Black Fly lands on way to ‘create conversation’

Black Fly Beverage Company co-founders Cathy Siskind-Kelly and Rob Kelly, BA’87, show off some of their popular mixed drinks that will now feature single-use breathalyzers that allow customers to test their blood alcohol level and introduce conversation about responsible drinking.

An innovative London-based spirits company, the first to be awarded a distillery license in Ontario in more than a century, has become the first in Canada to affix single-use breathalyzers to its highly popular mixed drinks.

Western alumnus Rob Kelly, BA’87, is the co-founder of London’s Black Fly Beverage Company, along with his wife Cathy Siskind-Kelly. They see their position as an independent Canadian beverage alcohol producer offers both opportunity and responsibility.

“We talked about the up-sides to this and wanted to do our due diligence to make sure were confident we’d have a fit with what we do and what this product is,” said Kelly, of the breathalyzers attached to select Black Fly products sold across Canada and in eight U.S. states. “It’s not a toy. This is something to create a conversation. It’s a tool – but it’s also a way to start discussing a serious topic: the responsibility you have when you’re drinking.”

Produced by Toronto-based Alco Prevention Canada, the disposable, single-use breathalyzers are also used by U.S. military, police and armed forces. Approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration and endorsed by MADD Canada, the unit measures blood-alcohol levels within certain ranges in just two to four minutes.

When the user blows into the tube, crystals inside the product change colour depending on the individual’s blood alcohol level (BAC). White means a zero consumption. Purple indicates the user exceeds the maximum legal limit of 0.08 per cent BAC for a fully licenced Canadian driver and should not be behind the wheel.

(In Ontario, drivers could face additional provincial penalties if their BAC is higher than 0.05 per cent.)

“We’ve been in this industry for 14 years, we’re parents and we realized as soon as we entered the alcohol business, there’s a huge amount of responsibility that comes with being a producer of spirits. We take this seriously,” Siskind-Kelly said. “Social responsibility is always a frontrunner in terms of our packaging, design, marketing and supporting charities. The idea of single-use breathalyzers is another socially responsibility thing for us to undertake.”

Originally housed in an historic bank building in the heart of downtown London, Black Fly has since moved to a state-of-the-art production facility in an east-end industrial park. It has around-the-clock production of more than 22 flavours of sweet vodka, tequila, rum and gin mixed drinks.

The breathalyzers will be available with some Black Fly products for a month at Ontario’s LCBO stores.

“The interest we have with this is the mandate similar to MADD, and that’s to keep the conversation front and centre,” said Siskind-Kelly.

To encourage responsibility and discourage its use for drinking games, the product is designed not to identify specific readings beyond the 0.08 per cent level.

“The idea, ‘this is hilarious, I will get inebriated and check my alcohol level,’ is not what it’s about. It’s not a fun product and it’s not meant to be. It’s about opening a discussion,” she said.

Kelly said he would welcome the opportunity, if the LCBO allows it, to re-introduce the single-use breathalyzers beyond the approved one-month run.

“It’s awareness-building in the fact a lot of people are not aware of single-use breathalyzers,” he said. “This creates awareness not only for the company and its technology, but the more people begin to understand and start up a conversation, and realize it’s an option, the better it is for everyone.”