Vodka: A clear winner?

21 August, 2018

Make vodka, but use hipster grains such as einkorn and emmer and triticale and spelt, sourced locally and traceable to individual farms and farmers (farmers that ideally, of course, have their own Instagram accounts). Blend a pot still with a column distillate. Make some starka (aged stuff). Have a recyclable bottle and easy-peel-off label, like The 86 Co’s Aylesbury Duck (whose name is a cheeky parody of Grey Goose). That sort of thing.

Do tons and tons of special releases. Collaborate with bars and restaurants (basically, what Four Pillars and Sipsmith have done with gin, bless them). Do historical recreations: polugar-style, Russian style (where tiny amounts of macerates and distillates are added post-distillation) and whatever else you can dig out of the archives. Don’t do flavours until you top a million cases.

Insist on straight serves at room temperature for tasting. Develop your own vodka tasting glass. Say loud and often that you detest vodka-soda. Make amusing ‘Vodka + Vodka + Vodka + Vodka’ T-shirts in the style of those ones you see saying ‘Alcohol + Sugar + Water + Bitters’.

Promote Oceans Of Vodka Soda, where you encourage people to use no straw or a pasta straw (they exist) in the vod-sod instead of ocean-killing plastic straws. Give away a packet of pasta straws with every case of vodka – that’ll be to your brand what the Tomolive was to Ketel One.

Adopt the 42 Below vodka mantra from its early days in NZ: there are two prices, full price and free. Don’t waver.

Sell to a major firm which will shower you with cash and then proceed to emasculate the brand to the point of irrelevance, by passing it first though the internal marketing code, and then through legal compliance. Nothing will remain. Sales will halve.

Ah, but what about Tito’s, eh? Tito’s is the elephant in the room, and everyone nowadays is acting as if Bert ‘Tito’ Beveridge (what a name) found the Holy Grail, as he’s now a billionaire. Yet the reality is that the overnight success of Tito’s took 21 years. Tito’s launched in 1997. In the intervening decades, especially the first one, no-one dared to talk about vodka from non-traditional countries – Grey Goose launched only around the same time as Tito’s, and Cîroc just in 2003.

Category behemoth Smirnoff, with its reputed 14 sites of production around the world, perhaps understandably doesn’t harp on about where its made. Tito’s did a few things well that have since become the playbook, but they were revolutionary then.

First, it owned its own back yard – it sold absolutely everything it could in Texas (a large, lucrative back yard) before moving on to other states.

Second, as a nimble owner-operated firm, Tito’s could jump on bandwagons almost as they passed, without going through multiple layers of compliance or marketing stargazing. Proudly made in America? Yes sir. Gluten free? We got ya. Recycled paper label? You bet. Packaging-wise, Tito’s appeals to millennials for some of the same reason blue-collar beers such as PBR and Narragansett and Bud do. It’s become almost an affectation among that demographic to drink something that comes in an affectation-free package – that’s part of the appeal of mezcal too, if you ask me.





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