. My grandfather was a farmer, who farmed ginger among other things. He lived his life on our family’s island, St. Vincent. He raised 13 children and lived to be 100 years old. He always cared about his health and loved the outdoors. He passed all of this on to my dad, who taught me. To this day my dad still makes and sells beverages from local ingredients to consumers on the island.
Question: Why create a ginger beer? What makes yours unique and is it available for sale at health food stores?
Answer: Ultimately what we are doing is using a familiar and well-loved platform—ginger beer as the foundation for disruption. We saw that no ginger beer brand really owned the market in terms of brand passion. Most ginger beers on the market where part of portfolios that anchored in ginger beer as a category or in the mixers category. We saw the opportunity to add the emerging Non-Alc category to the mix and to build a brand that bridged all three categories effectively while inspiring passion and creating vibes. We are currently carried in a few health food stores and in many natural products stores including all 57 Whole Foods Market’s Northeast stores.
Question: What is next for you and the beverage company?
Answer: We are focused on growth! We want everyone to experience our Vincy Brew. To achieve this growth we are doing two things. First, now that we have established a foundation with our Original flavor, we are going to build on this ginger scotch bonnet base with crafted and artisanal Caribbean flavors. This is how we will truly disrupt the category. The first of those flavors is just arriving in the market now—Uncle Waithley’s Vincy Brew—ginger beer with Caribbean sorrel! It is a gorgeous ruby red color and really stands out on shelf. And it tastes amazing! Sorrel is a traditional Caribbean drink made from dried hibiscus and spices like nutmeg and clove. We have added our own sorrel to our ginger beer and the result is next level goodness! We are also expanding to additional markets like Florida and Connecticut with new distributor relationships. In 2024 growth is the name of the game for us!