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Brand Builder: Effie Panagopoulos

It’s 2008 and Effie Panagopoulos is at a beach bar on the island of Mykonos. As the daughter of a “very serious first generation Greek family,” Effie remembers fondly this trip that brought her back to Greece. After a long time away, this reconnection with her motherland felt very important to her at the time. Now, as the founder of KLEOS Mastiha Spirit, she knows it was not only important but foundational in transforming her from someone with a career in alcohol marketing and sales to the first Greek woman in history to start a liquor brand.

All around her at this beach bar, Americans are enjoying shots of a local spirit she hasn’t heard of before. A friend of hers brings her one, she takes a sip and is immediately transported back to her youth — not because she did shots as a child (thankfully!), but because the flavor reminded her of a favorite childhood dessert, Ypovrichio. The flavor was mastiha, a key ingredient in that desert she loved and the primary flavor of the spirit. Secreted from mastiha trees, which can only be found on the Greek island of Chios, mastiha is a Protected Designation of Origin product, considered an ancient superfood. Incidentally, it was also the first ever chewing gum.

With that sip, Effie’s worlds were colliding and an idea was forming, an idea that brought together her Greek heritage, a passion for health and fitness and more than 15 years of experience in alcohol sales and marketing in the United States. She took a few years to let the idea develop and formulate product samples she could carry around to get feedback while she spent her final years in a corporate 9-to-5 “taking an old brand and giving it a face-lift” for an agency brand of Bacardí.

With her deep alcohol marketing experience ranging from entry-level side hustles to executive roles for global spirit brands with multi-million dollar marketing budgets — Effie is a treasure trove of information when it comes to building a brand. I recently spent some time with Effie to learn how an experienced and knowledgeable alcohol brand marketer approaches launching and building a successful new craft alcohol brand.

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