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April 18, 2024

S1E8 - De l'industrie des boissons à celle du cannabis avec Drew Cesario

Cette semaine, nous discutons avec Drew Cesario, vice-président des ventes de marques chez NorCal Cannabis. Nous avons parlé de l'évolution des ventes d'alcool DTC, de ses expériences...

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Logo blanc WISK-> All episodes <-

April 18, 2024

S1E8 - De l'industrie des boissons à celle du cannabis avec Drew Cesario

Cette semaine, nous discutons avec Drew Cesario, vice-président des ventes de marques chez NorCal Cannabis. Nous avons parlé de l'évolution des ventes d'alcool DTC, de ses expériences...

Lien vers le lecteur Podcast d'AppleLien vers le lecteur Podcast de SpotifyLien vers le lecteur Google Podcasts

Notes du spectacle

Episode Notes

Drew Cesario, VP of Marketing and Sales at NorCal Cannabis, shares his journey from the beverage industry to the cannabis space. He started his career in the beverage industry, working at companies like The Wine Group and Southern Wine and Spirits. He highlights the importance of finding mentors and building relationships in the industry. Drew discusses the three-tier system in the beverage industry and the challenges of working on both the producer and distributor sides. He also talks about his time at Bacardi and the importance of storytelling and building relationships with bartenders. Angelo Esposito discusses his transition from the beverage industry to the cannabis industry, highlighting the importance of authenticity and investment in learning about the cannabis culture. He emphasizes the need to understand the scale and distributor-supplier relationship in the cannabis industry. Esposito also shares insights into the different products offered by NorCal Cannabis, including high-end flower, lifestyle brands, and outdoor brands. He discusses the challenges and opportunities in the cannabis industry, including the potential for cannabis lounges and the importance of understanding the complexities of cannabis consumption.


  • Building relationships and finding mentors are crucial in the hospitality and beverage industry.
  • The three-tier system in the beverage industry can be complex, with different regulations and relationships between producers and distributors.
  • Storytelling and building relationships with bartenders are important for success in the industry.
  • Campaigns and competitions, like the Bombay Sapphire and Bacardi Legacy cocktail competitions, can be impactful in engaging bartenders and promoting brands. Transitioning from the beverage industry to the cannabis industry requires authenticity and investment in learning about the cannabis culture.
  • Understanding scale and the distributor-supplier relationship is crucial in the cannabis industry.
  • NorCal Cannabis offers a range of products, including high-end flower, lifestyle brands, and outdoor brands.
  • The cannabis industry presents both challenges and opportunities, such as the potential for cannabis lounges and the need to understand the complexities of cannabis consumption.


00:00 Introduction and Background

08:31 Navigating the Three-Tier System

29:02 Developing Relationships with Spirits

35:10 Contributing to Social Causes

48:19 NorCal Cannabis' Product Range

54:27 Advice for Transitioning to the Cannabis Industry


Connect with Drew Cesario via Linkedin!


Angelo Esposito [00:00:06]:

Welcome to Wisking it all with your host, Angela Sposito, co founder of Wisk.AI, a food and beverage intelligence platform. We're going to be interviewing hospitality professionals around the world to really understand how they do what they do, from chefs to owners, mixologists to bar managers, you name it. We want to provide you guys with a ton of value, anything hospitality related. Welcome to another episode of Wisking it all. We're here today with Drew Cesario from Norcal Cannabis, who's the vp of marketing and sales. Drew, thanks for being here.

Drew Cesario [00:00:50]:

Great to be here.

Angelo Esposito [00:00:51]:

Yeah. So one of the reasons I was excited to really have you on the show was you're in the cannabis space, but for the longest time, you've been in the beverages, the hospitality space. And so I wanted to go through your journey of you've worked at just to highlight some companies, from the wine company group to southern wine and spirits, the absolut, and we'll go through all that. But, Cardi, you have quite the amount of experience when it comes to beverage, and so I definitely want to highlight that and talk about that transition to the cannabis space. I appreciate you being here. And one of the places we generally start is just the early days, I should say. When did you first get into, you know, hospitality or the beverage industry?

Drew Cesario [00:01:22]:

Yeah, I got to really move into the beverage industry because I saw a family inside of it and a lot of friends inside of it that were able to find that niche that was, like, rewarding. Right out of college, took a job where I was doing marketing strategy for target, National Geographic, inside of an office, absolutely hating it and assuming that everyone hated their jobs. So after three long years, like, convinced to move into beverage and get a rollover at the wine group, which a mentor of mine really helped me acquire. And it took some time to get, but it was really exciting. I mean, I got to work with brands like Franzia and Cupcake, and that value segment that allowed me to learn the fundamentals, and I got to do that across New York metro and learn the distributor side with some of wine and spirits, and then certainly on the supplier side, since they're the second wine supplier.

Angelo Esposito [00:02:09]:

Wow. And so when you first started, what got you interested to switch from, like you said, National Geographic or working on that side of things to switching to the beverage world? Right. What got you into that first job, into the wine group?

Drew Cesario [00:02:21]:

Yeah. Who doesn't like to drink? It was a little bit of that. I think there's a little bit of pragmatism around spirits and wine. As a whole is a steady industry. It's been around for a few centuries, with the exception of prohibition, but I think there was a lot of romance behind it. I think that there's a lot of romance between both the brewery side with beer and the wine side bitter culturalists. And I think just having a relationship with those spirits was really exciting for me to get back to a little bit of agrarian roots and storytelling versus this standard day to day job that I think a lot of people ran out of college are facing, which is like, go into a cubicle, burn 30 years, come out, and hopefully be happy with the money you make, putting that.

Angelo Esposito [00:03:02]:

Happiness towards the future. That whole idea of one day, one day I'll be happy, and then 30 years of it, your life flies by. So I'm super curious. So tell me a bit about the wine group. So you were at the wine group. Was your first job? Maybe. The first question I have is, how did you go about getting a mentor? One of the things that we often talk about on this podcast is the importance of learning from your own mistakes, but also learning from other people's mistakes, and that kind of importance of finding a mentor. So how did you go about finding your mentor in the beverage space?

Drew Cesario [00:03:27]:

I was religiously curious and, like, engaging with people that were successful there. I was lucky enough, let me take a step back. I was lucky enough where my uncle, Luis Cesario was able to bring me it, and he took a chance on me, and that gave me a giant foundation to stand on. And he gave me day to day advice for the first year nearly on, like, how to navigate the distributor supplier relationship. But from there, I was able to make other relationships, certainly inside the distributor and other people within the company, that could help me navigate the role itself. And I think that it's just important. I think a lot of people are more, I think, worried about asking for help than realizing, like, people are really excited about helping. I sign up for mentor opportunities actually a lot now, and I think I didn't cultivate as much as I could have to be a mentee.

Drew Cesario [00:04:22]:

And I think people just seem like these people don't have time for me and they've got this entire story in their head. And I think more often than not, people are really excited to share what they know. People always like talking about what they know and talking about themselves. But I think people overall, especially in this industry, hospitality as a whole, are givers. Like, they want to share and help people navigate, especially how dynamic the space is, let alone this year itself. I think a lot of people don't necessarily totally have the answers, but they can tell you, like, what didn't work for them. And at the end of the year, I would buy these Lukwall wine keys, and I write out notes, and I would say thank you for the feedback. And it cost me per person, maybe $20, but it went a long way with them showing gratitude and appreciation that I really appreciated their time and attention.

Drew Cesario [00:05:09]:

And I think that, like, converted people to, hey, I'll pick up the phone when this guy calls.

Angelo Esposito [00:05:13]:

That's cool. That's interesting, because I think about it even in my world. Like, I'm the tech world. Hospitality, but tech and same thing. You'd be surprised. And then I could totally relate. How many people are willing to help? As long as you're willing to put in the time, you can't be lazy. But I think people can feel when you're genuine, when you want to learn, and when you're coming from that angle, I think people are really willing to help and share their knowledge.

