Trailblazers to follow: Bronya Shillo of Fishers Island Lemonade

By Helena Touhey

Bronya Shillo with the latest flavors of Fishers Island. | Photo by Maaike Bernstrom

Bronya Shillo often experiments with recipes in the kitchen. One of her favorite ingredients to meddle with is blueberry, which links to fond memories of her late grandmother’s blueberry pie.

Peaches are another favorite fruit. Her mother has been known to ship cases of peaches from Georgia, and Shillo enjoys using them to make chutney and cobbler.

“I love the texture of a peach,” she says.

When the time came to launch new flavors of Fishers Island Lemonade — the canned cocktail Shillo created and began selling in 2014 — blueberry and peach were natural additions.

“Blueberry for me has always been a top flavor,” Shillo says. “I knew it was a matter of time for blueberry [lemonade].”

These new fruit-forward flavors (“Nude Peach” and “Blue Wave”), which launch this May, will join the classic Fishers Island Lemonade, which was inspired by the signature house cocktail Shillo used to make at The Pequot Inn, which her family owned and operated on Fishers Island in New York — and where she worked as a bartender for many seasons.

The drink is formed of vodka, barrel-aged whiskey, lemon and honey.

Mixing and experimenting

“I love to cook, and I love to mix and muddle,” Shillo says. “The inspiration really does come from being behind the bar and in the kitchen.”

“I’m pretty consistently experimenting,” she adds. “It’s a constant rolodex of trialing… [and] it’s actually really fun for me.”

Since the beginning, the intention of canning the Inn’s house cocktail has been to “provide something that is refreshing and high quality,” she says, noting that an additional benefit of canning is consistency.

Other flavor profiles and products in the Fishers Island lineup include the Pink Flamingo (cranberry lemonade), Half & Half (along the lines of an Arnold Palmer), Fizz (bubbly lemonade) and Spirit Pops (think adult ice pops). “We doubled down on the success of these flavors last year with the variety pack,” says Shillo.

When she first launched Fishers Island Lemonade in 2014, there were very few canned cocktails on the market. In the years since, the ready-to-drink sector has grown, with lots of options lining liquor store shelves. Still, Shillo says she and her team have maintained a quality and brand identify that people relate to and return to. She’s successfully landed the product in all but two states on the Eastern Seaboard.

That Shillo is a female owner and founder of a spirits company is especially notable; the industry has long been led by men, although that is starting to change. She works with a small team of just 12 full-time employees, one of whom is her husband, Mitchell.

Shillo is hands-on every step of the way, from developing new flavors and designing merchandise to attending events to promote her products and the stories behind them (she especially loves vending at the Newport Boat Show).

“We’re boot strappin’ it, and really have been since the beginning,” she says.

Bronya Shillo on the dock with her product. | Photo by Maaike Bernstrom

Around Newport, there are limitations to selling Fishers, Shillo said, because of its dual-spirits base. Unlike other canned cocktails, it is not made of malted liquor, which means it can’t be sold in spaces that allow for only beer and wine.

However, Shillo points out that, from an alcohol content perspective, some IPAs are even stronger than her signature lemonade, which has an ABV of 9%.

Shillo, 38, first moved to Newport as a transfer student to Salve Regina University, where she played basketball. She later moved back during her early thirties. Newport is now home, and it’s the place she’s been most tied to for the past 15 years. Fishers Island will always have a special place in her heart — she lived there year-round for 10 years, and still has family on the island.

Shillo often jokes that people often think Fishers Island isn’t real. So, part of her goal with the lemonade brand is to prove that, yes, Fishers Island is indeed a real place — one where the drinks were made with real ingredients — a tradition that lives on within each can of Fishers.