It does not happen often, that a friend of yours launches his own drink. So, when my good old schoolmate Miloš Lončarević – called Milo – officially launched Coup d’État Premium Rakija, I not only ordered two of the limited 222 numbered bottles right away, but also convinced him to tell me more about his story and how he came up with the idea to produce a traditional fruit brandy that is popular in the Balkans and bring it to the world.
All eyes on Miloš Lončarevič
Check out this interview to find out more his background and career, his fundamental inspiration, and why he is explicitly promoting Coup d’État Premium Rakija as a drink from the Balkans and not only from one of the countries that are part of this area. Read about his project, creating opportunities out of risks, how wounds are cleaned Balkan-style, and what Kanye West has to do with it here.
Let’s have a drink!
In the beginning of January of this year, I finally had the chance to talk to Milo about what made him quit his consulting job at a big international company to pursue a project very dear to himself. This turned out to be one of the most entertaining interviews I’ve ever conducted. Milo and I have known each other for more than 18 years and have been friends ever since. We both grew up in Vienna’s multicultural district Favoriten, went to the same school and graduated the same year. And while Milo – our former school representative – stroke a higher education path in business, I decided to follow my passion and study languages.
But as different as the two of us might seem, there are many similarities: we are both two very hands-on persons, we both have a strong will and not only dream about something but put our words into action, and we both have a similar family background. Milo has a Serbian-Bosnian background, I have a Croatian-Bosnian one. He was born in Vienna, I was born in Bosnia – both in 1990. And even if it might seem like a random fact to you at this point, it is more important than ever for his latest project and you’ll find out why in this interview.
It’s all about rakija!
I was one of the lucky ones who were able to get two of the only 222 available bottles of the first generation of your Coup d’État Premium Rakija! Did you know that both of the bottles that I bought in October are already empty and that my dad and some of his friends are asking for more?
So happy to hear that! Actually, one of my first questions I always ask someone who is interested in Coup d’État is if they really enjoy drinking it or if they just like the concept of the brand. This is why it is great to hear that both of the bottles you got a few months ago are already empty! Our parent’s generation’s opinion on the rakija’s taste is probably among the most meaningful ones. Since rakija is a very traditional distillate in the Balkans, and they for sure already drank quite some of it, they know best. It’s challenging because someone from the Balkans would usually consider Coup d’État’s price as too high. The fact that they still do buy it, taste it, compliment Coup’s unique mild yet intense taste and conclusively re-order it, is the best compliment I can get.
You have been our school representative, studied Business Administration and are currently writing your PHD thesis. After more than 5 years spent working as a consultant for a big international consulting firm, how did you come up with the idea to produce your own rakija?
Life is all about the right balance between order and chaos. After years of predominant order, it was time to challenge myself to plunge into a more chaotic setting. I had a great time working as a consultant and I learned a lot in more than five years. Personally, it was an important step to take that big decision and start something new, start learning new things while working on something I am very passionate about. I really believe it takes some time to understand what you really want in life. You need to try out different things before you find your own path. It took me quite some years to understand what I really wanted and to start listening to my inner voice. This was my personal Coup d’État!
How would you describe “Coup d’État”?
Coup d’État stands for revolution – in a political but also personal sense. It represents big changes and people who take calculated or even not calculated risks, for everyone who has the guts to change something and for those who are longing for a shift to something better. I want people to take a sip of Coup d’État, be inspired, courageous and creative. But I do not support abusive alcohol consumption. Coup d’État is a premium product and should be enjoyed in small amounts.
What was your #1 motivation for this project?
It is interesting how much you learn during such a process, not only about the product, the production and the business, but especially about yourself. This is definitely one of my main motivations. But also the fact that I wanted to bring my very own project to life. You invest every second in it and hope that one day it will pay off.
Do you think your background also influenced you in this process?
Definitely it did! Our backgrounds are actually pretty similar: I have Bosnian-Serbian origins, you are a Croatian born in Bosnia. We were babies when the Yugoslav Wars started, but still we both experienced it in one way or another, and our families definitely did. I’m sure that both of us would have lots of stories to tell. We both come from families who had to leave a lot behind, many of our friends and family members had to escape war and find a safe place to live. Eventually, both of our families happened to come to Vienna.
Could you please explain this in detail?
I want to make people worldwide see and feel the that there’s so much more to discover in the Balkans. I want to show the other side of the medal. Coup d’État represents this special Balkan spirit: people from this region are passionate and emotional. We don’t like to be pushed around and stand up for our opinion. We have a strong hands-on mentality and get things done. And despite the complicated past and many other challenges even more than 20 years post-war, I would love to see people from the Balkan countries reconnect, celebrate the similarities and endeavor synergies throughout the region.
Is this also the reason why you say “produced in the Balkans” instead of mentioning only one country on the label?
Coup d’État Premium Rakija is produced exclusively in the Balkans in consideration of established quality standards but also the local distillation tradition. It is a 100% natural product, produced with natural ingredients only, and everyone on the team was paid a fair price for their work. Moreover, I did not want to attribute rakija to a specific country or spark fights over its origins.
We also collaborated with Austrian companies: the bottles are from Austria, as well as the label print. And I’m very proud of the Austrian part of the product, too. To some degree Slivovits, which is the plum version of rakija, has become naturalized in Austria as well. This is why the label says “Distilled in the Balkans and bottled in Austria”.