Angelo Esposito [00:05:33]:

So it's awesome. And so tell me, before we move on, you were at the wine group. Tell me a bit about what specifically you were doing at the wine group, and I'd love to hear about some maybe learnings you had during your time there before moving on.

Drew Cesario [00:05:45]:

Sure. It's been a little while since I talked to the wine group, but first of all, they put me on a training program because I didn't know anything about Beveridge. And I got to travel around to Rochester, Albany, like, a lot of different. A lot of different areas and states that I was just physically moving, rotating boxes of Franzia. So, like, Franzia comes in a five pack. It's usually a five liters, which is 25 liters of wine in a box and has an expiration date, which is a lot of their competitors don't have an expiration date. And so I would physically go into the basements of a lot of these huge retailers across the state and other states, and, like, physically unstack stuff, and then move out and credit them on everything that expires. It was a lot of that for the first few months, I remember, like, being on the road and finding the romance of traveling for work and then that quickly dying after living in a suitcase for two months and not, like, waking up and not knowing where I was, my girlfriend had to send me flowers because it was miserable.

Drew Cesario [00:06:40]:

But, like, from there, when I came back to New York and was able to add a little value, because I knew a little bit more about the role and being able to touch a lot of different people along the way. I was really engaging, trying to get cupcake wine, which was the fastest wine at the time, to a million cases, like in restaurants, bars, clubs, hotels. So I was able to, like, go to strip clubs and sell cupcake prosecco because it was a really great price for their comp bottle. And I was, like, buying little ways to make sure that it was relevant in these, like, pockets. So I leaned a lot on my distribution partners and take them out for dinners and tell them, like, hey, I'm reliable. If you set me up with an account, I'll follow through. And, like we were referencing earlier, like, this whole industry is stacked on relationships and being reliable, I had to prove to them, for one, I'll show up, I'll add value, and I'll be reliable for the long haul, and you can count on me. And after I was able to, like, kind of show them and demonstrate that, then they allowed me to open up other accounts for them.

Drew Cesario [00:07:35]:

And I was doing off premise as well. So I like to think of myself as, like, a kind of an intentionally lazy person. So we had these three liter bags in the box wines that we were, like, really trying to get off the ground. And I would give them to retailers and give them, like, mini tasting cups, and I would just comp them as many of those three liter back of the box ones. So at the counter at checkout, they could just try wine, and then if they liked it, they'd go buy it. So it's like in store tastings are really important. They're definitely the bedrock of getting new brands off the ground. They're miserable experience, but they're really important.

Angelo Esposito [00:08:08]:

Yeah, that's interesting. So, and I was always curious, how does that work? I was spending time in Toronto, obviously. Originally, I'm from Montreal. So both in Quebec, the province and Ontario, it's all privatized. So I guess you got to make that relationship and then you can sample. How does sampling. I was always curious to work in the states because most of these liquor stores are privately owned. How does that process work when you want to get into the store, is it like a one off or is it, or is there, like, a hierarchy you have to go through?

Drew Cesario [00:08:31]:

It depends. You mean for the hierarchy of how many tastings you need to do or, like, how to get into the tasting?

Angelo Esposito [00:08:38]:

How to get into it? Yeah. How do you, like, you want to sample a new wine? What does that process look like?

Drew Cesario [00:08:44]:

It's really generating pull through. So the retailer wants it as much as you want it. Right? Like, they're, for the most part, especially when it comes to new wine, even if it's part of a bigger group, like the wine group, they're going to ask you to do it. And you might actually, of course, like, offer to do it, but you're going to need to schedule that out. But some of the higher end wine shops are going to have a schedule for months out because a lot of volume pulls through there and they've got clientele that are willing to pull the trigger depending on what the tastings are. It's like the tastings at Costco work. No one would be doing them, right? They work. And so it's a good way to get people to taste your product, and it's a good way for people to, like, actually engage with it when it's now labeled.

Angelo Esposito [00:09:24]:

No, that makes sense. And I guess, honestly, since this was, like, you know, a while back, I could totally see that. I guess I wonder, how do you go about competing, right? Like, when there's so many different skus and companies of wine, how do you go about competing for that tasting? Right? Because I could see how the store want to do the tasting, but how do you get your product to be the one they want to taste versus the hundreds of others kind of thing?

Drew Cesario [00:09:44]:

It's a good question. To begin with, you've got to do the storytelling up front. Like, what sets you apart? There's an origin story of everything, even if it's New Zealand Sauvignon blocks on fire. And so we opened up, we decided to have two more New Zealand Sauvignon blocks, which was definitely the case in New York at that time. There's a thousand New Zealand Sauvignon on everyone's menu, especially at liquor stores. But I think building a rapport with the retailer themselves, bringing them out, knowing, being curious about who they are, finding ways to, like, get them outside of the store or if they're really difficult importance store, get them outside of the store, take them to a ball game, take them to dinner, learn a little bit about them, what sets them apart, what are they interested in? What wines actually did they like? I would go as far as, like, buying other people's wines and giving it to them to make sure that, like, I could get preferential treatment on that, on that calendar schedule. And then when I show up, like, I would always do the tasting, I would never farm it out, and I would be, like, ready and engaged to do it. They want to make sure that their customers that are walking through are happy with the experience itself.

Drew Cesario [00:10:41]:

And if you're going to stand there on your cell phone, like behind a booth there, going to bring you back, it doesn't matter how, like, engaging you are with them. Like, it's all about their customers. And so you've got to make sure that you do it or somebody on your team does it that can do the storytelling. Don't farm it out to a beautiful young girl who typically is the role for this but hasn't been trained on the product. I'm not saying that it can't be done, but a lot of times people don't invest in training and developing these people because they're hourly one or two gig employees. So if you are going to do that, invest in the storytelling, make sure that they can reiterate it back.

Angelo Esposito [00:11:15]:

That makes total sense. And then you were there at the wine group, kind of got your feet wet, started learning about the beverage industry, traveling, all that kind of stuff. So what did that transition look like to then go to southern wine and spirits, which is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, distributor in the states? So how did that transition happen? And then tell me a bit about your role there.

Drew Cesario [00:11:33]:

So what's interesting about the wine group in Gallo is that they actually want you to cut your teeth on the streets with them. Then you'll go into the distributor as a foot soldier, salesman, saleswoman for two years, and then come back and then do a state management role, usually in like a secondary state or a tertiary state. And so I was able to ride that path into southern wine and spirits. I didn't come back because I didn't have opportunities that currently fit what I was looking for. But it was great moving into southern wine and spirits on premise in Manhattan, selling wine. And it was an exciting time to sell wine in Manhattan. It's nearly, with the exception of 2020, like always an exciting time to sell wine in Manhattan. You get to learn a lot.

Drew Cesario [00:12:13]:

There's a lot of, like, boutique suppliers that you can partner with that you don't compete with, like temper Neo. That allows you to broaden your wine knowledge, and it's really encouraged to go out there and get your CSW, your CSS, your WSAT, and so you can speak the language. And so I was able to work there, make sure that I invested in developing my wine knowledge and was able to, again, build relationships on premise with those.

Angelo Esposito [00:12:39]:

Right. And for people who don't know, can you just give them an idea of the scale of southern wine and spirits? Because I'm always amazed when I realized how big they are. So I don't know. Maybe if you could point to some numbers in terms of size or number of employees or number of reps, but, like, it's quite a fascinating company in terms of the beverage space.

