Brooks Addington speaks on the past, present, and future of TÖST
STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY TÖST
As the holiday season arrives, the spirit of joy and wonder is alive and well in Southern Vermont. Friends and families come from far and wide to gather together, raising their glasses to commemorate moments of convivial celebration. “I believe everyone should be able to enjoy a high-quality celebratory beverage at any festive occasion,” says Brooks Addington. Addington is the CEO of TÖST, a high-end non-alcoholic sparkling beverage company based in Manchester, Vermont. Addington has spent the past several years working to build and promote TÖST’s refreshing line of non-alcoholic sparkling beverages. By doing so, he has played an influential role in shaping the development of the non-alcoholic beverage industry. Today, TÖST stands as a product that provides everyone with the opportunity to celebrate the best moments of their lives with a tasty beverage, regardless of whether or not they choose to consume alcohol.
Before he became the CEO of TÖST, Addington got his start in the field of finance in Tokyo, Japan as an equity broker. “As soon as I started there, I developed a liking for working in sales, and I fell in love with Japan and its culture.” In 2001, Addington was sent o Canada to help manage an acquisition merger with a smaller company. In 2002, Addington returned to Japan, where he worked in finance for the next seven years. During his second stint in Japan, Addington landed a job running the equity-listed derivative business for a large multinational banking group.
In 2005, Addington and his wife, Chie, purchased a house in Southern Vermont while they were still living in Japan. Addington says that his decision to purchase a property in Vermont was largely influenced by the time he had spent visiting his friends in Londonderry and Peru during his high school years in Massachusetts. “I have a lot of great memories from visiting my friends in Vermont that have really stuck with me,” says Addington. “It’s an incredibly beautiful place that’s not quite like anywhere else in the world.” In 2011, they made the decision to move full time to Vermont. “We’ve found it to be a fantastic place to live and raise children.”
After moving to Vermont, Addington left the field of global finance. He then turned his attention towards several entrepreneurial startup projects, including the Ferrisburgh, Vermont-based bar accessory business BarTule. Addington says when he shifted his focus from working in global finance to working in the field of consumer products as a startup investor, it allowed him to get comfortable with the inner workings of the retail trade and the food and hospitality business. That knowledge paid off down the line when he eventually became the CEO of TÖST several years later.
When Addington came back to America from Japan, he also noticed a stark disparity between the number of non-alcoholic beverages that were offered in both countries. “I was always amazed at the wide range of beverages that they had in Japan,” notes Addington. “If you walked into a corner store in Japan a decade ago, you would see thirty different varieties of bottled tea. When I came back stateside in 2011, all I saw in terms of non-alcoholic beverage offerings were sodas and energy drinks. We really didn’t have the same beverage diversity back then that we have today.”
Addington says that from the moment that he first tasted TÖST, he was immediately smitten. “I just felt like there was something special about it,” says Addington. “The branding was great, and the drink inside the bottle was just as good as the branding. I knew that I wanted to be involved. I was brought onto the TÖST team originally as an advisor, and then took over as CEO to bring the product live to market.” Today, Addington serves as both the primary shareholder and CEO of TÖST. Since TÖST’s launch in 2017, Addington has drawn on his decades of experience in the field of finance to build the company into a quickly growing powerhouse in the non-alcoholic beverage industry.
“I think that my career in finance gave me a huge advantage when it came to understanding how money works and how it flows through a business,” says Addington. “I had experience running businesses when I was working in Japan. I was managing small and large groups, and I was also responsible for overseeing a wide range of budgets, so I felt very comfortable with the finance piece.”
Addington adds that the years that he spent engaged with smaller startup companies after he came back to the United States in 2011 also helped him to understand the subtle dynamics of the consumer product industry. “Whenever you are promoting a consumer product (such as TÖST) it’s always important to have a good understanding of what market your product is targeted towards. Some products are niche products with specific markets, but the great thing about TÖST is that it has an incredibly wide consumer audience, it tastes great, and creates a positive experience for people. If you go to our website, you’ll be able to read about the philosophy behind our beverages. They were created so that everyone can enjoy their moments together and celebrate in a positive manner.”
