Q&A: Why Wilmer Valderrama Is Teaming Up With a Scotch Brand
The actor is helping SIA Scotch Whisky launch a fund for multicultural entrepreneurs
SIA is not your typical Scotch.
Started — well, actually a Kickstarted — in 2014 by Carin Luna-Ostaseski, a first-generation Hispanic entrepreneur, SIA upends what you normally think about when you think about whisky from Scotland.
As you can imagine with that introduction, Luna-Ostaseski’s journey into the whisky world was full of obstacles. “I mean … I’m an outsider, I’m a woman, relatively young in the Scotch industry and I’m Hispanic,” she tells InsideHook. “I got 80 rejections before the 81st person said they could help. But it’s funny, what I thought was going to be an all-boys club, there were actually a lot of doors opened for me by women.”
Now the owner of a successful and well-reviewed spirit (including a Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition) celebrating its seventh year in production, Luna-Ostaseski wants to use the knowledge she gained while launching SIA to help other entrepreneurs, particularly those from communities of color. So along with actor Wilmer Valderrama and the small business site Hello Alice, she started the The Entrepreneurial Spirit Fund by SIA Scotch.
It’s a noble endeavor: the Fund will hand out 25 grants of $10,000 each to multicultural entrepreneurs. Unlike other recent efforts by spirits brands to mentor and financially help small business owners and people of color (such as the Uncle Nearest Venture Fund), the Entrepreneurial Spirit Fund won’t limit its efforts to people looking for experience or help within the booze sphere; the grants will go to small business owners of color within any industry who present a worthy pitch.
“Carin and I had a conversation about paying it forward,” Valderrama tells us. “How do we elevate these voices, how do we create mentorship programs and sharpen our tools? There are different careers within business, tech and liquor that don’t necessarily seem attainable to a lot of communities, particularly a community of color.”
The financial help and mentorship couldn’t come at a more important time. As research by SIA indicates, minority-owned businesses represent more than 50% of new businesses and create 4.7 million new jobs in the country … but, historically, statistics show that multicultural entrepreneurs only receive a 2% share of venture capital annually. And entrepreneurs of color are reportedly 30% more likely to experience a lack of capital and relevant networks than their counterparts.
On top of that, the pandemic obviously made things worse for all new entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Valderrama, currently on his sixth season of NCIS and close to announcing several launches through his production company (here’s one), was an early champion of SIA. “Our Latino community, when it comes to entrepreneurship, we’re pretty much aware of one another,” he says. “The biggest thing for me is to be aware of those people who are doing amazing things for the community, so we can rally around them and elevate. And Carin had such an incredible story — for the Latino American community, you’ve never heard of us in this game before. She’s a pioneer.”
And yes, the actor/producer/activist does like the product, too. “When I started traveling the world, well, you kind of have to discover what’s your drink, right?” he says. “And I smoke cigars, which I like to pair with whisky. I like a good sipper.”
Interestingly, while SIA (pronounced “see-ah”) is a good sipper, it actually makes for a great mixer, too, which isn’t a usual selling point for Scotch. A blend of Speyside, Highland and Islay malt and grain whiskies, Luna-Ostaseski purposely crafted the tipple for a “new audience of whisky enthusiasts.” It’s sort of the best of all worlds — a hint of smoke, but also a lot of vanilla, caramel, citrus and honey notes.
“I like it in what I call a Glasgow Mule, with ginger beer and lime, it really highlights the flavors,” she says.
While the idea of a Latino-American community embracing Scotch is fascinating, I did wonder if Valderrama had other ideas when it came to spirits. Would he join the parade of celebrities in releasing his own?
“I’d need to find something rooted in my DNA,” he says. “And it makes sense for me, Wilmer Valderrama, to launch something, right? And I’d love to build something with a heritage. But I don’t think I need to be the guy who launches another tequila.”
This article was featured in the InsideHook newsletter. Sign up now.
Suggested for you