Drew Cesario [00:12:57]:

Yeah, they're not in every state, but they're in every state that matters. And they might offend some people, but it's just true. Yeah, they're a beast of a company, and there's certainly pros and cons to that, but. So the one in spirits is the dominant force on the distribution side of the country. And I would say, I guess to put it into numbers, there's no way that they don't have 20,000 employees. They're doing over a billion dollars or a couple billion dollars in New York alone when I was there. They're the biggest company that you don't know of. If you don't know the beverage industry, they are the choke point of the three tier system.

Angelo Esposito [00:13:31]:

Yeah. On that note, actually, I think a lot of people don't know about the three tier system that are not in the industry. So can you paint the picture for people to understand how the beverage world works?

Drew Cesario [00:13:41]:

Yeah. After prohibition, the series the Volstead acts, it was required by Congress to make sure that the corruption that was really feeding the underground booze industry at that time would be broken up. So you had suppliers, breweries, distilleries, wineries, could not own distributors. And then those distributors, of course, could not own retail. Now, if you go to China or Hong Kong and some other places, like, you'll see that there might be a martell bar or a diageo bar, like, owned by these conglomerates and able to represent their products in the same way that you would see, like, an Adidas outlet. It's antiquated. It's interesting. It adds to some competition.

Drew Cesario [00:14:22]:

And in some cases, when you have a lot of consolidation over decades, it can certainly stifle competition as well.

Angelo Esposito [00:14:28]:

And so at the top, right, you got your producers, let's say, like you said, diageo, Bacardi, etcetera, they got their portfolio of brands. And then I was always curious, so maybe you could even just clarify for me. When these brands work with suppliers, whether it's southern one and spirits or breakthrough republic, whatever it is, how do they work with. Is it. Sorry, let me take a step back. Are brands exclusive per distributor, or can many distributors carry the same brand? I was always, like, curious about how that worked and then pricing wise. Right. Can I buy a certain vodka from southern wine and spirits, but also from Republic.

Angelo Esposito [00:14:58]:

And then what differentiates that relationship? Or is it just the relationship that the distributor has with the supplier? They get preferential pricing or something.

Drew Cesario [00:15:06]:

So, yeah, it depends on state to state. So each state has its own laws around that. So for Massachusetts, for example, like once you as a distributor give, or once you as a supplier give a distributor a product, and it could just be like one line, let's say absolute. This is an example. Absolute as a brand is represented in two different distributors. But in order to move it from one distributor to another, you actually, they have rights to that revenue essentially into perpetuity. It's a kind of a, it's an absolute nightmare. Like, you cannot move it.

Drew Cesario [00:15:40]:

And so in order to move it, you have to have your distributor, if you want to move it from one to another, trade them for another supplier's product, and then get that supplier to, of course, want that to happen as well. And that isn't the case in New York, but they do have exclusivity contracts in New York. So it's a little bit more fluid. I know that empire distributors used to represent Bacardi, and then Bacardi moved over to southern wine spirits earlier this decade. I forget when, but, yeah, that was a pretty big deal. And then Florida is like a little bit more loose as a whole, and things can move a little bit more fluidly from what I remember versus all of those. So it really depends and it's wildly dynamic.

Angelo Esposito [00:16:19]:

Yeah. Okay. Wow. I'm glad I'm asking you because I've always been curious about these things, but like you said, it's quite complex, and I forgot about that too. You're looking at it per state. And, and another quick question. This is for my own curiosity and hopefully for our listeners as well. But can a distributor work with more than one producer? Or is it exclusivity if I work with Bacardi? I'm with Bacardi.

Angelo Esposito [00:16:36]:

Or can I have Bacardi products and diageo products and, I don't know, beams and tori products or whatever it is?

Drew Cesario [00:16:41]:

Yeah, there's no regulation there. Yeah, they can have. That's what I was loosely referencing to southern wine and spirits, is that although they are an incredible company, for sure, there's no doubt about it, once they start becoming, have such a large book, some of these smaller suppliers become less of a priority, and there's only so much bandwidth on any backbar that they're going to get. That's why southern wine and spirits will sometimes, like, actually break up. So they have the fine wine division in New York called Lauber, and that doesn't even go by southern wine spirits. It goes by Lauper. Southern wine spirits does the fulfillment of it, but they have different reps, they have different conversations, and they represent themselves very independently for the most part, in representing this fine wine portfolio. Yeah.

Drew Cesario [00:17:27]:

Their goal as a distributor is to soak up as many suppliers as possible, because then you're just, you have, like, any store or retailer or restaurant or club, hotel like, has to order from.

Angelo Esposito [00:17:38]:

Which makes a ton of sense. So at this point, you're racking up a bunch of experience. Right. Your time at the wine group's finish, you're working at southern wine and spirits, one of the biggest, if not the biggest, distributor in the States. What's next? What's next? And why do you transition out of southern wine and spirits? What did things look like for you, and where were you at in terms of your career? To be like, okay, I want something different, because I think a lot of people, just to paint the picture, I think a lot of listeners who are in the beverage space, whether it's distributors or actual producers or brand ambassadors, sometimes may be scared to move from one career to another. And one thing that I admire about you is that I can see that transition of growth going from one, then learning and going to the next. So I love to hear maybe the reasoning behind your transition. You were at southern wine and spirits.

Angelo Esposito [00:18:20]:

What was next for you?

Drew Cesario [00:18:21]:

Yeah, I felt like I really had to move on. I was speaking with actually a lot of my mentors at Southern, Billy Reagan, Joseph Eager. And they were referencing how I was one of a number of guys in line that were very suited to take the next district manager role. And I really felt that I needed to get off of the streets, mostly because, like, long term, it's a tough job, and you start making really good money, and it's hard to walk away from. This is like the proverbial golden handcuffs, right? You, like, end up in this role. You cultivate your territory, you develop all these relationships, and then it's really hard to walk away if you want to, depending on what career path you want, because you start making very good money. And I just knew for me, long term, I didn't want to be a salesman forever. There's some people that are still friends of mine that are there and actually murder it.

Drew Cesario [00:19:09]:

And I look back and wonder if I made the right decision. Those guys are, they've got great lives, man. And they just told me, like, realistically, there's a lot of people with more experience that have been here longer, that have been waiting in line, that we need to hire as district managers. I wasn't going to make that transition anytime soon. I was hungry. And so I took a role at team enterprises to work on the Bacardi portfolio up in Boston, and that kind of got me out of New York. And I felt also it was important for me to diversify the locations in which I worked in. So I understood the distributor footprint and also had, like, relationships all over the country, which is why I've gone from New York to Boston to California.

Angelo Esposito [00:19:48]:

Okay, that's really cool. So what was the biggest shift going from a distributor? Right. You were at southern wine and spirits and then going to team and specifically working on the Bacardi portfolio. So now you're going from a distributor to the producer side. So what was the biggest shift working for a producer versus the actual distributor?

Drew Cesario [00:20:05]:

I would say the biggest shift was, for one, like, learning the agency model. I got to work alongside John Cicero, who certainly had been there for a while, and was. And my cousin Ashley Cesario was actually in the role before me. Even my cousin Theresa Cesario had been at Bacardi at the same time in Chicago. So all of them really helped me navigate in the day to day what's happening. It's a pretty incestuous little scenario, right?

Angelo Esposito [00:20:31]:

Yeah. Plus, you said you had your uncle's in the business too, right? So I guess it's amazing.

Drew Cesario [00:20:35]:

I was very fortunate to be recruited into captain and had a lot of family to lean on in this path. But the biggest challenge was to be relevant to the distributor. The distributor, like we were mentioning earlier, like their whole business model is to have as many suppliers as possible, so they have the biggest book possible, so they're relevant to as many retailers and outlets as possible. And so to be relevant, you need to go back to. I had to go back to my roots of what I was doing at the wine group. Cultivate relationships directly with retailers and restaurants, bars, clubs. Like, really, mine was on premise, so I was going to the nicest restaurants, bars, clubs, hotels, and making sure that I was adding value to them, to their current program, whether it made sense or not, from a fiscal sense. And then I would turn around and say, like, to the distributor rep on the ground that was managing the relationship, like, hey, I just added a new cocktail on, do you mind, like, bringing me for write along? As you can see, like, I add value.

