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Spencer Hoddeson and Gay Water are making vodka sodas even gayer

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Executive Producer, Interviewer, and Editor: Alex Hughes, Photographer: Troy Hallahan, Wardrobe Styling: Dylan Wayne

It won’t come as news to you: arguably one of American gay men’s most popular drink orders is the straight-forward vodka soda. It’s easy, simple, and a relatively low-cal for an alcoholic beverage.

Enter Gay Water. Gay Water is giving gays everything they want – a simple vodka, soda, and tiny splash of flavoring (lime, grapefruit, watermelon, and peach) combo in an easy-to-carry can.

Although canned seltzers – like White Claw or High Noon – have swept the nation in recent years, detractors call out that the first is actually more similar to a beer than a cocktail and the latter is filled with fruit juices that can detract from the standard vodka soda favorite. Gay Water is disrupting the space by simplifying the ingredients to serve its target user base in a better way.

Spencer Hoddeson is the founder and CEO of Gay Water (and a bit of a gay social celeb in his own right with 60,000+ Instagram followers). We sat down with Spencer to learn more about his new venture, surprising things he’s learned as he disrupts the beverage industry, and his goal of getting more gay products in more spaces.

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Spencer Hoddeson wearing Marni

So.Gay: What brought you to launch Gay Water, Spencer?

Spencer Hoddeson: I think a lot of things were happening just concurrently in my life. I wasn’t feeling super challenged in my career. I had kind of done the social [media] thing and over COVID, built a platform for myself, mainly within the queer community. But, it was never really something that I wanted to pursue.

But, concurrently to all of these things happening, I was on a trip with a girlfriend who was starting at a big beverage company.

We started talking about the beverage industry and she had worked in the beverage industry for over 10 years. She was really excited about her new role.

We ended up getting into all of these conversations, but one of them was around queer representation in the beverage space.

I think the first thing that sort of sparked my little seedling for this idea was, she was talking about how, working in the beverage industry 10 years, she has not come across very many queer people.

Not to say that there’s none, but it’s definitely an industry that’s historically, middle America, cis, white, middle-aged to late 50s, early 60s men who have dominated the industry for so long. And, there’s just not as much diversity in the space.

As we were on this trip and still talking more about sort of the beverage industry, I ordered a vodka soda at dinner and I turned to her, I was like, have you ever heard anyone call this โ€œgay water?โ€

And, she was like, I don’t know if it’s that I went to NYU and a lot of my friends were queer, but I know exactly what you’re talking about. Like, I’ve heard this term before.

I think that to me was a little bit like, that was not the light bulb moment, but like, a โ€œmaybe there’s something thereโ€ moment.

Literally the next day I got back from the trip and went down the entire rabbit hole, could this be a relevant idea โ€“- began doing research, insights, focus groups, talking to people.

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So.Gay: As you’ve been developing Gay Water and now that you’ve launched the product, what’s been the most surprising thing that you’ve learned?

Spencer: I think the most surprising thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter how long someone’s worked in a certain industry… I thought I was, I came into the beverage industry with no experience, right?

I thought I was asking people simple questions that they must’ve heard hundreds of times in 20 years working in the beverage space. And, I got a lot of people who were saying, oh, I actually, I don’t know the answer to that.

I think I had this expectation that everyone is an expert in the space because they’ve worked in the space for so long.

As I’ve gone down this entrepreneurship journey, Iโ€™ve learned that [everyone] is just kind of building the plane while we’re flying it.

I think from the outside and you always think that there’s gonna be folks with more experience who know everything, but everyone’s just learning.

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So.Gay: Your social media, your branding, it’s very gay Tumblr vibes. It’s very playful, sexy, and sometimes explicit. How does it feel to be able to completely call the shots from everything from creative to marketing? You’re completely in charge.

Spencer: It’s great. I think that brands today, especially big brands are still operating out of the โ€˜90s and early 2000s playbook of, this is a one way street, right?

When we put out marketing, it’s talking to our consumers and it’s hearing from our consumers about what they want, talking with them. So, being able to actually curate, I call it a community brand, like a brand that we understand our audience. We know what people wanna hear.

Sure, there are little fun jokes or being explicit sometimes, but it’s all playful and it’s all really leaning into, I think, how brands need to be successful today, which is by understanding who their audience is and really having two-way conversations, building a community rather than just putting a product out there and hoping that people migrate to yours.

I like to say I’m building a lifestyle brand that happens to have a beverage product.

So.Gay: The default for canned beverages is obviously to be drank in the home, house parties, everything like that. Do you see it expanding? And I know you are in some bars. Do you see Gay Water expanding even further into bars, clubs, everything like that?

Spencer: Yeah, definitely.

The idea behind [Gay Water], and there’ll be more product lines soon to come, but the idea behind it is to really drive representation in spaces that there isn’t.

