Adam Tsang is a guy who wants to take over the world.
The Statesboro native studied computer science at the University of California at Irvine, and worked in California after college in a variety of industries, but said he just felt compelled to come back to the Boro.
“When I got back here, I found out why,” he said.
Tsang has since taken a “deep dive” into the business world, calling it the “best decision I could make for my entrepreneurial journey.” He says since he took the leap, he has seen a lot of success not only in his own journey, but in the way the community has supported him and his businesses. His business ventures include The Saucy Shrimp, Soyumi Asian Kitchen, Two Fly Guys Media, PR firm Pep PR, a pod cast and more. One of his most recent ventures, Whiskey Grail, partnered him with Jim Walker.
Walker graduated from Georgia Southern University in 2019 with a BS degree in mechanical engineering. He works part-time as an automation engineer in Brooklet, and he’s been woodworking and blacksmithing for about 12 years —he laughs when you ask him how he got into it.
“I really wanted a sword at 12, and I couldn’t buy one because I didn’t have any money. So I had to make one,” he said. His first sword was made out of aluminum railing, “because I didn’t know any better.” He made more than one attempt at that first sword.
“They were very, very crude, but they were technically made of metal,” he said with a smile.
The birth of a unique product
The two men may come from different backgrounds and interests, but they have come together as partners in Whiskey Grail, a venture still in its infancy, but growing rapidly in the heart of downtown Statesboro.
Walker had made a bourbon box for his best friend’s grandparents on the occasion of their 50th anniversary. It was white oak with a walnut interior, with hand-forged hardware and a decanter for glasses. He didn’t think that including store-bought glasses felt right for this gift, so he instead made the first incarnation of what would become the Whiskey Grail. That was about three or four years ago, he said.
He had extras and sold about 15 or so, and had a few left lying around that were not fit for sale, Walker said. They were in his shop, used to store screws and other small items. That’s where Tsang found them.
“At the time, I was in the Georgia Southern incubator space, running various different businesses, like the restaurants and kind of, like, having that as the operation site. I developed a really good relationship with Jim, just through different projects that we had,” Tsang said.
As an entrepreneur, Tsang says he’s always looking for that next big thing — that next great opportunity. When he saw the handmade grails, he knew he’d found it.
“I remember this day specifically. We were in the wood shop and we were bopping along, and I was like, what type of products have you made, man. I was seeing knives, I was seeing different things, and then I remember you pulling this bin of like, wooden slats, and there were just a ton of wooden slats in there,” he said. “And in there were these two preproduction from what it is now, whiskey grails. I remember him showing it to me and saying these are for drinking bourbon, and I remember that moment distinctly because I got chills down my spine.”
Tsang said he knew this was something special — but Walker wasn’t quite on board yet.
“I went back and talked at Jim for a solid day and a half. I told him I could see the marketing, I could see the product in distilleries and in the hands of certain celebrities. I could see the whole thing,” Tsang said. “I just kept pushing and pushing and pushing, until he was just like, stop talking.”
So the duo decided to move forward with developing a plan and their new product. They spent a fair amount of time, they said, workshopping possible names for the product. There were lots of ideas. Whiskey was a natural part of the name, as bourbon drinkers are their target audience for the product, but the second part of the name took more consideration. They eventually settled on adding “grail” to the name.
“The holy grail,” Walker said, “is kind of this double meaning. So there’s this Biblical meaning, kind of like the cup of life, and then there’s also this idea of when you’re looking for the holy grail, you’re searching for perfection — for something that is such a, you’re looking for, um…”
“The best,” Tsang interjected.
“It’s the best because it’s the best drinking experience that I’ve had. It’s a descriptive name. It tells you exactly what it is,” Walker added.
Developing the grail
So what exactly is the Whiskey Grail?
Walker says that it is, simply put, a charred white oak drinking vessel. The charring and the wood serves to enhance the bourbon drinking experience. He says the process of making each grail takes about 40 minutes. The interior of the grail is charred, which is what makes the Whiskey Grail so special.
“It serves to smooth the whiskey (bourbon); it doesn’t burn as much,” he said. “It brings a lot of the oak and the char and the smoky kind of flavors up to the front.”
Once the char is complete, the grail then sits in wax for about an hour, which will help to protect and preserve the wood from the moisture and the alcohol. It typically takes about a day and a half from start of production until the grail is in the package.
Each grail is 100% handcrafted, made in Statesboro, with everything done by hand. Since the business began, the pair has worked to streamline the production process in order to deliver the product to the customer more quickly.
Why buy a grail?
Both men agree that there are other ways to enjoy whiskey. You can pick up a glass for a dollar, but it’s just a different experience — and the Whiskey Grail owners will argue that their product brings the experience to a whole other level.
“It’s just a very different thing,” Walker said. “Being made out of the wood, you have the different nose and flavor, so it really does add a whole lot of other elements to the whiskey, so it’s a completely different ballgame.”
“I think someone should buy the Whiskey Grail if they’re looking to enhance their drinking experience. People that drink bourbon are always looking for something that enhances their experience,” Tsang said. He adds that your nose really impacts taste, so when you drink out of the grail, your nose is next to this smoky white oak and, “it definitely imparts some of that flavor of the whiskey and allows it to really open up.”
“Also, it’s just fun. It’s a white oak charred drinking glass,” he said.
The fact that the grails are handcrafted also serves to make them highly desirable for bourbon drinkers and collectors alike.
“I think we live in a day and age where everything is disposable,” Walker said. “We live in an age where everything we touch, from the glasses we drink from to the shoes we wear, it’s all made by a machine somewhere in Taiwan or China or India or whatever. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but those items, they just don’t really have a soul to them as much as a handmade item does. I think that something touched by human hands, it’s a way to share, kind of the human experience…and I think that’s very powerful.”
Walker adds that having something that is handmade is just truly special.
“There’s a uniqueness to every grail. The grain on each piece will be different every time,” he said.
The grails are an all-wood product, and are all natural, so they are eco-friendly. The process ensures that as much of the materials left over are recycled as possible, which reduces waste. And the wood used is from a sustainable forest.
Although the grails are made for enhancing the bourbon drinking experience, both Tsang and Walker agree that it’s not just about that. Tsang says they are trying to build a sense of community.
“These grails that go out, especially the custom ones, it’s more about connecting the people than anything else,” he said.
“To us, our quality is everything,” Walker said.
What’s up next
Tsang says the focus for Whiskey Grail right now is to increase production, as the demand has increased exponentially since the company’s inception. There will be additional products added, and Tsang says they also want to develop a line of merchandising products to help them grow the brand.
“Really, our plan is to redefine the way whiskey is consumed around the world,” he said, adding that there is even buzz and demand overseas.
Walker says he’s excited about the additional products that they’ll offer, including something they’re calling Grail Butter — a tin of wax that owners can use to care for their grails long-term. He also points to the offering of a whiskey flight that is available at Soyumi. With each flight, you get a grail and a glass so that you can taste the difference for yourself.
The duo is also working to automate the production of the slats used to make the grails, and plan to build the machine for that in house. The grails will still be assembled, sanded and burned by hand.
As for Walker’s future plans, he says he plans to continue to focus on providing the leadership in the production area that’s needed, and making sure that they continue to produce a high quality product.
Tsang is on board.
“I just want to continue making cool things. I just want to continue to bring something fun and enjoyable to people’s lives.”
For more information on Whiskey Grail and its products, go online at www.whiskeygrail.com.