What do you do after you finish a bottle of your favorite adult beverage? After recovering from your hangover, I would guess you probably throw it into the recycle bin and forget about it.
Brandon Eckenrode, director of development for the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF), founded B-Cycled Bottles in 2016 to “upcycle” those empty liquor bottles into shot, rocks and tumbler glasses and give them a second life, after he took some high-end vodka bottles and transformed them into a cool gift.
“I wanted to create a unique party favor for my wife’s birthday,” he said. “She’s a big Grey Goose fan, so I asked the general manager at a local restaurant that we frequent if he could save the empty bottles for me, and he was more than happy to oblige.”
After the party, he still had a handful left over, so he put them on eBay and they sold faster than anticipated.
“I thought, wow---maybe I have something here,” Eckenrode said. “I started calling around and set up a network of local restaurants, bars and hotels. I asked them if they could save specific bottles for me, primarily whiskies, vodkas and tequilas, as well as select craft beers.
"Wine bottles don’t work as well, because the labels are too high up on the glass, so they don’t make for good glasses.”
He has developed a large network consisting of bar owners, bartenders, servers, hotels and restaurants, from New York City to Los Angeles, to save their empty liquor and beer bottles.
In one particular case, a high-end tequila company contacted Eckenrode and gave him some good news.
“The owner of Suerte Tequila called me and said that he had more than 300 used bottles sitting there and asked if I could use them," Eckenrode said. "He wanted to make sure that they were reused as opposed to dumped in the landfill.”
To date, Eckenrode has sold thousands of glasses in 13 countries, directly through his website, bcycledbottles.com, and Instagram, @bcycledbottles. He consistently gets rave reviews and hopes to one day be able to buy a vacation home with the money.
He does all of the marketing, and often displays and sells his glassware on weekends at...
...greater Chicagoland arts and crafts festivals and beer festivals. People seem to love his products.
It’s a part-time gig that could eventually turn into full-time money. The business is growing 30% to 40% every year, even including 2020, when people “seemed to be drinking more during the pandemic,” Eckenrode said.
But it also has a higher cause, and being green is a big part of it, he said.
“Together we are helping to give these bottles a whole new purpose,” he said. “They make great 'green' gifts for clients, customers, family and friends, and people feel good about buying them and using them.”
A celebrity client can definitely give any small business a boost, so Eckrenrode was delighted when he heard from San Francisco Giants outfielder Mike Yaztremski about his glassware.
“Mike’s teammate, Pablo Sandoval, can’t pronounce Yaztremski’s last name, so he just calls him 'Mike Whiskey,'" he said. “When I found out about it, I reached out to Yaz and told him on Facebook if he ever needed some glasses made out of whiskey bottles, we could do that at B-Cycled. He responded, I sent him some glasses and he presented a few of them to Sandoval in the clubhouse, which was great.”
Eckenrode’s list of contacts has grown exponentially, including a network of golf course beverage carts attendants who save the mini/travel size glass liquor bottles which he upcycles into shot glasses.
Over the years, he has refined his processes and production techniques. One day, Eckenrode had a contractor at his house doing some work, when the man noticed piles of empty bottles in the garage.
“He figured I like alcohol at the very least,” he said. “I explained what I was doing and he told me that he could cut the bottles for me. He uses a wet saw that makes a clean cut and then...
...I do the sanding, the finish work and the marketing, so it’s a one-man show. If I come up with a new idea, I don’t have to run it by anyone or get it approved---it’s just me.”
CREF is a national nonprofit that supports collision repair educational programs, schools and students to create qualified, entry-level employees and connect them with an array of career opportunities.
Eckenrode was hired in 2009 as CREF’s associate director of development before being promoted to lead the organization in 2012. In his LinkedIn profile, he touts himself as a “facilitator of generosity within the collision industry.”
Eckenrode never anticipated B-Cycled would take off the way he has, but he’s not complaining.
“I love seeing the finished product every time,” he said. “I am now featuring accessories like custom high-end wood boxes to hold the glassware and I am also turning liquor boxes, such as Johnnie Walker Blue Label, into coasters.”
He’s building a brand, making money and creating goodwill all over the planet. Looks like he’s captured lightning in a bottle!
If you are looking for unique and green gifts for your staff, clients, customers and/or fellow drinking friends, contact Brandon Eckenrode at BCycledBottles@gmail.com.