Like your liquor store, grocery store, restaurant, bar, there are queer people that work in those spaces. There are queer people that shop or gather in those spaces, but when was the last time you saw a product that, you know, celebrated the community outside of Pride Month?

There really are few products if you go to the Walmarts and Targets of the world that have any sort of relationship to the queer community.

So the idea is really where there is a space that we can put the product, to have the product.

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Spencer Hoddeson wearing Dsquared2 vest, Helmut Lang blazer, and Presley Oldham necklace

So.Gay: Have you met any straight Gay Water fans and drinkers?

Spencer: A little bit, there’s a part of me that hopes that it becomes for allies and the straight community, it becomes one of those things where it just is so natural to them at a certain point that, you know, maybe it starts as almost like a straight girl buying it for their boyfriend and him drinking it to show his masculinity or whatever it may be.

But yeah, I mean, we’ve had a lot of straight, a lot of my own straight friends, a lot of queer people that I know have straight friends drinking the product.

It’s really great for beer pong, which as I’m sure you know, straight men love playing beer pong and drinking games.

[Itโ€™s perfect for beer pong] because it’s so simple, it’s vodka, soda water, and natural flavor. There’s no sugar, there’s nothing that makes it hard to drink and there’s nothing that really makes it so you’re gonna get an added hangover aside from the alcohol itself.

So.Gay: Do you have a gay pop icon that you would love to have drink Gay Water this year?

Spencer: I do. I have a couple, Troye Sivan, I think jumps to the top.

I think he’s very much the moment right now, but also he’s just so smart and creative that I think there’s just really nice brand alignment there.

I want some fun gay adjacent celebs at some point to get their hands on product, like a Jennifer Coolidge would be so fun.

But yeah, I think there’s a natural alignment between beverages and musicians.

So I think the Fletcher’s of the world, Ava Max, like some of the really fun sort of queer icon musicians could be great.

So.Gay: Okay, so now shifting a little bit away from the brand, and more about you. What’s your favorite vacation destination right now?

Spencer: I have a wedding and a bachelor party in Cancun. I feel like that’s kind of my natural next destination. But otherwise, Italy is always, I studied abroad in college in Rome. So it always has kind of felt like, as cliche as it sounds, like a second home.

I feel like there’s nothing bad about Italy. It is the weather, the food, the people sometimes maybe, but always fun.

So.Gay: Favorite restaurant or restaurants in New York right now?

Spencer: I went to Jean’s the other day. I think the vibe there is great. The food is solid.

But I’m always a sucker for a place that has a really great vibe, like whether it’s unbelievable service or just really good ambiance.

So.Gay: Do you remember what your first NYC gay bar you went to was?

Spencer: Phoenix. When you’re so new to the gay scene in New York, I think any bar where there’s any gay people, you’re like, oh my God.

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Spencer Hoddeson wearing Jean Paul Gaultier suit, Maison Margiela shoes, and Presley Oldham necklace

So.Gay: For all the boys who want to know, are you single or dating or in a relationship?

Spencer: Iโ€™m single. I haven’t really been dating just because of obviously work. But [Iโ€™m] not closed off to it.

So.Gay: What’s the best thing about dating in New York?

Spencer: I think that there’s just such a — there’s such a wide breadth of people.

I think it’s so interesting, like dating someone who lives in a different neighborhood than you, you get to experience a part of the city that unless you live there, you don’t intimately experience.

So that’s great. And I also think we live in New York. There’s just a lot of fish in the sea, which I think if you live, you know, if you lived in a small town, there’s a lot less opportunity and choice.

So.Gay: What’s the worst thing about dating in New York?

Spencer: That exact thing. I think there’s this mentality of always, oh, if this doesn’t work out, I’ll find someone else.

Like there’s always more people out there. And I think that that sometimes gets in the way of things.

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So.Gay: Do you have a current male celebrity crush?

Spencer: I feel like if I say Jacob Elordi, I’ll get canceled. [Because] everyone is saying Jacob Elordi. I mean, very of the moment.

The guy, there’s a new Netflix show called Fool Me Once. His name’s Dino Fetscher, maybe. And that’s my crush right now.

So.Gay: What does 2024 have in store for Gay Water and also have in store for you?

Spencer: So much. I’m very, both personally and professionally excited for 2024. I feel like this is the first year that I’m going in feeling so confident in both areas of my life. I think for Gay Water, there’s so much opportunity. We just launched a little over four months ago. It’s still really new.

But between brands and investors and folks that have been reaching out, I know this next year is gonna be really exciting.

And then for me personally, I don’t know โ€“ I’m 30. I feel like my 30s are gonna be the best years of my life.

And going into this year, that just hit me that this is the first time where I’m feeling very confident about who I am in the world.

So I’m excited for that. Exploring my 30s.

You can learn more about Gay Water, including where to buy, here. You can follow Spencer Hoddeson on Instagram at @hoddsuspenders.

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