The first thing you notice about a can of Tip Top Proper Cocktails is that, at 3.4 ounces, it fits in the palm of your hand.
The typefaces on the outside of the can, a combination of print letters with serifs and fully formed script, are meant to evoke tradition. Then there’s the logo, a giraffe (the world’s tallest animal) wearing a top hat.
As for what’s inside, Tip Top offers three varieties: an Old-Fashioned (whiskey, sugar and bitters), a Manhattan (rye whiskey, vermouth and bitters), and a Negroni (dry gin, vermouth and red bitters).
And they’re kosher.
Tip Top is the venture of Neal Cohen and Yoni Reisman, whose friendship dates to their days as classmates at the former Greenfield Hebrew Academy, which merged with Yeshiva Atlanta in 2014 to form the Atlanta Jewish Academy.
“We wanted to get the classics right. We didn’t want to get too fancy. We wanted drinks we know people have liked for years,” said Reisman, who turns 36 in mid-December.
Tip Top is part of the rapidly expanding ready-to-drink cocktails segment of the beverage industry, which grew at more than 20 percent in 2018, according to Nielsen Scantrack.
That 3.4-ounce can is Transportation Security Administration-compliant, should you want to carry one aboard. Otherwise, the Tip Top partners said their product is ideal for use at home – when you don’t want to mix your own – as well as picnics, camping trips, tailgating and parties.
Tip Top formed 2 ½ years ago and its products went on sale Sept. 25. “We blew through our projections,” said Cohen, who is also 36. “We did not expect to need to be in production again yet, and we are.”
The initial run of more than 1,100 cases (each with 24 cans) has been sold to a distributor and almost all of that was purchased by retailers. A second, larger production run is underway at the Terressentia Corp. distillery in North Charleston, S.C., where the ingredients are blended, canned and shipped to a distributor in Atlanta.
Terressentia’s kosher certification comes into play because Cohen and Reisman wanted their cocktails to be kosher, so they found a kosher vermouth to blend in the Manhattan and Negroni formulas.
Tip Top already can be found in roughly 120 liquor stores, bars, music venues, bowling alleys, hotels, and other establishments across Georgia, in Atlanta, Macon, Savannah, Augusta, Athens, Columbus, St. Simons Island and Hiram.
“A year from now we’d like to be in a few other states. We’d like to be doing a couple of more products,” Reisman said. Growing their business requires capital and the pair are in the market for investors. “We don’t expect to be profitable for a little while,” he said. At present, “the focus is on growth.”
Where Cohen is an Atlanta native, Reisman was transplanted as a child.
Cohen’s father, Mark Cohen, and grandfather, Gerald Cohen, both served as president of Ahavath Achim Synagogue, where Cohen is a member along with his wife Yael and their two preschool-age children.
Reisman moved to Atlanta from Chicago in 1989 as a 6-year-old. Reisman and his wife Katie have four children, the older two enrolled at AJA, and they are members of Congregation Shearith Israel.
After the Hebrew Academy, Reisman attended Riverwood High School and Cohen the New Atlanta Jewish Community High School, today called The Weber School.
“Music was it for us,” Cohen said. He and Reisman would attend “two, three, five shows a week” at such venues as Variety Playhouse and the Tabernacle. “We were just rabid music fans.”
In the summer of 2002, before Cohen headed off to the University of Michigan and Reisman to the University of Texas-Austin, they took in the first Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn. The event was “an eye-opening experience” that left them thinking, “Is there anything cooler than this?”
Post-university, the paths of Cohen and Reisman criss-crossed in Atlanta and New York, as they built professional resumes that also contributed to their being board members of the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival.
Reisman interned for “a bunch of companies,” in New York, including Superfly, co-producer of Bonnaroo, and worked for Relix magazine, which focuses on live music productions. He co-founded and was a partner in Civil Muse Productions in Atlanta and in Founders Entertainment in New York, creators of The Governor’s Ball Music Festival. When the entertainment company Live Nation bought Founders, Reisman returned to Atlanta and in 2016 completed an MBA program he had begun a few years earlier at Georgia State University.
Cohen worked for four years as music director at Atlanta radio station WMLB, AM 1690, which offered an eclectic collection of music and interview programming, until it went off the air in 2018. He made his way to New York, working in several positions for Superfly, including as marketing director, before returning to his hometown.
“One idea I couldn’t escape was prepared cocktails” and how that might become a business. It’s an interest he shared with Cohen, that grew from watching how beverages were prepared and served at concerts, Reisman said.
They turned to another Hebrew Academy classmate, David Stein, founder of Creature Comforts Brewing Co. in Athens.
Stein put them in touch with Miles Macquarrie, co-owner and beverage director of Watchman’s Seafood and Spirits and Kimball House, and a finalist multiple times for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program.
Two years of research and testing went into Tip Top’s formulas. “This was not meant to replace the experience of going to the bar and having a quality mixologist make you a drink fresh,” Cohen said.
“I asked friends for name ideas. Someone suggested Tip Top,” Reisman said. The can design came from Bart Sasso, whose firm, Sasso & Co., had worked with numerous hoteliers, restaurants, distillers and taverns.
When Cohen and Reisman needed legal, accounting and website design help, they turned to other friends from their Hebrew Academy days.
Because “one of our best qualities is that we’re willing to admit what we don’t know,” Cohen and Reisman brought on board as chief operating officer Paul Beaupre, a veteran of The Coca-Cola Co. and an expert in venture and merging brands.
At present, Tip Top maintains a small office in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood, though Cohen and Reisman spend much of their time on sales calls and tasting sessions with potential customers.
“One of my absolute favorite things is handing them the drink and they try it and say, ‘Wow, this is good.’ We’re trying to teach the alcohol drinking public that you can actually make a good cocktail in a can,” Reisman said.