Although the original idea behind TÖST came out of the desire to build a product that could be consumed by people that are living alcohol-free lifestyles, Addington insists that TÖST is more than just an “alternative” beverage for people living a chemically abstinent life. “Although TÖST is certainly a wonderful alcohol-free option for people who are members of sobriety fellowships or who are entirely sober, I see it as much more than that. To me, TÖST is a true ‘occasion-based’ beverage. It’s a wonderful option for anyone who wants to enjoy a beverage that is both meaningful and sophisticated, but doesn’t have any alcohol in it. It may be because they’ve chosen to be sober, or because they’re taking a break from drinking, or because they just want to enjoy a great tasting non-alcoholic beverage.”
Since TÖST’s official launch in 2017, Addington has witnessed a promising trajectory of continual growth. Addington attributes TÖST’s success to the effort that he and his team have put into developing relationships with distributors, as well as the overall growth of the non-alcoholic beverage market. “When we launched in April 2017, I would drive down to our distribution warehouse in Red Hook, New York and pick up boxes of products. I would then take my products to a number of stores in the Hudson Valley and on Route 7 leading back to Vermont and talk to the store owners about my product. We didn’t have any solid distributor relationships in the beginning, but we had a few crucial wins early on, in terms of establishing rapport with different businesses that allowed us to continue to expand.”
By the end of 2017, Addington had secured 100 separate retailer and distributor accounts. By working diligently to expand TÖST’s clientele base, Addington and his team were able to repeatedly double TÖST’s revenue three years in a row in 2018, 2019, and 2020. Addington estimates that at the end of 2021, TÖST’s revenue will have quadrupled when compared to the previous year’s numbers. “We’ve got over 2,000 accounts now, which is amazing when you consider the exponential growth rate,” notes Addington. “We also have a high retailer retention rate. TÖST products are currently available at stores in 8 countries and over thirty states here in the U.S., and we’re looking to expand our consumer base to many other countries, and to other large chain retailers, such as BevMo in California. The market demand for premium non-alcoholic beverages has grown to the point that they have increased their shelving space for non-alcoholic offerings. It’s exciting to watch our industry niche rapidly grow, because it speaks to a true sea change in people’s attitude towards non-alcoholic beverages.”
Over the course of the past several years, TÖST has also received a series of awards and glowing high profile write-ups from food and beverage critics. “In 2018, we won a SOFI award from the Specialty Food Association for Best New Product Cold Beverage,” says Addington. “When The Washington Post mentioned us in an article in 2019 about the ‘Top Seven Trends to Follow,’ it really got the non-alcoholic trend momentum going in terms of public awareness. That was a real turning point, because people started to see us in a different light than already-established sparkling cider brands. They started to see us as a truly nuanced and cosmopolitan adult non-alcoholic beverage, which was what we were going for.”
Although TÖST has been able to establish a successful business model, Addington admits that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented several challenges. “Supply chains are very tight right now, so we’re working hard to ensure our product makes it onto store shelves on time. Still, it’s good to know that one of our biggest problems these days is keeping up with consumer demand, because it speaks on how much our product is resonating with our customers.”
According to Addington, TÖST’s success depends on multiple teams of hard-working individuals, who each play a vital part in the creation and distribution of TÖST’s products. “Every company is the sum of all its parts. This isn’t about just one person alone or the small and dedicated team that runs TÖST’s daily operations. We’re looking to add members to our team in the near future, but there are so many other people who make the magic happen behind the scenes. There are co-packers, designers, packagers, fulfillment centers, distributors and retailers. At every step of the process, these people have bought into our product and put in considerable effort, because they really believe in the philosophy and messaging behind it. We have a phenomenal network of partners, and we wouldn’t be here today without that.”
