Unveiling Heroes Vodka's Impactful Journey of Giving Back to Veterans
Greg Horton, ReserveBar Spirits Contributor
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Travis McVey believes that honoring our Veterans involves telling their stories, and when he talks about the genesis of Heroes Vodka, the story begins with his friends who died in the line of duty: one in Afghanistan serving as a Marine and the other as an Indiana State Trooper.
“I was sitting in a bar thinking, even though there are more than 20 million veterans, I wasn’t aware of any veteran-owned spirit companies,” McVey said. “It occurred to me that there are many ways to honor my friends and fellow Veterans, and one of those was a brand of our own.”
After thinking through the product possibilities, McVey decided spirits held the most promise for profit margin and generating enough revenue to support Veterans' causes. Heroes was born with the goals of producing an excellent product and giving back.
“If you’re going to put ‘Heroes’ on the label, what’s inside the bottle needs to be worthy of the name and cause,” McVey said. “When I decided on vodka, several people told me it couldn’t be done; the market is too saturated, but you can’t tell a Marine he can’t do something.”
Making It Work
With the help of a friend, McVey located a distiller in Colorado to make the prototype, and in the process, he learned that corn was the grain with the most promise. He was committed to using American agricultural products, and corn is plentiful, plus it adds qualities that McVey wanted in his vodka.
“The corn gives it a buttery sweetness,” he said. “When you put Heroes in a glass with an ice sphere, you can see that butteriness come out, and you can definitely taste it.”
For distribution, McVey initially talked to Robert Lipman, a distributor for Jack Daniel’s, and it was here that his military service started opening doors.
“He told me that he had 100 vodkas in his warehouse, but he’d give me 20 minutes because I’m a Veteran,” McVey said. “From there, I got connected with Lipman Brothers VP Richard Thibus, a Vietnam Veteran, who agreed to help me. In life, you will get opportunities, and you have to be ready when the chance comes.”
McVey was ready, spurred on by the memory of his friends and his commitment to the cause and Corps. “I also wanted to succeed to show other Veterans they can be successful, too.”
The Buffalo Trace Connection
The new partnership with Lipman began to open doors; the door of Buffalo Trace Distillers President and CEO Mark Brown was one such door. Taking an interest in the project as a way to support veterans, Buffalo Trace signed on to produce Heroes Vodka.
“Buffalo Trace has many veterans working throughout the organization,” McVey said. “The COO is a West Point graduate. I admired the passion they brought to their process. It’s also true that when you mention Buffalo Trace, people take you more seriously. If you don’t have credibility in Kentucky, people will act like you made the vodka in a bathtub or something.”
The other benefit of working with Buffalo Trace was the buying power of a much larger organization. McVey could access the distillery’s corn-buying program, thereby reducing his cost and, ultimately, the price of the bottle.
Supporting Our Heroes
Heroes Vodka gives a portion of their profits to partner Veteran organizations, and that doesn’t include speaking engagements, signed bottles, gifts in kind, and more. The ethos of McVey’s company is supporting those whose sacrifice and service ensure our freedoms every day. Since its founding in 2009, the company has worked with dozens of organizations that advocate for Veterans’ causes and provide services to Veterans. The two they work with most often are Team Red, White and Blue, the Night Stalker Foundation, and The Legion Fund.
Team RWB sponsors regular events — physical fitness, outdoorsy, and fun — to create healthier lifestyles for military Veterans. “Team RWB helps to get Vets out and moving,” McVey said. “Isolation is the number-one killer of Veterans. Statistics tell us that we’re losing 22 Veterans a day to suicide, but a few states don’t report it, so it’s closer to 40 a day. Some of that comes from isolation.”
The Night Stalker Foundation was formed by Veterans and family members of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), headquartered at Ft. Campbell, Ky., an elite night-flying special operations force that uses military helicopters. The organization sponsors events that further the goal of giving back to the Veterans, active-duty soldiers, and families of the 160th. The Legion Fund assists the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and their families by supporting seven essential needs: Emergency Needs, Educational Scholarships, Families of Fallen Heroes, Medical Therapies, Child Care, Catastrophe Fund, and Team Building.
McVey also personally supports Project K-9 Hero, an organization that provides funds and services for the care of retired military and police working dogs. “I’m a dog lover. Two of my favorite cocktails to make with Heroes Vodka are Greyhounds and Salty Dogs, so that seems appropriate,” McVey said. “We believe that there are many kinds of heroes, not just Veterans. We’re grateful for the service and sacrifice of them and their families and for our fire, police, and other emergency responders, too.”