You officially launched Coup d’État in autumn 2018. How come the first generation only included 222 bottles?
The original idea and the first drafts go way back to 2009, while the first distillation phase was back in 2016. The first generation was supposed to become a prototype. It would not have been possible to talk about my idea to investors, restaurant and bar managers without letting them see and taste the product. In the beginning we produced 222 bottles that were meant to be given to wholesalers, bars and restaurants for evaluation purposes only.
But later you decided to sell some of the bottles. How come you took this decision and who were your customers?
Once I launched the website and announced what I’ve been working on in the last months, many friends, ex-colleagues and many more started reaching out to me and requesting one or two bottles. Many of them of course were friends who simply wanted to support me. Others were people I did not know who were interested in trying a traditional and well-known drink from the Balkans, that is still very little known in other countries. The extremely positive feedback and high demand encouraged me even more! We also received some requests from the United States and Asia which was amazing! The initial batch was sold out fairly quickly after the launch.
Who are the typical rakija consumers?
On the one hand there are the regular rakija consumers from the Balkans and those that are scattered around the world. Every grown up from this region has at least tried rakija once or is consuming it regularly. And there’s probably nothing you could not solve or even heal with it. Just think about your grandmas or mum who for sure gave you a shot of rakija when you were sick or had a cold, or how they used rakija to clean a wound when you for example cut your finger. It’s a common Balkan belief that rakija can solve many of these problems.
And who are the ones ordering Coup d’État?
I want to reach an international audience with Coup d’État. While there are some high-quality rakija providers in the market, their marketing and branding strategy is focused mainly on people from the region. Most internationals can’t even pronounce those names because of missing vowels. This is also why I chose a name that works abroad, too.
What is the biggest challenge when it comes to production, costs and strategic planning?
It takes months if not years to produce high quality rakija. The production depends a lot on seasonal fruit, its quality and weather conditions in that specific year. And this is something you can hardly influence. Plums are ripe in late summer, best in August and September. And since it’s a seasonal good, your equipment is also mostly used intensely during that time, while in other months of the year is stays still. So, it’s all about supply chain and lean management. We would love to produce all year round, but at the moment it can only be produced seasonally. Of course, this makes it harder for me: the first generation was produced in 2016 and we started selling and promoting it in late 2018. The next generation is in the planning and making and will be ready in 2020 only.
Are you also planning to produce more than 222 bottles in the future?
Short answer: yes. The bit longer one is: in order to produce a bigger amount, we need to decide if to invest in the equipment and a bigger amount of plums needed for the production, as well as in a bigger team. Another option would be to start a collaboration with an already existing distillery. This second option though would make the final product feel a little bit less like my very own one. If I should decide to continue with my original path, as it is currently planned, it would mean considerable investments from my side and higher risks, but my heart says that it is worth taking it.
Did you find a solution for these challenges by now?
I thought about it a lot. Challenges do not always need to be considered negatively. In order to guarantee high quality and a unique taste, we will produce limited amounts of Coup d’État, which accredits the brand exclusivity to a certain degree because we can for example handpick the fruits we want for distillation. Also, it gives us the chance to go wild on potential future editions and numbering the bottles. You could compare this strategy to Kanye West’s one for his YEEZY sneakers! My personal goal though is to scale the success. Maybe we’ll produce 1111 bottles for the next generation.
Did you also think about offering rakija with a twist and infuse it with special flavors?
You could of course do that and honestly, I already thought about that, too. Rakija does not necessarily need to be a Slivovits made of plums but could also be produced using different fruit like pears, grapes and so on. I decided to go for the most famous variety of rakija known in the Balkans that is produced with plums only. Nevertheless, I do believe in the business concept of “keeping it simple”. We just launched the brand recently. It might take some time to become well known before we can start trying new stuff while still making our regular customers happy. Who knows, maybe we’ll be the first ones to create the World’s first dragon fruit infused rakija!
What differentiates Coup d’État from other spirits you can find in any bar worldwide?
There’s a piece of oak wood in every bottle of Coup d’État. This makes it probably the only drink at any bar that becomes better with time.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I would love to continue working on my own projects. This is what sparks joy in me, this is what I really want to do. I would love to see Coup d’État being consumed internationally. There are many plans and ambitions! I’ll definitely call you in about five years and then we’ll need to catch up!
And in the meantime you are conquering the world?
I’ll try to! My long-term goal is to make Coup d’État become “THE drink” from the Balkans! I would love it to become the one special spirit from the Balkans that can’t be missed in any well-known bar worldwide. My vision is to see Coup d’État being the one representative drink for the Balkans region in bars in Tokyo, Dubai, London and New York!
As an expert, how do you suggest rakija-newbies to enjoy their drink?
- First of all you need to take it slow.
- Take a look at the color and smell the rakija carefully to get acquainted with the drink.
- And then finally taste it: try coating your tongue with a small sip of rakija to isolate and pick out flavors.
You can enjoy it on the rocks, or straight out of the fridge. Others like their rakija at room temperature which is also totally fine. Also, you can have a glass of water with it.
When can we expect the next generation of Coup d’État Premium Rakija?
Things are in the making and planning and the next generation will be ready in 2020. It will absolutely be worth the wait! Stay tuned!
Milo, we wish you all the best and please keep us posted!
Thank you for this great interview!