Today, TÖST is available in both “Original” and “Rosé” flavor options. Although Addington was not present for the development of the original flavor, he was present for the later part of the development stage for the recently-released Rosé flavor. Addington says that when he was overseeing the flavor creation process, the primary goal was to create a full-bodied and flavorful Rosé refresher that had all of the distinction of a traditional adult beverage, without any of the alcohol. “Here at TÖST, we approach the beverage creation process in a different way than other companies have traditionally approached building non-alcoholic beverages in the past. We didn’t want to limit ourselves to any particular base ingredients. We just wanted to focus on the final taste that resulted from combining the right high-quality ingredients, which we decided upon through intense research and development and multiple tastings. At the end of the day, we’re not a non-alcoholic champagne imitator. We’re not a non-alcoholic beer or a non-alcoholic spirit. We want to create a delicious and enjoyable experience for our customers that keeps them coming back.”
Although Addington is delighted to see TÖST’s success play out on a large-market scale, he says that he finds even greater fulfillment in watching his friends enjoy his products firsthand. He adds that a recent experience at a small gathering speaks not only to the growth of his company, but also to the evolving attitudes of consumers in regards to non-alcoholic beverages. “I had a small gathering a few weeks ago at my house, and I served both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. I had some alcoholic beers and nice wines on ice. I also had a large cooler of non-alcoholic beverages, with five different brands in there, including TÖST. I packed a ton of bottles and cans in there, and the cooler was completely decimated at the end of the night. There wasn’t a single bottle or can left in that cooler, but I still had alcoholic beer and wine left over. A significant group of people who are not entirely sober opted to enjoy a refreshing non-alcoholic beverage instead of a traditional alcoholic one. Some chose to switch to a non-alcoholic beverage after enjoying an alcoholic drink, and others chose to not drink alcohol because they had to wake up early the next morning. I experienced the entire spectrum of TÖST’s potential consumer base at that party. It really showed me that my products are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do: they’re allowing people to connect and share moments of celebration with one another, no matter what their personal preferences are regarding alcohol. TÖST gets its name from a ‘toast,’ which is the universal symbol of hospitality.
It feels good to be able to play a part in creating a healthier, more universally hospitable — and more inclusive — beverage culture. We’re looking forward to having more people around the world celebrate their moments with TÖST.”.
ALL THE DETAILS
STRATTON SPOTLIGHT: JAZZ ‘n TÖST
An inside look at Tony Award® Winning actor
Christian Hoff’s new radio show on 102.7 WEQX
There’s nothing quite like waking up on a beautiful Sunday morning and enjoying a refreshing beverage and some good music. Whether you’re treating yourself to breakfast in bed or savoring a scenic drive through a picturesque landscape, there’s no better way to greet the day on an upbeat high note than 102.7 WEQX’s newest specialty radio show, Jazz ‘n TÖST. Hosted by Tony Award® Winning actor and singer Christian Hoff, Jazz ‘n TÖST is broadcast every Sunday morning from 7AM to 9AM throughout Southern Vermont, Western Massachusetts, and the entire New York state Capital Region. From the moment the show kicks off, Hoff’s smooth and charismatic vocal presence provides a bold and uplifting audio experience. The mellifluent melodies and rich harmonies of his timeless jazz selections create an enchanting and vivid soundscape that is every bit as vibrant as the colors of a Southern Vermont sunrise. No matter how you choose to spend your Sunday morning, Jazz ‘n TÖST is sure to put a smile in your heart and a spring in your step.
Jazz ‘n TÖST is a multi-organizational collaborative partnership between 102.7 WEQX, TÖST Beverages, Christian Hoff, and the owner and founder of Old Mill Road Media and Old Mill Road Recording, Dr. Joshua Sherman.
