Welcome to our Happy Hour Question & Answer series, where we ask questions to interesting people in the alcohol world.
This week’s spotlight is Social Hour Cocktails and its co-founder/CEO Tom Macy. Co-founder Julie Reiner hired Tom back in 2009 Tom at Clover Club as a barback in 2009 and the two have been making delicious cocktails together ever since. As Tom worked his way up to bartender, head bartender, and eventually partner, he developed a particular interest in meticulously perfecting classic cocktails, which earned him several awards in Punch’s Ultimate Cocktail Tastings.
Hops & Spirits: How did you get into the alcohol industry?
Tom Macy: Like a lot of people following their creative passions in NYC, acting my case, I was working in a restaurant in my early 20s. This is the early/mid aughts so the cocktails renaissance was just getting started. The restaurant I worked in had a small cocktail program that piqued my interest enough for me to start making cocktails at home. As often to be the case with me when I get into something, this turned into a full-fledged hobby bordering on obsession. This led me to seek out a job in the bar industry and as fate would have it, the first job I interviewed for was for a barback position at Clover Club in January of 2009, about 7 months after they opened.
HS: You’re a bartender by trade, what’s the best part of that?
TM: I love creating things, I love making things with my hands, I love the challenge of fast-paced multitask labor (to a point, I suppose), and I love making people happy. Bartending, cocktail bartending specifically, scratches all of those itches.
HS: You’ve also launched into a business owner, what drove you down that path?
TM: I guess I always had a forward-looking mindset. I never quite seemed to be content with where I was at (this was no doubt exacerbated by my wife becoming unexpectedly pregnant a few months before my 29th birthday). Through my 30s I explored a variety of entrepreneurial branches to my bartending career, many of them through Clover Club. This included catering/events, bottled cocktail syrups (never launched), blogging — check out my website I spend so much time on it!, YouTube cocktail videos (here!), and cocktail classes. Pre-mixed cocktails were actually one of my first ideas but seemed like the longest shot, so I pretty much looked at everything else first. But in the end, that was the one with the most legs.
HS: How did Social Hour Cocktails come about?
TM: The first spark of an idea came when I was making Gin & Tonics at home for my wife and I and micro-managing the crap out of them to make them perfect — proper ratios, gin in the freezer, tiny unopened bottles of tonic, chilled glasses, etc. While going through all that trouble I thought to myself, it would be easier if this was just pre-batched, carbonated, and bottled. This then led me to think, why doesn’t that product exist? This was 2013, so a very different time. I started playing around with carbonation and doing research on alcohol law. After a few years of nibbling at the edges, I had a concept and started working more directly toward the goal of starting a company.
HS: I’ve read that the secret to success is finding the right partner, how would you describe your co-founder Julie Reiner?
TM: Julie opened pretty much every door for me. Especially at the beginning of my career. She and I have very different skill sets and interests, which serve each other well. And we happen to have the same palette, which is really awesome. We always seem to agree on when a cocktail is where it needs to be, so there is a great deal of trust there. It’s not an understatement to say that I would not be here without Julie.
HS: Why the name Social Hour?
TM: Social Hour is actually the first name I used for my website, haha. When I was trying to think of names for the canned cocktail company one day I realized it was staring me in the face. Social Hour is the word my family uses for cocktail hour, which is a fixture at all family gatherings. I’ve always liked that it’s unmistakably a nod to “drink time”, but emphasizes the togetherness and conviviality of those rituals — which I think is certainly the primary value of sharing a cocktail with others.
HS: How do Social Hour Cocktails differ from others in the market?
TM: Social Hour Cocktails are the equivalent to a cocktail made fresh in a bar. We use quality spirits — not malt or cheap bulk spirits, authentic cocktail ABV, and proper cocktail serving size. Most RTDs follow the seltzer mold, 5-6% ABV and 12 oz cans. We are 10-12% ABV and use 8.4 oz cans. There are indeed some proper proof cocktail options on the market, though they tend to be uncarbonated and spirit-forward. Social Hour is fizzy and refreshing while still being an honest drink.
We also like to get creative with our expressions. We’re not interested in rehashing the same 5 classics as everyone else unless we have something interesting to bring to the table. This is the case with our Navy Strength Gin & Tonic made with New York Distilling Company Perry’s Tot gin. The uniqueness of that gin makes the drink.
HS: How did the Harvest Whiskey Sour collaboration with George Dickel come about?
TM: George Dickel’s Head Distiller and General Manage Nicole Austin and I met back in the day when I was bartending and she was the head distiller at the local Kings County Distillery in Brooklyn. We connected over a shared love of nerd-level micro details. She was a wealth of knowledge on whiskey production, which I was researching heavily for my website at the time. She also served on the Distilled Spirits Council and was able to point me in the right direction when looking for info on legal stuff related to bottled/canned cocktails.
She was one of the first people I told my pre-mixed cocktail idea to back in 2014. She moved away and we weren’t in touch for a few years, but when I launched Social Hour, I reached out just to let her know. She was the head distiller at George Dickel at this point. She tried the product and said she loved it. Apparently, she had been looking to do an RTD but hadn’t been impressed with anything she’d tried thus far. So, she asked if I wanted to collaborate. It’s been an extremely gratifying experience. The Harvest Whiskey Sour we launched together is easily my favorite cocktail we’ve released.
HS: Where can folks find Social Hour Cocktails? Or get more information?
TM: You can find out more and order through our website! Socialhourcocktails.com. We are primarily available in New York State right now. Though we plan to be entering into some new Northeast markets this spring, and more to come!