Melissa McCarthy, Ben Falcone and Mel Heim join forces to tell the greatest story (almost) never told
Written by Phoebe Calver
“I’m hoping this kind of kick starts something and more brand owners and producers are brave and go this route. There are a lot of stories out there to be told and I think stories and whiskey just go hand in hand, so for me it’s about Kate… lifting her up and promoting this story,” Mel Heim, co-founder and head of product, proudly states when explaining her hopes for the future of Big Nose Kate.
Proclaimed as ‘The greatest story never told. Or let’s just say, not told nearly enough. Until now,’ on the whiskey’s website, Big Nose Kate – who was also known as Mary Katherine Cummings, or Katie Elder, or Mária Magdolna Horony – is finally having her moment in the sun.
Big Nose Kate was a figure revered throughout the ‘Old West’ of the United States. She found herself there through a combination of chance, rebellion, opportunity, and an unstoppable curiosity. The fiercely independent self-made woman was way ahead of her time, running with Doc Holliday, crossing Wyatt Earp and his posse, overseeing gambling rackets, and just generally kicking butt.
At the very heart of things, Kate was an entrepreneur and liked to make everyone’s business her own; some historians have argued that her nickname “Big Nose” came from her consistently “sticking her nose” in other people’s business to explore opportunity wherever she could.
The discovery of who Kate was came from Heim’s co-founders Paul Earle and Kevin Burke, who already had their own boutique product branding agency. The two quickly realized she was part of a huge array of major stories in American western history and if you take a look back at some of your favorite western movies you’ll notice she’s been there the whole time.
“It was really just a matter of interest in this person and this character and they said, wow, I can’t believe I didn’t know who she was and we should figure out a way to honor her and bring her story to life,” explains Heim. “And like my partners we all really enjoy storytelling, a good story makes for good brands and in this instance… they had an idea that they wanted to bring her
It was at that point that the search began for the individual that would fill the head of product role, and that individual happened to be Heim. After receiving a deck of information in the summer of 2020, she felt it was the perfect story for her to assist in telling; with a background in whiskey making, but also an English major, it was almost too good to be true.
Heim adds, “I went straight into research mode and kept building upon the story, and you know, in that research kind of figured out a profile I liked and who Kate was and how best to exemplify her and bring this story into a bottle.”
It was important to Heim to do this in a way that was authentic, while also honoring Kate’s place in time and history. From the first Zoom call with her co-founders in the pandemic, it took approximately 20 months for them to have a bottle on the shelf and in the market. As Heim notes of that period of time that we all remember well, “You know, no distractions.”
The trio of co-founders didn’t meet for more than a year due to the pandemic,
but with those days just about behind us, Kate has been out in the world and so far well received.
When it comes to partnerships, this brand is all about Kate and ensuring that each member of the team aligns with that fact and also the morals that its namesake stood for. Approximately a year into production the team grew by two – and despite their very recognizable names, all that this duo wanted to do was support and tell the story to highlight Kate.
“So Melissa [McCarthy] and Ben [Falcone] have been silently on [the] sidelines allowing us to grow this the right way, the organic way, and as we finalised our proof of concept phase, [this] is when we did a little bit of a money raise and we said okay, this works. And then we went out and said also we have these excellent partners and investors and we’re all here kind of doing this together,” says Heim.
“The cool thing about having these two as partners is also that they are aligned with our mission… You know, this isn’t a ploy to build shareholder value, this is truly me trying to tell a story, please try our whiskey. This had legs on its own. We’re just telling her [Kate’s] story.”
As I talked to Heim, McCarthy and Falcone about the brand, it was clear to see that the three of them simply loved working on this together. It is a labor of love and a calling of sorts for each of them in different ways.
“I think in the same way it’s kind of why Ben and I, because we don’t do this, it’s not one of 75 things that we get involved in… our primary thing is storytelling as well,” explains McCarthy. “We got sent a bottle of Kate and just really loved it and I thought, this seems different to me. I was immediately drawn to Kate’s story and my dad is a fanatical western film lover, like he has seen every western from the beginning of time and I started talking to him about Big Nose Kate and he was like, ‘Doc Holliday’?!
“I had the same feeling as Mel, like, why don’t I know who she is? This unbelievably independent woman that at that time to claw and scratch and make her own choices and live the life she wanted to live was so fascinating to me… I was like, one I love the whiskey and how it’s being made with such care, you know it’s been really curated, and I just love being able to get her story out there. So I think Ben and I both thought there’s no part of this that isn’t win–win. We just wanted to get behind it and we’ve learned a lot.”
The three laugh as Falcone adds, “You know I think it’s a good sign that sometimes we’re like, oh we should say something about it on social media, and then we realize we’ve drank all the bottles.”
When it comes to the importance of sharing stories such as Kate’s, the trio comment on the voices and stories that have always had a place in the whiskey world. McCarthy explains, “I think there’s a lot of fellas in the whiskey world – there’s Jim and Jack – and they all get their story told, and I think… we are way overdue to tell a story from a female perspective like Kate. So to be able to be a part of that, I feel really proud about it.
“So that’s really kind of my mission, having a product and the juice that you love, and being proud of it, and to have a good story to back it up… that’s exactly the sort of thing I gravitate towards in every area that I work in. It was really out of pure… we loved it, we love the whiskey, we love the story, it just makes it easy.”
Now the mission is to continue to push forward Kate’s story – which is not only relevant in this day and age but also relatable – through the medium of whiskey. This will be achieved the organic way, by telling her tale and allowing the liquid in the bottle to speak for itself.
Heim continues, “Kate’s doing it herself. You know my medium is making whiskey and you know I can tell stories, you know I did the copy on the website and you know Melissa and Ben are excellent storytellers, so I think… the goal is just to get more people to know about Kate. It’s very focused, you know, it’s just her, this is it. So doing one thing really well has a lot of legs in this industry.”
When it comes to the whiskey itself, Heim admits to having a very long innovation pipeline, but for now the team will remain methodical and intentional in what they are doing. For now, it is Kate and only Kate.