Drew Cesario [00:21:30]:

Like, I know what I'm talking about. Now that I know these, the storyline and I've got an expense account that can support pull through at your accounts. Can we work together? So really it's starting again from nothing, especially in a new city, a little bit, adding value everywhere you go, and then building some momentum in the relationships that you're cultivating.

Angelo Esposito [00:21:49]:

I've always been curious about that. Maybe you can paint the image for me, and I apologize, but I'm a curious person. I love to learn. So from the distributor point of view, I think it's obvious, or at least more obvious for our listeners of how it works. And you're pushing product and building these relationships and on premise. Off premise, that kind of stuff when it comes to the actual producers. In this case, let's say you're working on the Bacardi portfolio. How does that relationship work? So you're still cultivating relationships.

Angelo Esposito [00:22:12]:

You're still talking about the different brands you carry and whatnot. But ultimately, I guess the part, the link that's missing in my head is how do you work directly with, let's say, the restaurant or bar, but then it has to go through the distributor. So do you have to have both relationships? Like, how does that, I guess, triangle work?

Drew Cesario [00:22:28]:

Yeah, you have to have both relationships. And generally, as a supplier, your geographic relationship spans at least four or five distributor salespeople. And you've got to navigate. It's interesting because, like, sometimes you'll sell in stuff that the distributor is not happy about because you're taking actually and bumping off a supplier that they already represent. So you need to really know what their book is so that you're not, like, upsetting some business that they need because you're going to alienate them. They've got their own goals and quotas across their whole suppliers. So you need to understand, like, what is in their book. And before you take something off out of a key account that does a lot of volume, you got to make sure that it's not something that is theirs.

Drew Cesario [00:23:08]:

And if it is theirs, get their blessing a little bit overall, like, it's their problem. But you want to keep the relationship going. And so you can't just go out there and switch business around it. Like, they've got a goal in mind of how they're going to hit their numbers and how they make their money. So it is funky, like going into accounts and restaurants and, like, looking at what's behind the cocktail menu. And you've got to maintain both relationships. And sometimes those relationships aren't great, like naturally, like any relationship, like on a large enough scale, there's going to be people that don't like working with each other, and you just gotta be a good middleman. Like, you're the nice guy that comes around, adds value, sits at the bar, drinks, brings people, brings people out from the restaurant, and hopefully amends relationships in some cases that aren't going well.

Angelo Esposito [00:23:51]:

Yeah, now that makes sense. Would you say it's harder, and I guess it's subjective, but from your point of view, was it harder to work for the producer side or for the distributor side?

Drew Cesario [00:24:01]:

It depends on how introverted or extroverted you are. You gotta be fairly extroverted no matter what these roles are. You just have to be. But you are, if you're, like, on the ground as a supplier, directly selling into accounts, you've got to be a little bit more extroverted because you are not relevant unless you make yourself relevant. If you're a distributor rep, like, they have to order from you, you are their account manager, and then the supplier has to work with you to put in at least orders when they get an order. You can rest on your laurels a little bit more because you are literally of the three tier system. You are the choke point. So you've got to be out there a lot as a supplier and do a lot of things that are engaging to make yourself relevant and worth picking up the phone for.

Angelo Esposito [00:24:45]:

Yeah, now that makes sense. And honestly, as you were saying, it never hit me, but it like having to manage both relationships as on the producer side, managing the distributor in the restaurant seems like it'd be. Again, I'm just speaking from a third point of view here, but it seems like it'd be more difficult to certain extent. I'm sure both come with challenges, but definitely, I'm just thinking about managing the restaurant and the actual rep, and it's a lot to handle. And at your time at Bacardi, what were some of the things that you've worked on, lessons learned at your time when working at Bacardi that you can share with our listeners in the industry?

Drew Cesario [00:25:14]:

Yeah, I think what makes Bacardi so great is that they've got rich stories of their products. They're very good at storytelling, and they're really good at trade marketing, and that really comes from team enterprises and really, like, their vision of making sure that Bacardi is relevant with the bartenders behind the stick. And so I think what was so great was being able to do the Bombay Sapphire and Bacardi legacy cocktail competitions. It was a reason for me, when I was new in Boston, to engage with people who wanted to win these competitions and a reason for them to talk to me. So I got to meet people that I'm still friends with, like, Brand Juan, who, like, went on to win nearly, like, everything out there when it came to Bombay Sapphire and Picardy legacy and work with them on the cocktails and at least give feedback. The little that I knew about, like, an unsophisticated cocktail palate, I got to sit back and watch, but, like, also throw the events themselves and engage the Boston USBG on the event and what was, like, the opportunity at hand. And I think for the first time, too, like, I realized, like, how fun a career in the spirits industry could be. It was just a lot of it was.

Drew Cesario [00:26:21]:

We were paid to go out there and, like, actually just make bartending and the supplier distributor relationship, like, as easy as possible. That was really the goal.

Angelo Esposito [00:26:31]:

And for our listeners that don't know, can you just paint a quick image of what the Bombay campaign was? Yeah.

Drew Cesario [00:26:36]:

The Bombay Sapphire. I think it's a creative or innovative cocktail, and they would really cultivate people who were in this, like, artistry campaign, like, how they could find really interesting ingredients to elevate what they were putting out. And it was really somewhat near the beginning of the bigger cocktail movement. And I think, like, it challenged people to look outside of the box of what was typically easy to pour with gin. And I remember Rand won one with a yuzu cocktail. It's been, I don't know, like, eight years since that competition, so I don't know the rest of the ingredients, but challenge people to tell their story, which was a really big part of the competition, is, like, what was their relationship with spirits? What was their story? And, like, why the cocktail itself? So it really perfected, like, a little bit of storytelling, public speaking, and also the build on the cocktail, and, of course, how it all came together. But it was engaging for people to have this cocktail competition and a lot of different interests. Places, like, I held a oyster.

Drew Cesario [00:27:38]:

It was like a lobster and oyster fest, like, on one of the Boston harbor Islands. And that's where I got to have my cocktail competition. It didn't actually make a ton of sense. Getting ice out there and everything else was a total nightmare, but it was a blast, and I think everyone had a good time, and a lot of people hadn't even been. Who lived in Boston, hadn't been to one of the Boston harbor Islands. Yeah. So it was, like, a good experience again, like, for people to just come together, have drinks, and visit with people in the.

Angelo Esposito [00:28:02]:

And it's funny how impactful campaigns like this can be, because just as a quick side story, one of our first guests on the podcast was Kevin DeMarison. Kevin is a owner from Montreal, has got a couple of venues like the cold Room, alpacaino bar, etcetera. But when we were chatting on the podcast, his first story of what kind of got him excited from starting off bartending for cash kind of thing on the side to really getting into it, was actually the campaign you just spoke about. And he said he ended up. He was surprised because he was this new guy and he ended up winning this competition in Canada. And then he got flown down to Vegas and he gave this whole story about how a $15 cocktail changed his life. So it's funny how it's come full circle, you mentioning this campaign, and it just triggered that memory in my head of Kevin and how it literally changed his world. And now he owns three, four venues and it's his life.

Angelo Esposito [00:28:46]:

But really cool. Yeah, funny how it came full circle.

