Phil Orlenko, owner
of Philly’s Premium Beverages, shows off a T-shirt
developed to promote the business.
Photo by Laurie Arendt
When most people lose their job, they
dream of becoming their own boss, of doing something
rather cool. But few do it.
Grafton’s Phil Orlenko is one person who
“A friend of mine told me to get off my
"." Orlenko easily finishes this sentence with a grin
and a word that can’t be used in newspapers. “He told me
to do something.”
Orlenko’s friend even had a suggestion:
Bottle the Old Fashioneds that Orlenko was known for
when entertaining friends.
“I’ve been making them for 35 years - my
dad taught me at 14 so I could make them for the
family,” he said.
Orlenko founded Philly’s Premium
Beverages in August 2013, using his own 401(k) to fund
the business. He didn’t have a choice: 16 banks turned
him down for funding.
“It is also extremely difficult to be a
start-up in the liquor industry,” he said. “There are so
many rules and regulations, and they exist on the local,
state and federal level. But I had the help of some very
good people in the industry. We are three steps ahead of
where we normally should be.”
Grafton’s Phil Orlenko displays
his bottled Old Fashioneds and seven flavored egg
creme liqueurs that he has started marketing with
the business he formed, Philly’s Premium Beverages.
He said he hopes to employ up to 15 people locally
once he gains approval to bring the bottling part of
the business to Grafton, which he hopes will happen
later this year.
Photo by Laurie Arendt
Whipping up a pitcher of Old Fashioneds
to enjoy down by the river - something Orlenko does with
friends - is a far different process than producing it
for mass consumption. His backyard adjacent to the
Milwaukee River also provides the inspiration for his
brand - friends kept sticking plastic flamingos in his
yard, hence their appearance on the brand’s labels.
“I actually mixed up a bunch of Old
Fashioneds in my kitchen, sealed them up and sent them
off to be analyzed,” he said, noting that a
Kentucky-based company does the hard work of identifying
the components and then, once approved, scaling the
recipes for production. “They sent me back samples and
ultimately, we traveled down to Kentucky for some final
Philly’s released its line of four
“Wisconsin-style” Old Fashioneds just before
Thanksgiving, and consumer response has been strong.
Unlike other similar-sized bottled adult beverages on
the market, Philly’s actually contain brandy or whiskey
and are not based on flavored malt liquor.
“The Old Fashioned is now actually a
federally recognized cocktail that must be made with
real brandy or real whisky to call it that,” he said.
“So we don’t have a lot of competition out there.”
Each bottle of Philly’s Old Fashioneds is
two servings, so each four-pack contains eight
“It’s hard to find a good Old Fashioned
at that price,” he said. “All you have to do is pour
them over ice.”
The company has also released a second
line of beverages, officially know as egg cremes.
“When I was in college, a friend of mine
used to make her grandmother’s recipe from the old
country - it was eggs, sugar and vodka - and everyone
just drank it up,” he said.
That inspired Philly’s second line, seven
flavored egg creme liqueurs, which was released a little
more than two weeks ago.
“The only other real choice on the market
for a long time was Baileys Irish Cream,” he says. “But
now there’s also RumChata, which is also a Wisconsin
business. But Philly’s egg cremes are fairly unique and
face little competition.”
“We have one of the only peanut
butter-flavored liqueurs on the market,” he said. “And
people who hate banana flavoring love the Naked Ape
Banana Egg Creme. Once people taste them, they love them
- we sold 500 cases in the first two weeks.”
Customers are also mixing the different
flavors of egg cremes to create different recipes, which
can also be found on the Philly’s website. Orlenko also
says they can be poured over ice cream, added to coffee
or used in place of milk when making instant “adult”
While Philly’s is actually based in
Wisconsin, production occurs elsewhere. It’s a
short-term situation that Orlenko hopes to change once
he’s obtained the proper licensing.
“The plan is to bring the bottling here
by the end of 2015,” he said. “When that happens, we’ll
be able to employ 10 to 15 people, hopefully somewhere
in Grafton. I want to be a good employer and give back
to the community.”
In the meantime, Philly’s four-person
office occupies the top level of the former Grafton
State Bank building. The stuffiness of the bank is
gone, replaced by purple walls, ubiquitous flamingos, an
air hockey table and a pint-sized canine mascot named
“It’s been fun,” says Orlenko of the
experience so far, which recently included a last-minute
road trip to Nebraska to deliver 10,000 pounds of
“We’ve had such great support locally -
Mike’s Citgo in Grafton and the Sendik’s stores picked
us up before anyone else really did,” he said. “Now
we’re in almost 300 retail locations - and you’ll be
seeing us a lot over the summer, too.”