Tenneyson, as loyal fans currently know it, started as a pre-pandemic idea between two entrepreneurial friends and college roommates, Graham Wasilition and Michael Bumgarner. Friends for 20 years, the two had previously built businesses in the plant-based wellness and premium alcoholic beverage spaces but wanted to explore a new way of living. Both still drink alcohol but found themselves being much more intentional about when, where, and what they were drinking and were really enjoying eating and drinking things with unique, complex, diverse, original and bold flavors.
We sat down with Graham to catch up and see how they got started!
Give us the scoop! How did Tenneyson come to be?
We felt the market was lacking a beverage option that “spoke to us” in the same edgy, sophisticated manner of traditional spirit brands while also delivering something worthy for our palates that was sippable on the rocks.
A brand that mocked or mimicked a traditional category while coming up short didn’t really excite us so we set out to make the world’s most bold, flavorful, and complex liquid botanical drink for big thinkers, high performers, and those with outrageously good taste.
Anything else coming out this year?
We are working on a few new things! First and foremost, we want to try an additional formfactor. Same Tenneyson but in a smaller can.
Our current 750mL offering has been a big hit because it can live harmoniously on your bar cart or at an on-premise account but as a business who is committed to removing barriers so that people can “sip with intention” we are going to launch a smaller, canned format for even more occasions.
Any new flavors we can get excited about?
In addition to the new size, we are working on a couple new flavors that hit different parts of the palate but still have that bold/complex Tenneyson base that we have gotten incredibly positive feedback on.
There is not a date on the calendar to launch new flavors yet but wanted you to know it was in the works.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done as a small business owner?
Ha. That's a loaded question and there are a lot of crazy things that one must do to succeed as a small business owner but our most recent adventure resulted in driving through the night from Austin to Georgia.
After weeks of being sold out of Tenneyson and with Dry January orders piling up, we had to get one final ingredient to our production partner in Georgia from TX in order for us to produce more product. At the last minute, our production partner had an opening to start producing two weeks earlier if we could get everything to them by Friday, Janauary 27th. The catch? We were just missing one ingredient, one of our gingers that takes over a month to source, which was due to deliver in Georgia that same Friday. Everything seemed to be lining up for us to start production on Monday, January 30th except when Friday came, the missing ingredient showed up in Austin instead of Georgia. With some quick thinking, we overnighted the ingredient to our production manager's home in Georgia but when it didn't show up as delivered on Saturday, some sleuthing showed us that it was stuck somewhere in a hub in Texas still. Emphasis on the word somewhere.
We've all experienced the exhilarating ride that is the 1-800 Customer Service number, which was no help in locating the exact wherabouts of our package. After spending a weekend of my life with customer service, I was assured it would arrive in Georgia by Monday morning. Then, at 5:50am on Monday morning, our package was scanned in at the same TX hub.
Our production partner had stuck their necks out for us already by scheudling production without this ingredient on site. They were ready to produce and we needed to get them that ginger! With one more extension, they pushed production to start Tuesday morning. Since it had just been scanned, I hustled my way over to the hub, trying to locate the ginger.
After 10 hours of begging, pleading, bribing multiple shifts with Chick-fil-A and telling them we'd be out of business if we didn't get this package, I finally had the elusive ginger in my hands at 6:30pm Monday night. Turns out, it had been mis-loaded on a delivery truck that had been driving around Austin all day.
Since failure was not an option, I hit the road to Georgia immediately, calculating that with the time change, if I drove straight through the night, I'd make it to the facility right at 9am. I drove through dark fog through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, arriving at the facility at 9:15am.
14 hours and 860 miles later, the long-awaited Tenneyson production run finally started. While the delivery itself wasn't what I'd imagined on my cross country trek, the team told me, "That's why we're glad we partnered with you...we know you'll do whatever it takes to make this work."
And that's why we do what we do. Developing a business is a path filled with make-or-break moments and we know this was a make moment for us.
What’s your favorite way to drink Tenneyson?
That's a no brainer for me: On the rocks with an orange peel.
There are many customers, including my wife, who would rather top it with sparkling water or mix it into a no-or-low proof cocktail but sipping a “spirit” on the rocks has something romantic about it even though I realize not everyone enjoys the “punch” it can pack.
Many of the N/A products on the market are meant to be mixed with something but Tenneyson stands out because it is definitely enjoyable and sippable on its own.
We know that Tenneyson is a better for you option, but what are the main benefits our customers should know about?
First and foremost, the main benefit to any non-alcoholic alternative is the fact that it's non-alcholic.
Any additional “functional” ingredients are secondary to the fact that you are choosing to sip a non-alcholic option instead of alcohol.
That being said, we chose ingredients that deliver complex and sophisticated flavors first but are generally recognized as good for gut, brain, skin, and sleep health.
What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned since launching Tenneyson?
There are a lot more people who feel the same way that we do about “sipping with intention” than we originally thought. We started this project pre-pandemic and the market has quickly outpaced our expectations. We have learned there are many, many people out there like us that don’t demonize drinking or alcoholic products but just want a worthy and sippable option that seamlessly integrates into their routines.
What’s the best and worst feedback you’ve gotten about Tenneyson?
One customer, who I believe is a professional writer, used some relatively strong eloquent verbiage:
“Graham and his team have created the ideal beverage, as I told my wife, Black Ginger tastes like a wonderfully nuanced, potent, and non-toxic tea that we've swiped from a better planet than our own. The taste is unmistakable: ginger, pepper, honey, orange, and maybe a hint of pineapple. On the first couple of sips, it's hard to trace any definitive flavor because they're so fabulously inter-mixed.… If you're looking to circumnavigate the shallow waters of alcohol and find yourself in deeper waters, you owe it to yourself to give Tenneyson a try."
The worst feedback is probably people’s unwillingness to try our product because they write off the idea that something non-alcoholic can be worthy to sip on in traditionally alcoholic occasions…
What’s the number one question you get asked from customers?
Always get the question: "Am I supposed to feel something when I drink it?"
Our answer typically is: "Yes. To feel worthy and satisfied."
What’s in Tenneyson’s future?
We hope to continue growing and making an impact. As we have stated a few times, it is our mission to get people to think about what “sipping with intention” means to them and we want to make it easier for them to choose to “sip with intention” on as many occasions as we possibly can.
If you could describe Tenneyson in one word, what would it be?