Drew Cesario [00:28:49]:

Those campaigns, I think, are just so engaging because for one, like certainly, like, from a business perspective, it gets all those people to represent Bombay Sapphire on their method. So there is like a fiscal pull through. It generates business for Bombay Sapphire, develops a relationship, an intimate relationship between the contestants and the gin itself, how to work with it, what are the botanicals set in it? But then I think more than that, because how many bottles does that really move a Bombay Sapphire? I would like it realistically, like, a big retailer in one stake moves through more of that than all of Bombay Sapphire's cocktail competitions combined. But more than all that, it does develop those relationships with the spirit. And though, like, it elevates, like, it helps Bombay Sapphire and Bacardi family contribute to the movement of within the. In the cocktail community. And I think that what they so authentically have done in a great way is, like, make sure that they are investing in the bartenders and their contribution to evolving, like, the on premise engagement, consumers engagement, like, of what is relevant to drink right now. And they are literally moving tastes.

Drew Cesario [00:29:56]:

They are taste makers. So I think that it's great for them to invest in the community, and I think it's a great way that they do it.

Angelo Esposito [00:30:02]:

So that makes a ton of sense. You end up leaving Bacardi portfolio and going to absolute Elix. So what incited that change or that transition?

Drew Cesario [00:30:10]:

Bacardi laid everyone off. So that incited that change. They laid off 25% of their internal company and really gutted the advocacy team that was over at team enterprises but, yeah, it's brutal to have my career path changed up like that. But I think it really happened for the better. I got to work with a lot of great people there, and then got to reset over at another supplier and work with the agency that they employ. So it was great to make that transition. And I had some family over there as well, and so they were able to help me navigate what the transition might look like. But they had not had anybody in the Boston area, and so was able take over representing New England for an up and coming spirit that Ricardo was putting a lot of money and investment into, which was Elex.

Drew Cesario [00:30:58]:

It was a pretty similar role as Bacardi. Bacardi's got a monster portfolio, right? So they've got Oxley, Bombay Sapphire, and certainly Bombay Sapphire east. They've got just a huge portfolio. Doers, Martini and Rossi, Grey Goose. The list goes on and on. And in this role, it was one expression, it was absolute Elix, and that was it. The driving force behind all the copper pineapples and the copper barware that people see fairly common behind back bars today. And I got to just really focus on vodka as a category, which is the largest category.

Drew Cesario [00:31:30]:


Angelo Esposito [00:31:31]:

Gotcha. And would you say that it was easier or harder going from, I don't know, how many brands with Bacardi to then one brand? Obviously, the big plus, I can imagine, is focus. But apart from that, what would you say were maybe some of the pros and cons?

Drew Cesario [00:31:42]:

A big pro, like you said, is focus. Right. Like, it's really easy to quantify your impact. Like, you're doing one thing versus trying to talk about whiskey or rum or vodka or vermouth or. Yeah, the list goes on with Bacardi, which is, again, great. But, like, the pro of Bacardi's portfolio is you can be relevant in any place. Like, you can be relevant anywhere.

Angelo Esposito [00:32:05]:

Yeah. Okay. So I can imagine that there's probably some pros and cons working on Bacardi portfolio, then transitioning to absolutes Elix, and really focusing on one specific brand. But I'd love to hear, from your perspective maybe, what some of those pros and cons were.

Drew Cesario [00:32:19]:

Certainly, I think a pro in working with Bacardi is that you're relevant to any outlet whatsoever. You can come in, talk about vodka, you can look at holes. What are they underrepresenting on their cocktail menu or at their store, and really find a gap, whether it be rum or gin or vodka or vermouth. Like, there's a reason to talk to you. So it was easy to break into any account with Bacardi because you had to talk to me like you had to. There was something that you weren't doing that we had something in the portfolio for on the other side of it. It lacked a lot of focus and it was difficult to move the needle on all fronts at all times. And so moving to absolute helix is, like, pretty easy, right? Like, I'm now the absolute helix guy.

Drew Cesario [00:32:57]:

That's all I do. Which can get a little monotonous because you can only have so many martinis a day, especially with having an elevated vodka. Their whole focus was certainly the cleaner drinking cocktail menu was really, like, where part of the menu is, like, where they wanted to be positioned. Yeah, it was a lot of martinis every single day, or a lot of vespers. So it was good. It was good. What made eek so fun too, is that they really knew that they had to create innovative cocktail serves and punches to be fun. Their whole investment in creating the copper pineapples and those larger flamingos for punch serves and disco balls, like, they made it relevant in a sea of tall frosted bottles.

Drew Cesario [00:33:37]:

They were able to cut through the noise pretty effectively.

Angelo Esposito [00:33:40]:

It's definitely iconic. When I even think about going to events, sometimes tales of the cocktail comes to mind. But like you said, you see the copper right away. Absolute Elix, definitely from a branding perspective. Good job there. And any memorable campaigns that you worked on when you were at Absolute Elix, anything that comes to mind in terms of just memorable or effective. Right. Like we gave examples of the campaign of Bombay back at Bacardi.

Angelo Esposito [00:34:00]:

Any parallels at Absolut?

Drew Cesario [00:34:02]:

Yeah, I think two come to mind. We were able to do some data digging and recognized that anywhere that had a copper serve was doing around eleven times as an outlet that wasn't. It became really the imperative to make sure that we were getting in these interesting serves to key restaurants and bars. So it was great to be able to have that resource of the copper pineapple or the disco ball or the Flamingo. And the list goes on. They're all eventually right behind me right now. Coincidentally, here's an owl.

Angelo Esposito [00:34:36]:

Side note, can those be purchased online?

Drew Cesario [00:34:38]:

They can actually. Wildly profitable section of the business has been like to focus on, you know, direct to consumer. The big business right now, the suppliers are trying to really get into is DTC. Yeah, the copper serves are incredible. I've got pineapple cufflinks that I've purchased since I left. Yeah, it's copper wallpaper right behind me, which I think was actually sold for a while. Yeah, they've done an incredible job taking a metal copper and making it just synonymous with absolute Elix, with the way that they actually do their distillation rectifying. And I think on the other note of what was really memorable is that absolute Elix.

Drew Cesario [00:35:15]:

And I think that they don't do as well of a job talking about it, but they have a partnership with water for people. And so for every bottle, they contribute about the equivalent of ten or twelve liters or 15 liters of clean drinking water. And so really what they're doing is actually going into these places with a partnership for water for people and actually developing wells that are self sustaining in these rural areas in South America and around the world. I was able to actually bring that story to life a few times, but I think it's one of these contributions that the spirits industry goes unnoticed for. And I think that it's great that they continue to do this. And in fact, like, if you buy any of the stuff from the boutique, a portion of proceeds go to support new wells being developed. And I think the future of, like, our generation is all about sustainability and it's all about, like, environmental impact and just being conscious about your footprint as a whole. And absolutely ux was very conscious of that.

Angelo Esposito [00:36:10]:

That's a great initiative. That's really cool. And it's interesting. I'm curious to know from your perspective, like, how are brands adapting or what have you seen? Because we just touched on it for a second and I thought it was quite cool. The d two c, right? The direct to consumer. As we all know, most people are staying at home these days. And so obviously direct to consumer is important. Have you seen any shifts in the industry, just from your perspective, like, that brands have done to be top of mind for people at home?

Drew Cesario [00:36:36]:

Yeah, I think that the big push is elevated cocktails at home in these, like, boxes and box programs. But I think it's lazy and dumb. Like, I just think it's lazy and dumb. I think that marketers right now are running out of ideas. It's been a hell of a year for them. They're at home, but no one, no one's making like five build cocktails at home with any volume. Like, they're just not doing it. No one's doing that.

Drew Cesario [00:36:59]:

I don't know the data, and I was actually talking to somebody yesterday about it, my cousin Teresa, and we were like, I would love to see the data of, like, how much D'Kuiper is selling or vermouth is selling versus like the standard stuff at home. Like vodka. Right. How much that's grown throughout this year? My guess is that it's not much like people are not building really dynamic cocktails at home. They just won't like. For one, it's wildly expensive. It has a tremendous amount of environmental impact because you're taking all that packaging and then shipping it. There's like bottles upon bottles inside of that one box and then on top of it, you've got to now make this thing and you're going to have one or two of them.