In addition to their shared love of jazz music, Sherman and Hoff both have long-standing ties to Broadway. Hoff earned his Tony Award® for “Best Featured Actor in a Musical” in 2006 for his star turn as Tommy DeVito in the original Broadway production of Jersey Boys, although he is known to many others from the Broadway musical, The Who’s Tommy, and numerous TV credits, including All My Children, ER, Law & Order, and Party of Five, among others. Sherman is an established producer who has worked on several high-profile projects with dozens of Tony Award® Winners and Broadway legends, including Judd Hirsch, Jim Dale, Sutton Foster, Hal Prince, Donna McKechnie, Dan Fogler, Beth Leavel, Judy Kaye, and Elaine Stritch. Most recently, Sherman served as the Producer for Tony® and Emmy® Award Winner Lillias White’s debut solo studio album Get Yourself Some Happy. The album was recorded at Old Mill Road Recording (the NAMM-TEC Award-Winning studio that Sherman owns and operates in East Arlington).
According to Sherman, he and Hoff first met in New York City at a National Alliance for Musical Theatre conference in 2010. “We met and became pen pals for the next decade while Christian was living in Los Angeles and touring with his group, The Midtown Men. During the pandemic, he moved back to New York City with his family. We finally managed to meet up in person after all those years, and we quickly developed a strong friendship.”
After Hoff and Sherman met up in NYC, Hoff asked to visit Sherman in Southern Vermont. When Hoff first arrived in East Arlington in August 2021, it was love at first sight. “I was overwhelmed by the beauty of Southern Vermont,” says Hoff. “From the moment that I crossed over the border from New York State into Vermont, it was like I had entered another world. During my visit, I met a number of driven and creative people who were living up here, and I started to feel a palpable sense of artistic energy. Southern Vermont has an amazing cultural history and arts community. I knew that I wanted to move my family up here, and I made the decision right then and there. I moved up to Manchester a month later, enrolled my kids in school at Manchester Elementary Middle School and Burr & Burton Academy, and I haven’t looked back since.”
Since Hoff moved to Vermont, he and Sherman have already begun working together on a series of projects, but Jazz ‘n TÖST materialized immediately.
Sherman had already built a working relationship between 102.7 WEQX and Old Mill Road Recording. “We launched CLEAN Jams on WEQX in January 2021. From the moment that I first approached WEQX’s Operations Manager Jeff Morad with the idea for that show, our relationship has been nothing but positive. It’s been a wonderful partnership between two like-minded community-driven organizations.” Months before Hoff moved up to Vermont, Sherman reached out to Morad to brainstorm about additional radio projects. “In the course of our conversation, Jeff asked me, ‘Do you like jazz?’ I said, ‘Now we’re talking!’ I got incredibly excited, because jazz and swing have always been my thing. Jeff told me that WEQX had a specialty jazz show years ago, and that they were interested in launching a new one. Jeff has an incredibly successful radio show that he hosts every Thursday and Sunday called, ‘Jam ‘n Toast’. He told me that he had always wanted to have a jazz show on Sunday mornings called, ‘Jazz ‘n Toast’ to compliment his show. He asked me if I was interested in producing it, and I immediately said, ‘Yes!’”
After Sherman’s conversation with Morad, he began working on the structure for the show and designing a logo for it. Over the course of the design process, Sherman realized there was an opportunity for even more community connectivity. “When I started writing out the words ‘Jazz ‘n Toast’ on the logo design, it occurred to me that the word ‘toast’ conjured champagne. I realized that the headquarters for TÖST, a successful Vermont-based non-alcoholic beverage company, was just down the road in Manchester. It occurred to me that if TÖST was willing to be the title sponsor of the show, we could change the name from ‘Jazz ‘n Toast’ to ‘Jazz ‘n TÖST’. I called up Jeff to ask him if he was on board with the potential name change, and he loved the idea. So, I called the CEO of TÖST, Brooks Addington…and Brooks loved the idea! It was one of those lucky moments in life in which everything aligned.”
