Although there exists a number of spirits companies that enjoy prominence within the Black community, very few are helmed by those born and raised in some of those markets. Keenan Towns, the co-founder of Trusted Spirits, stands out as an exception and has lent his years of expertise in the industry to bring forth Snoop Dogg‘s INDOGGO gin to the masses.
The Early Days
Spirit.Ed columnist D.L. Chandler spoke with Towns in a recent chat where the pair discussed the rise of Trusted Spirits, the development of INDOGGO with Uncle Snoop’s necessary input, and the shifts within the spirits industry that, while slowly emerging, are highlighting Black creators beyond the front-facing influencers that typically push the wares.
Towns got his start in the industry over 25 years ago with beverage supplier Schieffelin & Somerset out of New York, one of the early leaders of that space. It was there that Towns helped push notable brands like Tanqueray gin, a foretelling moment of sorts as it put him in the sphere of his future partner in Snoop.
“[Snoop Dogg’s] song ‘Gin and Juice’ was big at the time and we saw a tremendous spike, something to the tune of like 100,000 cases because of the song,” Towns explained. “But back then, Snoop was a different person. He was gangster Crip Snoop, he had issues with the law, and corporate deals with celebrities really didn’t even exist back then, to be honest.”
In the mid-1990s, Towns is correct that Snoop, who wanted to get involved, wasn’t exactly going to get inside the necessary rooms draped in all blue. As it stands, Towns stepped away from the spirits industry and got into retail. As a sneakerhead himself, Towns got into business with Athlete’s Foot, opening six stores across the Los Angeles Metropolitan region. However, it wasn’t quite the right fit and Towns returned to marketing spirits.
“I worked for a number of brands such as Rémy Cointreau, Absolut (owned by Pernod Ricard), you name it, I was basically a hired gun,” Towns shared. “That went on for a few years then I was called by my former supervisor at Schieffelin to assist with the Diageo, which produces Ciroc vodka. I worked, in particular with Puffy and Ciroc, Tanqueray, and Ron Zacapa rum.”
During this period of reconnecting with the Tanqueray brand, 2016 offered Towns a unique opportunity to re-establish a link between the gin and Snoop Dogg, with Towns noting in our chat that the Long Beach, Calif. star had completely morphed into the charming, affable figure that Snoop is today. Towns’ pitch for a Tanqueray 10 and Snoop Dogg collaboration piqued the OG’s interest, but he wanted to aim his efforts at creating his own gin.
Enter Trusted Spirits and INDOGGO
The Tanqueray 10 and Snoop Dogg partnership was a fruitful one, doubling sales over a two-year period, according to Towns. Yet, Towns had his own designs on becoming a supplier and producer of fine spirits and wines himself.
“In 2018, I decided to take my leave of Diageo and start Trusted Spirits. I went to Snoop and asked if he’d like to partner up with my other partner in Trusted Spirits, Marc Weisberg, and he agreed. So we thought it would be fitting to launch our flagship brand with Snoop, the INDOGGO gin.”
Towns and Weisberg were not content with just slapping an image of the Doggfather on some bottles and calling it a day. Towns shared that Snoop was involved with the creation of the spirit from day one. Yet there was an unexpected hurdle Towns had to leap over.
As most readers should know, “Gin and Juice” aside, Snoop is a known cannabis enthusiast so Towns and the team had to figure out how to tailor gin, which is hit and miss with so many drinkers, and craft the spirit to Snoop’s tastes. Snoop informed Towns that while he’s not a big drinker, he prefers the easygoing taste of a vodka and cranberry cocktail when he does. Thus, INDOGGO was born.
INDOGGO is unlike any gin on the market today. Sweeter than styles such as Old Tom or Sloe, INDOGGO is bursting with flavor due to a light hand with the botanicals that usually make up traditional styles such as London Dry, and then infused with a natural strawberry flavoring that can be enjoyed neat on its own, or cleverly mixed into a variety of fruit-forward cocktails. It also makes for a fine G&T should one be so inclined.
“When Snoop first got the bouquet of the nose, he goes ‘this smells like bubble gum and I got some bubble gum kush to go with it,'” Towns said with a laugh.
Readers of Spirit.Ed will know that we’re always pushing gin as a versatile, delightful spirit that folks say they aren’t fond of, and the fight to get people to try classics made with the base is an ongoing one. However, as Towns stated, INDOGGO is “approachable for those who say they can’t stand gin because of a bad night out.”
Planting Flags and Looking Ahead
While the larger companies and their vast portfolio of spirits are comprised of award-winning offerings that many Black imbibers enjoy, few are owned by Black founders. Trusted Spirits, with Snoop’s new gin moving nationwide after an initial California launch last year, is uniquely positioned as a company to transform the landscape.
None of this is lost on Towns, who grew up in the Northeast section of Washington, D.C., particularly the Langston Terrace area. Ask any native from that part of town, and they’ll have a grim story to tell. But there’s also beauty in that Towns found a way out due to his determination and he is intent on giving back now while remaining in the region. As a result of building genuine relationships in the industry and hard work, Trusted Spirits is well on its way to market dominance.
“I didn’t want to be in the craft business. I saw the amount of money I made Diageo. I’m not trying to do a brand where I sell just 10,000 cases a year. There’s no money in that. There’s no generational wealth in that. I’ve given a lot to these major corporations and thinking small won’t get me where I believe we can be. So for me, it was either go big or go home,” Towns concluded.
While we can’t reveal some top-secret developments coming down the pipeline for Trusted Spirits, trust us (excuse the pun) when we say many folks will be delighted in the product offerings to come.
INDOGGO gin can be found in fine liquor stores and in supermarkets that allow liquor sales nationwide. For more information about INDOGGO, click here.
Photo: Dah Dah/Keenan Towns