While having a couple of drinks last summer with a friend and former co-worker, Stephanie Keough Cooney tried an extra ingredient in a screwdriver.
“She had some liquid hemp in her fridge. We were just experimenting,” said Cooney, 31, back in St. John’s this week for a visit. “We put some of it in our drinks, and we liked it, and we thought, ‘What a great idea.’”
Without a job prospect, Cooney and her partner — Brenda Magnusson, also from Newfoundland, who was cut back at the same firm to one day a week — decided to make and market the vodka themselves. Thus was born Liquid Chicks, the women’s drink company, which just celebrated the launch of Stoked Vodka, a hemp-infused spirit, which she says is the first of its kind in North America.
“Hemp has a slight nutty, piney flavour. You don’t really taste it much in a vodka, but what happens is it makes the vodka really smooth, was what the result was,” she said, adding the taste is less prominent than in flavoured spirits such as raspberry vodka. “We had to decide when we were making it: we could have had a really strong hemp flavour in it. Or we could have a very, very, very, very mild hemp flavour in the background. We went with the very mild, because vodka you can pretty much mix it with anything.”
So Cooney and Magnusson went to work.
“We got incorporated and we contacted the president of a distillery in Calgary, and we told him we thought we had a great idea and wanted to talk to him,” she said. But in September, when they met, Cooney said he was interested but worried about potential legal problems producing a vodka infused with a product from the same plant that produces marijuana.
“There were quite a few barriers. It took a long time to get our labels approved,” she said.
Little wonder: the label prominently features a large cannabis leaf. But persistence paid off, and Stoked Vodka hit Alberta store shelves July 12. The women hope to expand into British Columbia, and eventually sell it across the country and in the United States, and while Cooney is currently visiting family and friends in Newfoundland, she has spoken to an official with the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp.
“I am going to apply to get it into Newfoundland, but basically Newfoundland only takes vodka in certain times of the year,” she said. “So they basically told me they’re not taking in any new vodkas at the moment, because it’s not the time of year that they do it.”
And she’s run into a wrinkle as the vodka she’s marketing is finally up for sale: she can’t have any, because she’s four months pregnant. She laughs that it’s difficult to tout the taste of her product when she’s not having any. Still, she has high hopes for the product.
“I’m probably going to continue my work until I go on maternity leave,” said Cooney, who found an office job after being laid off from the engineering firm.
“But I’m kinda hoping that by the time I gotta go back to work, (Liquid Chicks) is something that I can pursue full-time.”