Originally, Sherman intended to serve as the host for Jazz ‘n TÖST, but after a series of conversations with Hoff, he realized that Hoff was the perfect man for the job. “I was just about to start recording Jazz ‘n TÖST when Christian moved up here. I thought, “He’s a Tony Award® Winner who has performed on two GRAMMY® Winning, Platinum-selling cast albums. And he knows and loves jazz. Who better to host it?”
WEQX’s Operations Manager Jeff Morad shares Sherman and Hoff’s enthusiasm, “Here at WEQX, we are all about the music! Before Josh approached me, it just didn’t seem right that we didn’t have a jazz program on the air for more than a decade. When we first started discussing the idea of putting a jazz program together, I got so excited that I started dancing doing my ‘jazz hands’ dance! There isn’t a single artist we play during regular programming on WEQX that hasn’t been touched or inspired in one way or another by jazz music. Jazz originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, and I believe everything that has followed in its footprints is rooted in the extreme talents of the artists from that time.” Morad says that Jazz ‘n TÖST is a perfect lead in for WEQX’s retro music show The Sunday Rewind with Keller, which takes a look back at the alternative musical history of WEQX. Morad adds that Jazz ‘n TÖST perfectly balances the two shows that close out WEQX’s Sunday schedule, which include their celebrated local music show, EQX-Posure with Pearson, and their new music show, Going Underground with Luke. “The way I see it, Jazz ‘n TÖST is the perfect opener for a great, all-encompassing day of music! We’re only a few episodes in with Jazz ‘n TÖST, and I already absolutely love it. Christian Hoff does an incredible job of presenting the music. The only unfortunate thing is, we can’t see the handsome devil over the airwaves.”
Ever since Jazz ‘n TÖST aired its first episode on October 3rd, Hoff has been able to return to his roots as a lifelong jazz fanatic. It was Hoff’s father who first introduced him to the jazz greats. “I was truly educated about music by listening to the records of Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Charlie Parker, and Ella Fitzgerald. They completely changed my life. Jazz, at its essence, is storytelling without words. Jazz musicians express themselves outside of the lines and bring new color and depth to the music. There’s a certain type of energy in jazz improvisation that I try to bring to all of my performances. It’s the kind of energy that turns heads and gets people’s attention.”
Hoff says that he wants Jazz ‘n TÖST to evoke the same type of reaction from the people who tune in every Sunday. “I’m playing a wide range of tracks from different genres. You’ll hear everything from jazz classics and standards to bossa nova, vocal jazz, and everything in between.” At the end of every episode of Jazz ‘n TÖST, Hoff finishes the show with a special feature that spotlights the music of a current artist. “Some are actors, some are musicians, and some are influencers in the world of Jazz.” Recently, he featured a haunting rendition of “My Favorite Things” sung by Leslie Odom Jr, with whom Hoff performed in Jersey Boys (long before Odom starred in Hamilton). Hoff says, “I want to play around outside of the box with this show, have some fun, and shake things up with some surprises.”
Sherman adds, “The best part about this show is that Christian and I get to discover (and rediscover) great music as we’re putting the episodes together. It’s also very cool that Christian and his father connected over jazz, my father and I connect over jazz, and Brooks and his son, Will, bond through jazz. Although only a senior in high school, Will is already a great jazz pianist!”
As Hoff continues to settle into his new life in Vermont and his new role as the host of Jazz ‘n TÖST, he is grateful to be able to live in a place that provides him with both inspiration and stability. “By living a stable and peaceful lifestyle up here, I’ve been able to find my center and get back to doing what I love best with newfound zeal.” Hoff encourages all similarly-minded creatives looking for a fresh start outside of the city to pay a visit to Southern Vermont. “Coming to Vermont was a fantastic decision,” says Hoff. “Living here has allowed me to recharge my batteries and reach new levels of creative clarity. I’m excited to see where this new chapter of my life takes me, and I’m looking forward to sharing my love of music with the whole community each week with Jazz ‘n TÖST!”