Drew Cesario [00:37:37]:

Are you really going to have a penicillin at home? Like, maybe one. You'll do it once. But I just think people have run out of ideas on how to remain relevant in this off premise world that the general volume is coming out of. I think absolute Elix is one of the few ways where they develop, like, interesting cocktail serves and they've offered those, and that's been able to, like, through the Elix boutique, remain relevant.

Angelo Esposito [00:37:58]:

That's a great answer. I think you nailed it because a lot more people are drinking at home and for obvious reasons. But what's interesting, I think, is that a lot of, like you said, companies, even just restaurants, bars, I know, are trying this whole cocktail at home thing. And it's, it's a good step one. But like you said, it's, how profitable can it really be and how many times will people actually do it? Maybe you do it once, but are you really going to be buying it every week and doing it right? And I think that's where I agree with you. Volume wise, I would question how profitable it really is.

Drew Cesario [00:38:25]:

It's not. There's no way that the customer acquisition cost, the initial customer acquisition cost actually pans out to be like, you've got to have a long tail customer in order for that to be profitable. And it's not because it costs too much to get there. Look at blue apron. Look at these volume plays on the food side. Like, you're just not seeing a lot of profitability there. Even other stocks.

Angelo Esposito [00:38:45]:

Yeah, I wonder if there's any beverage brands really trying different parallels. So what I'm thinking is companies that have such a strong brand that all of a sudden they get into. I don't want to take Apple as an example, but let's say we take Apple, right? Okay. They're known for computers, but then they got into cell phones and then they got into headphones. So, like, really diversifying their product offering. I wonder if there's opportunities for brands that are known, like, would someone sport a cool brand of clothing from, or sneakers or whatever it is, but, like, having that logo of a certain beverage brand, it could be interesting if I haven't seen it personally, but I wonder if there's opportunities there.

Drew Cesario [00:39:19]:

There is. For example, Laganitas has partnered and makes hop flavored cannabis drinks. They're in their backyard. They're great. They're absolutely incredible drinks. I love them. I pick them up anytime in California, which is all the time now, and occasionally, with the exception of the holidays. Yeah, they're great.

Drew Cesario [00:39:38]:

Just expanded into cannabis space. What's more iconic than, like, the Pabst blue ribbon logo? Everyone has had a pass, right? That's a great brand. There's brand affinity there. They may not. People may not have had it for a while, but there's nostalgia in a brand like that. And they've expanded into the cannabis space. Our generation is drinking less alcohol and I think focused more on health and wellness and balance than previous generations. And so I think it's important that beverage companies adjust.

Drew Cesario [00:40:06]:

Look at Kettle and their low abv botanical set. Like, that was something. There was another couple brands that have certainly focused on low abv, and they weren't able to penetrate that market and reach scale. But now, low Abb spirit brands, it's essentially gin. It's everything but the juniper and what kettle's put out, and they've done incredibly well.

Angelo Esposito [00:40:27]:

Yeah, that's super interesting, because we also had someone on the show who his whole company is cocktails in a can, but they're from LA, and the whole concept is really, like, from farm to can. So all the ingredients are natural, and their focus is instead of just the spirit being the focus, the spirit, that's super important. But it's every other ingredient that he was just telling us how it. What he sees, and it's interesting, is the same way that, I guess, craft beer has really spiked in the last 510 years. He envisions this kind of same trajectory when it comes to maybe the spirit worlds, converting that into low abv cocktails in a can. And that's his vision, which I can see. I can see how that will take off.

Drew Cesario [00:41:02]:

Yeah. RTDs make so much sense at home right now. Right. The RTDs are dominating, and that's because, again, people do not want to make five built cocktails at home. They're lazy. Everyone's tired at the end of the day, they've been inside their home all day. They're not going to do it.

Angelo Esposito [00:41:18]:

Yeah, no, I totally agree. And you touched on something which I think is an interesting point, is you think about the alcohol world and you think about prohibition back in the day, and then once it was, things were legalized, how this whole kind of three tier system was built, and now you got off premise and on premise. But what's interesting is taking that parallel, because you touched on it, on the cannabis space, where in many places still legal. In a lot of places, it's not anymore, it's legalized. So I think it'd be super interesting to jump a little into the cannabis space, because there's a few liquor brands getting to that space. But you are also somewhat of an expert, because going from all those different liquor companies, now you're working at norcal cannabis, and you're basically vp of sales and marketing. So I'd love to hear your thoughts on, like, where the cannabis space is going and maybe the parallel with the beverage space.

Drew Cesario [00:42:02]:

That's a lot. Where is the cannabis space going? It's an exciting time in cannabis. I'm really happy that we actually haven't had and federal legalization. I know a lot of people outside the industry might think that's absurd for me to say, but really, what it's allowed is a lot of boutique growers and a lot of infancy to be built, like, in respective states, and it'll be a hell of a mess to unwind all the respective laws that are everywhere across the respective states. Everywhere, from blanket, everything's illegal to medical to recreational. But you gotta think, like, if it went from zero to legal, federally legal, you would have RJ Reynolds, Constellation, Prairie card, you have all these dominating companies that would come in, they would throw down farms, and they would squash any small business from being able to be relevant. And so right now, it's great. Right now, it's so great because it's difficult to reach scale.

Drew Cesario [00:42:53]:

In some states, especially like Oklahoma, which is now recreational, you have to grow within your own state, can't cross state boundaries with any kind of biomass whatsoever. If you're going to be in multiple states, you've got to have legal teams that understand each state's respective stuff and, like, have grows in most states, really encourage vertical, vertical alignment. So, such as norcal cannabis, we grow several thousand pounds of indoor flower a month that we take down. We distribute that, we distribute other brands, we sell those to third party retailers, and we have a number of retail stores ourselves, we develop brands ourselves, and then that allows us to touch every component of the industry as a whole. And I think a lot of brands, a lot of companies have done a lot of fast paced institutional learning by being able to touch so many components of what's working, what's not working, and the changing laws around it coming out of Sacramento and in California. So I really like that we have not been federally legal so far. It's allowed companies, and of course, there's a ton of money floating through. It's floating from the United States, through Canada, back in the United States, into suppliers and distributors alike.

Drew Cesario [00:44:01]:

But it's allowed the infancy of the growers to actually still exist. And there's still, like a lot of mom and pop growers that are incredibly interesting in farm to table, like rose delights. It has Dominique Crenn making their farm to table. They're amazing. If you're ever in California, you should absolutely buy them. Fantastic. So that kind of stuff just wouldn't happen if we went from zero to federally illegal and we had thousand acre outdoor farms. It would just become another agricultural commodity.

Angelo Esposito [00:44:29]:

First of all, that's an interesting angle, because I never thought about that. For me, not being in the industry was, ah, when are they just going to legalize it across the board? But that makes sense. I could definitely see the big players coming in and just like you said, crushing everyone, which would be a lot less of an interesting space if that would happen. Really good point there. And I'm curious, just from my own knowledge, what is. It seems like there's still a bit of a tiered system, but unlike the beverage space, if I understand correctly, you could also distribute and you could also have retail shops, if I understand correctly, is that the main difference? Let's say, from a logistics standpoint?

Drew Cesario [00:44:59]:

Yeah, yeah. You can be in one or all. You could be a delivery service that also is a supplier making your own oils and fulfilling it. So it's still ripe for experimentation and new brands coming and going and evolving, and consumer tastes are currently evolving. The form factor that cannabis is typically associated with is smoking. Right? Like, people buy flour, they roll it up, they light a joint, they burn through it, and then you had products, packs come along in slow roast the herb. Small brands like Meister and Octave that are coming out and that are building innovative ways to engage consumers cannabis. So I think that what's going to be interesting for the transition is people are going to continue to, like, actually involve cannabis in their day to day life, from sleep preventative to pain management, or sleep encouraging to pain management to, as a stimulant, as a depressant, however, that they want to tailor it.

