Party Animal Vodka got its start as just a daydream of a college student doing what so many college students do in class—let the teacher's voice wash over them as they imagine the upcoming weekend. Kate Cullen was doing just that, pondering her game plan for the weekend and what she would drink. Like a lot of students, Cullen had an affinity for the classic vodka-soda, but found that the vodkas on the market at the time in 2011 lacked consumer branding and storytelling.
In that moment, Cullen came up with the name for her future vodka, Party Animal, and decided she would make a vodka with both a story and a cause: She would sell handcrafted, flavored, carefully distilled vodkas, and a portion of the proceeds would benefit organizations that work with animals. With that, Cullen set an eight-year course for herself that would result in an up-and-coming vodka in several states with word-of-mouth street cred.
The first batch wouldn't hit shelves until January of 2018, but for seven years, Cullen tried to get Party Animal off the ground, even doing a project for one of her classes, in which she researched acai liqueur brand Veev and met with its founder and CEO, later learning the company had a distillery in Rigby.
Years would pass before she could fund her project. After moving to Sun Valley from California, Cullen and her boyfriend, Josh Hanson, took a distillery tour of the Warfield Distillery and Brewery in Ketchum, where they were told that a Rigby distillery—the same one Cullen learned about in college—might be the right space for them to create their vodka.
"I got in contact with them and life pretty much pushed me that way, and it just happened," Cullen said. "I got investment and moved forward with it. It was a weird mix of things coming together that made it all happen."
As it turns out, Rigby-based Distilled Resources, Inc (DRINC, for short), has an office in Sun Valley, as well.
Cullen and Hanson received investments and trademarked the brand in May 2017. They began the process of trying different brands and taste profiles to figure out what they liked, ultimately falling in love with an Idaho russet potato vodka from DRINC.
"DRINC is like an incubator that works with small brands that don't have the resources to immediately build their own distillery," Hanson said. "They work with small brands to develop a taste profile and a bit of branding and once you're up and running, you can hopefully build your own distillery."
Cullen's desire for a vodka that speaks to consumers off the shelf meant labeling was a priority. A group out of Portland, Oregon, that works with alcohol brands created a hip label featuring a leopard's eyes peering out of a jungle.
Ten percent of Party Animal's profits go to organizations that support animals including wildlife conservation, humane societies and local animal shelters. Donations are tailored to specific areas with Idaho-based profits going to organizations like Mountain Humane, Idaho Humane Society, Boise Humane Society and the Idaho Conservation League; while California-based profits go to Oceana, Glendale Humane Society and Bolsa Chica Conservancy.
"We tailor locally so that when people buy it, they feel like it goes back to local organizations," Cullen said.
Party Animal's website sums up the brand's story: a company that helps people party and helps animals in need. The brand has been going strong for a year and half, since its first batch in 2018. The vodka is available in Idaho and California, and plans to move into Wyoming. Hanson works for Party Animal full-time, as does a childhood friend who runs the California operation. Meanwhile, she said the vodka continues to gain traction, and hopes to get it into all 50 states while giving back as much as she can to the animal organizations she loves.
"We're starting to get to a point where people recognize Party Animal," Cullen said. "It's got an underground, up-and-coming feel but more and more people are asking about it."