Food & Beverage
Inspired by the beauty and bounty of the Southwest, Logan Sligar and Ryan Springer wanted to make a spirit out of the prickly pear cactus fruit. After meeting with Goods & Services, a new kind of vodka brand — and a beautiful partnership — was born.
Like some of the best ideas, this one started with a cocktail. A prickly pear martini to be precise. And maybe more than one, if we’re being honest. It was Christmas, 2017, Logan Sligar was celebrating the holidays with friends in Marfa, TX, and by his own admission, being “a little over served.” Inspired by the beauty of his southwest surroundings, the great art, design, and cuisine of the region, and, of course, the delicious drinks, Logan had an idea: “There’s gotta be a way to make a spirit out of this cactus!”
When Logan’s idea passed the “sobriety test” the next day, the germ of High Desert Vodka was conceived. Only it wasn’t called High Desert back then. And it wasn’t necessarily vodka yet. But a spark was lit for something nonetheless. Then, as if to cement the decision, Logan and his wife discovered they were pregnant with their first child.
“I remember thinking it was time to figure out how to make this idea happen,” Logan said. “To take a chance and build something bigger for myself and for my family.”
Birth of a Brand
Next, Logan contacted his friend Ryan Springer, who had experience in the world of spirits and packaged goods. Their joint research showed that vodka is the fastest growing segment in the spirit category of beverage alcohol.
However, following the emergence of boutique vodkas in the 90s (think Grey Goose, Belvedere, etc), the segment was somewhat static.
Tito’s (now officially the bestselling vodka in the country) and Deep Eddy were the latest darlings in the space, but both brands were stagnating, which meant there was room for something new and exciting.
A Prickly Proposition
Next, they investigated what it would take to make a cactus liquor. Other entrepreneurs had toyed with the idea before, only to uncover cost, flavor, and supply challenges. Not only is it more expensive to process than potatoes or corn, but once distilled, cactus has a distinct aroma and bouquet (aka, its nose). The nose wasn't typical for vodka, which is characterized by a lack of taste and odor.
However, the early cactus spirit makers had been focused on using the green parts of the cactus. Logan and Ryan believed that the key to success was in the prickly pear fruit, a luscious, ruby red appendage that's bursting with flavor.
A Stroke of Luck
The next challenge was locating the cacti. Then the pair met Roberto Garfias, the owner of 7,000 acres in San Luis Potosí, a small colonial town in the highlands of central Mexico. Years earlier, Garfias had planted prodigious amounts of prickly pear cacti.
Ryan says, “He literally had a forest of prime prickly pear cacti on his property. Thousands of acres of thirty to forty foot trees everywhere. Thank god for Roberto. He really is an unsung hero in this venture.”
Much of the credit goes to San Luis Potosí's elevation (6,500 feet above sea level) and consistent weather (70 degrees Fahrenheit nearly every day). Access to so many cacti in one spot addressed their supply and processing challenges and moved the project forward.
So a partnership was formed. And a new name was conceived—High Desert.
“Vodka bottles are usually sexy, clear, Nordic inspired designs, but cactus vodka, from Mexico no less, is a new category that we felt needed a new unique bottle form. So how could we take that and literally twist it?”
“This was an exciting project for us at Goods,” said Jason Nitti, Executive Creative Director. “It presented a perfect example of what we can do as a wholistic agency, including defining a brand from scratch, developing the entire brand and marketing strategy, even creating a line of swag.”
But creating a new brand of alcohol presents a myriad challenges (anyone remember Zima or Virgin Vodka?) For one thing, High Desert was based in Austin where both Titos and Deep Eddy’s had carved out strong allegiances with customers and distributors.
“It’s pretty audacious to compete against both brands in the same category on their home turf,” Nitti said.
However High Desert had a handful of key advantages that set them apart. For one thing, as the new flavor on the block they were fresh, different, a new jolt to the vodka space. For another the cactus element gave them a unique aspect that allowed them to straddle both the vodka and tequila markets. For another the prickly pear, and the method of farming they employed, proved to be highly sustainable so their story included the angle of a renewable resource.
Our first challenge. The bottle design. When the High Desert founders reached out to Goods & Services to help them with the branding and design of their new vodka concept, they had already invested in a custom bottle design. In fact, so invested were they in it that their one caveat to the Goods team was “Do anything you want, just please don’t touch the bottle.”
But the Goods team saw an opportunity to build something from scratch and make sure every design element was in harmony. So, the team set out to convince Logan and Ryan that a different bottle design was key to unlocking the brand's full potential.
“As the first thing people recognize, the bottle design is vital to the brand's story,” Goods Chief Creative Officer Scott Jennings said. “How does it stand out from other bottles? How does it tell a differentiated and honest story?”
“Cactus vodka, from Mexico no less, is a new category, with flavor cues from both Vodka and Tequila, so we felt we needed a new unique bottle form that blended those two worlds.”
To do that, the team leaned fully into the source material. Working with hand blown glass, they shaped the bottle's silhouette to stand tall while making sure the glass felt authentic to the content inside it. San Luis Potosi’s dynamic geography determined the dusty gray and brown color palette. And the mountain ridge lines informed the torn paper edging of the label. A custom stamp and cork bottle stop put the finishing touches on the handmade authentic feel of the brand and helped to elevate the final product to a top shelf price point.
Ryan and Logan loved the new direction and scrapped the old bottle design for the new one without a second thought.
Along the way the team landed on the ethos “It’s in the making,” to capture the essence of the craft and care that went into every aspect of producing High Desert. The ethos became a Northstar for all work moving forward.
To accompany the new High Desert brand identity and bottle, the Goods team embarked on the next challenge, the production of a brand film intended to appeal to investors, distributors, and eventually High Desert customers and fans.
“We wanted to make a film that conveyed the story of the brand and the beauty of where the product came from,” said Goods Creative Director, Christy Westfall, said. “We wanted it to capture the rugged beauty of Roberto’s farm and how the plant is grown and distilled from such a pure source."
The Goods creative team flew to the small town of San Luis Potosi for a one day shoot. Once again, the stars seemed to align for the team. “The whole shoot was kind of a miracle really. We shot it in one day in a town with no electricity so no chance for a night shoot. We had one chance to nail it. Amazingly it turned out to be perfect weather. Ideal light. Nature was on its best behavior. Even the horses lined themselves up just right for that one iconic shot.”
“High Desert is a great example of a brand that was created authentically from the ground up. Everything about the story is true and accurate. No part of it was manufactured or staged. It’s simple, iconic, and honest, and I think that shows in the results.”
Well, so far everything is going to plan. The High Desert team was able to inspire investors. The product is lined up to represent at all of the team's desired bars and restaurants in Austin. Next steps are a carefully curated brand launch complete with swag, artistic murals, and some secrets we can't share just yet. Welcome to Austin, High Desert. ¡Salud!