Drew Cesario [00:45:50]:

It's going to be interesting how people continue to provide things at scale, like drinks with laganitas and paps to edibles that are beyond just, like, brownies and cookies and gummies that people want to have on a routine basis that are low THC. Right. Most people don't want that 50 milligram gummy. They just absolutely can't handle it, myself included. So there's got to be scale that allows people. And right now, beverage category represents, like, 1%, so there isn't a lot of scale there. So unless you're already a lagunitis that has a glass supply chain, it doesn't make a lot of sense to get into beverage.

Angelo Esposito [00:46:26]:

Got you. And I'm curious to hear a bit about, do you see an opportunity there based on the numbers right now, when it comes to the long term? I guess adoption. Right. Like you said, people either smoking it, either eating it. Right, or the only other alternative is drinking it. So, in terms of drinking it, do you see the adoption happening in the future? Do you see a setting where not only direct to consumer, but maybe in an actual restaurant or bar, you have that optionality, or do you think that's.

Drew Cesario [00:46:52]:

Far out on premise consumption lounges in California?

Angelo Esposito [00:46:55]:

Okay, I didn't know that.

Drew Cesario [00:46:56]:

Yeah, yeah. And just to take a step back to, like, there's a lot of other ways that you can enjoy cannabis tinctures, for sure. Patches. People are taking dabs for concentrates. There's a lot of. There's lubes out there. There's cannabis in socks. Literally everything that you can possibly imagine cannabis can come in.

Drew Cesario [00:47:14]:

There's. Cannabis is in it right now, especially mature states like California. So, yeah, I think that on a long enough timeline, the cannabis lounges will continue to grow. We have some downtown San Francisco, which are great. There's a couple southern California. Kaliba has one. Lowell represented one in LA. But it's gonna be tough to have that at the bar.

Drew Cesario [00:47:37]:

And I really don't know what the transition looks like. It's difficult to test people for thc potency, like, in their person. And so I think it's gonna be difficult for regulators to swallow the pill around the idea of allowing people to smoke and drink and get behind the wheel. And I think that on a long enough timeline, like, sure, it'll happen, but it'll be difficult even for the bar or the hotel, the restaurant, to, like, how do they manage the consumer's intake?

Angelo Esposito [00:48:04]:

Yeah, yeah, that is a tough one. And then I always like to get a bit of an idea of the person on the podcast, and the products are behind, so sometimes we have restaurateurs, and they talk about their products. Sometimes we have, like I said, we had the cocktail in a can, vervet, and spoke about his products. So I love to hear just a bit about Norcal's products, and maybe there's too many, but if you want to just. This is a chance to just share with our listeners some of your products and what you guys do.

Drew Cesario [00:48:26]:

Sure. Yeah. I'm very lucky to work with and work at one of the largest indoor growers in the state. And because of that, we have an incredible line from tops to bottoms to mids, around what we represent. Our high end line, Panacea, is an incredible flower line that you're going to see potencies that are actually mind boggling to most people. 25% to 39% thc, like big, beautiful nugs. Everything's hand trimmed. Yeah.

Drew Cesario [00:48:53]:

And those come in both bags and jars. We've got an incredible line story behind that. Justin Benson founded that as a concentrates brand years ago and has won many awards and now has, like, been in partnership with norcal cannabis to bring that product to life. And really, actually, he sits at the kind of almost like an air traffic controller of all the flower that comes down and redirects what flower goes into what brand, because the guy's just an absolute genius when it comes to the quality of the flower and the associated brand, it should be in the next in line is a lifestyle brand called one Life, which is really around, like, having one life and being self expressed and being creative. And so we have our own ski team. We have always an artist series going on. We work with incredible street artists, and that's brought to life by Jeff Rubin. And that brand is really his baby, the guy.

Drew Cesario [00:49:41]:

Longtime skater, long, deep relationships with places like Thrasher. Again, like, really lucky to have a lot of authenticity in the company. And so it's really cheap for us to show up and have real brands because we have real people. Then paying some agency to come up with an idea, you should have a skate team. It's more like Jeff Rood would be like, how many people should I put on the skate team? And then from there, we've got a brand, which this is probably me in my roots back at the wine group that I just love. It's called Lolo, and it's just. It's like the Kirkland of workhorse brand. It's like the smalls and the mids, and we've got ready to roll, and we take really great indoor flour that might not look as pretty and provide it at incredible prices that people just absolutely cannot beat because we're at scale and it's great flour.

Drew Cesario [00:50:27]:

And if you want to just buy a bag and roll it up into a joint, buy the ready to roll. It's incredibly reasonable price. We put it in 20 1 gram bags and ace and you can't eat it, especially with all the Keith that's in there. It's a great joint that you're about to roll at a really great price. That comes in pre rolls as well. And some concentrates are coming down the pipe. And then we've got an outdoor brand, Occidental Hills, which is Jigger Patel, our CEO. He grew up in Occidental Hills.

Drew Cesario [00:50:53]:

And again, we've got authenticity for days. Like Jigger and Sharif Sharpener, head cultivator. They were growing and selling weed as far back as 13. They're just. They are the oGs, man. They are the ogs, like speak the same language and slinging weed forever. And yeah, the outdoor brand, we get to lean on some incredible suppliers for and work with great farmers that were able to bring their brands and their biomass to the masses, which I love, like the cultivation story there and going back to the agrarian roots, enhance and soil and like outdoor farming. Yeah, that's where the romance rebuds.

Angelo Esposito [00:51:29]:

Yeah, that's super interesting. And so from your point of view, what are some kind of lessons that you were able to take? Right. You're a veteran in the beverage space for the longest time from. We touched upon almost some of the biggest companies, from southern to Bacardi to absolut, Elix, Pernod, Ricard, you name it. So, you know, you're quite the veteran there. So when you transition to the cannabis space, what were some things you were able to take with you?

Drew Cesario [00:51:50]:

I think what I took with me is understanding scale and the distributor supplier relationship and best practices. And I think what I didn't take with me is expectation of how it's supposed to go. It was really difficult, I think, for a lot of people to make this transition that as people move, and there is this like, bit of a migration from wine and spirits into cannabis right now, especially in California, but a lot of people struggle with it because they have an idea of how it works in wine and spirits and it should work like that. Cannabis. And like, cannabis has its own culture, man. Like, it has its own language. Like, when I first got into cannabis, people were still refusing to use their last names. They didn't provide their last names.

Drew Cesario [00:52:32]:

It was still like everyone, everyone had any historical experience was a bit of a criminal as far as that black market mentality is going to be in the DNA of this for years to come. But I understood how things work at scale and sops and relationships, and I just tried to stay as humble as possible and listen and learn and be on the street as much as I could to make the transition work for the team that I was managing and for myself.

Angelo Esposito [00:52:59]:

And what was, I guess, the reason that kind of made you transition from beverage to cannabis in the first place?

Drew Cesario [00:53:05]:

I made the transition because I saw, for me, like the writing on the wall, the difficulty that it would take for me to move in the career trajectory that I want. I really had my mind set on a couple certain roles that were inspiring to me. I wanted to build brands and I didn't want to take another ten to 15 years to get there. I wanted to play around with being able to build brands earlier in my career and wine and spirits at, like, the Big ten or big five suppliers. It was really going to take another decade plus, and I'm impatient and I saw all the opportunity and instability in cannabis to be able to come in and add a lot of value from what I knew historically and then play with building brands and building relationships in this, like, budding market. And I just didn't want to slave away behind a computer, taking chain jobs for a couple years at some of the bigger suppliers, and then have to slowly work my way up into brand manager on the marketing side, I wanted to do both. And cannabis really, at this time, still now allows people to get in. I think, if they work hard, get there pretty quickly.

