Paul Thomas is a man who loves a challenge.
As founder of the award-winning Julian Hard Cider, Thomas has been breaking boundaries for a decade. And his latest project, 8-Ball Whiskey, is the first chocolate-infused bourbon whiskey in America.
8-Ball was the recent gold medal winner at the Women’s Wine and Spirits Awards in London, competing with 1,000 entries from 45 countries. Now, Thomas has orders coming in by the truckloads for his 8-Ball Whiskey all across the country.
Along with making spirits, Thomas is also a Navy veteran who gives back to the community through his work as a Julian/Cuyamaca firefighter, founder and member of HERO Racing (which supports wounded veterans and orphanages in Baja) and contributes to various charities, including Tuesday’s Children, which supports families affected by terrorism, military conflict and mass violence.
PACIFIC spoke with Thomas to find out more about his clever concoction, the story behind the name 8-Ball, and his contributions to charity:
There are a lot of flavored liquors on the market. Why chocolate whiskey?
It’s very hard to break into the market with another IPA or vodka. Shelf space is limited. I had to come up with something that didn’t exist to disrupt the market. Kind of like the Tabasco sauce of alcohol. With that said, I travel a lot and sell our products globally. When I saw how popular American bourbon is and how much people people love chocolate throughout the world, I had an epiphany. Why hasn’t anyone combined the two? I started asking numerous distillers from big companies to small, and everyone kept telling me it couldn’t be done, because the oil molecules in chocolate do not bind with the alcohol molecules. I took it as a challenge for myself to crack the case and nerded out and obsessed with it in the lab for a year. When I figured it out, it was a major “aha” moment. I had just created something for the alcohol market that didn’t exist in its history, and now I had to wait and see if the market would accept it or if I was just a crazy man.
What’s the story behind the name 8-Ball?
I’m sure there’s people who identify the name 8-Ball as a pool game reference. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing pool. The bottom line is that most entrepreneurs begin “behind the 8-Ball,” faced with uncertainties, unforeseen challenges and obstacles. For me, the name is reminder that being “behind the 8-Ball” is a good thing. It could even be a magic 8-Ball.