Angelo Esposito [00:54:10]:

That's awesome. And so, any advice out there to our listeners who are maybe in the wine and spirits world and interested in getting into the cannabis world? Like, any pointers to them?

Drew Cesario [00:54:18]:

Yeah, I would say, like, it's a humbling experience. The industry will welcome you with open arms, but you've got to make the investment, right. Like, you didn't come into not knowing wine and spirits and not pick up some books. You had to go out there and learn. You had to go visit some bars and meet some people. If you're going to actually make that transition, like, you have to make that transition, you have to make that investment. People will sniff out just like they do in wine and spirits, if you know what you're talking about or not. They just do.

Drew Cesario [00:54:44]:

Like, authenticity is very transparent. People got a feeler for that. So if you're going to go into cannabis, you got to actually be able to talk about cannabis and actually be interested if it's a cash grab exclusively, like, people are not going to want to work with you and you're going to have to move around a lot as you pick up experience and it's going to be hard. So I encourage people to do it. I think it's an incredible industry. I love it. I get excited about it. It's like continuing to evolve every three to six months, man.

Drew Cesario [00:55:11]:

It's a totally different industry. But you cannot come in saying, I know how this is going to work, coming in thinking that you're going to fix this industry because. Not going to do that, because I put it at the hard plan. Yeah. And it's agriculture again, too. If you're coming from a distillery, agricultural like breakdown is a little bit more manageable. Yeah. Find some intimacy, like with the plant itself.

Drew Cesario [00:55:33]:

Know about the cannabinoids, learn about your terpenes, go out there, pick up some books and be engaged.

Angelo Esposito [00:55:38]:

I didn't even know that term. That's a cool term, but tender, that makes tons of. There's a wealth of knowledge that I think people can learn from. From, like you said, books to online to just finding mentors to companies. But do you have any books or resources that you recommend that have helped you?

Drew Cesario [00:55:52]:

That's leafly is an online resource that also has a book. That's incredible. I would start there and then it'll really chow. I would say there's a few, like terpene specific books. I'm forgetting the name of it, but there is one that has its own, like, Terpene Institute and it's absolutely fantastic. It has this like engaging wheel that you can play around with to get an understanding of all the different form factors of cannabis. And then, like, the terpenes themselves and how they react to you, cannabis is way more difficult to anticipate its impact on your body because your endocannabinoid receptors are different from other peoples. And the way that your terpene profiles of flower change from different genotypes and phenotypes, it's way more complex than just if I have a couple glasses of wine, like a bread wine, I feel sleepy, like it just doesn't translate like that.

Drew Cesario [00:56:37]:

If you're going to be out there, maybe cut your teeth on a couple about attending jobs, just to get an understanding of, like, how the recommendations are and get some free samples from suppliers and pick up some books, Leafley is a really great place to start.

Angelo Esposito [00:56:50]:

That's amazing. That's awesome advice. And so one of the ways we kind of love to wrap up the podcast is with a segment called last Day on earth. Usually last on earth. We just ask what would be your go to drink and go to meal? But I guess with you, I'll also ask what would be your go to bud, so to speak. That's the word of mouth. Looking for.

Drew Cesario [00:57:08]:

Great question. So I guess to fit in with the other segments, I'll say I'm definitely a nostalgic guy. I would have to go with my mom's cooking for probably some bolognese and some red wine. Probably a super Tuscan or an older spanish rioja. Get some leather tobacco notes. And then what would I. I'm a sativa guy, right? I like my stimulant. I would definitely, probably go.

Drew Cesario [00:57:29]:

Let's go all the way up. Let's go. Jack Harrer. I'll go through the moon. I'm not going to be here tomorrow, so I'll just get really paranoid. Watch the world. That'll be my vote.

Angelo Esposito [00:57:38]:

That's an awesome answer, Drew. Honestly, so much insight. It's great to chat with you. It's great to have you on the show. Just from your years of beverage experience in the wine and spirits world to transitioning to cannabis. A lot of great insights. I just want to thank you for being on this episode of Wisking it all.

Drew Cesario [00:57:52]:

I appreciate. Angelo, thank you very much, man, for having me. Hope I was helpful.

Angelo Esposito [00:57:56]:

Absolutely. Have a good one.

Meet Your Host & Guest

Drew Cesario, VP of Branded Sales at NorCal Cannabis

Drew Cesario is a results-oriented leader with a proven track record of driving year-over-year sales growth in dynamic markets. His strategic integration of sales, marketing, and operations has led to cohesive brand storytelling and enhanced customer engagement. Drew's innovative approach has championed new distribution channels, resulting in substantial revenue growth from $0 to over $1 million in Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) within six months. With a keen focus on demand planning, pricing, and budgeting, he has effectively managed all facets of business operations. As a seasoned manager, Drew oversees two distinct departments and leads a dynamic team of over 20 professionals, fostering a culture of collaboration and excellence.


Meet Angelo Esposito, the Co-Founder and CEO of WISK.ai, Angelo's vision is to revolutionize the hospitality industry by creating an inventory software that allows bar and restaurant owners to streamline their operations, improve their margins and sales, and minimize waste. With over a decade of experience in the hospitality industry, Angelo deeply understands the challenges faced by bar and restaurant owners. From managing inventory to tracking sales to forecasting demand, Angelo has seen it all firsthand. This gave him the insight he needed to create WISK.ai.

Recent Episodes

S1E8 - De l'industrie des boissons à celle du cannabis avec Drew Cesario

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Notes du spectacle

Episode Notes

Drew Cesario, VP of Marketing and Sales at NorCal Cannabis, shares his journey from the beverage industry to the cannabis space. He started his career in the beverage industry, working at companies like The Wine Group and Southern Wine and Spirits. He highlights the importance of finding mentors and building relationships in the industry. Drew discusses the three-tier system in the beverage industry and the challenges of working on both the producer and distributor sides. He also talks about his time at Bacardi and the importance of storytelling and building relationships with bartenders. Angelo Esposito discusses his transition from the beverage industry to the cannabis industry, highlighting the importance of authenticity and investment in learning about the cannabis culture. He emphasizes the need to understand the scale and distributor-supplier relationship in the cannabis industry. Esposito also shares insights into the different products offered by NorCal Cannabis, including high-end flower, lifestyle brands, and outdoor brands. He discusses the challenges and opportunities in the cannabis industry, including the potential for cannabis lounges and the importance of understanding the complexities of cannabis consumption.


  • Building relationships and finding mentors are crucial in the hospitality and beverage industry.
  • The three-tier system in the beverage industry can be complex, with different regulations and relationships between producers and distributors.
  • Storytelling and building relationships with bartenders are important for success in the industry.
  • Campaigns and competitions, like the Bombay Sapphire and Bacardi Legacy cocktail competitions, can be impactful in engaging bartenders and promoting brands. Transitioning from the beverage industry to the cannabis industry requires authenticity and investment in learning about the cannabis culture.
  • Understanding scale and the distributor-supplier relationship is crucial in the cannabis industry.
  • NorCal Cannabis offers a range of products, including high-end flower, lifestyle brands, and outdoor brands.
  • The cannabis industry presents both challenges and opportunities, such as the potential for cannabis lounges and the need to understand the complexities of cannabis consumption.


00:00 Introduction and Background

08:31 Navigating the Three-Tier System

29:02 Developing Relationships with Spirits

35:10 Contributing to Social Causes

48:19 NorCal Cannabis' Product Range

54:27 Advice for Transitioning to the Cannabis Industry


Connect with Drew Cesario via Linkedin!