are two things you can count on in life, Russians making vodka and bartenders
making drinks. When the two of them
collide, it's an awesome thing to behold.
How else would James Bond have looked so suave by putting the Vesper on
the map if he hadn't had vodka and a great bartender to mix it for him? That gin wasn't going to hold up the drink on
its own. And what excuse would we have
to order cases of those beautiful copper mugs if we didn't have the Moscow
Mule? None. And the restorative breakfast concoction that
is the queen of the cocktails, the Bloody Mary?
Without her vodka the drink would be just another commoner in a glass.
shared cultural history behind this Russian spirit. A cultural history that intrinsically ties
Mother Russia to the United States where, since Stolichnaya Vodka's
introduction in 1972 courtesy of Pepsi-Cola importing it, vodka has become the
US's most popular spirit.
popular in fact that DISCUS (Distilled Spirits Council of the United States)
noted that 158 vodkas were introduced to America in 2013. Stoli holds the proud place of being the
first premium imported Russian vodka and, in honor of their recent departure
from William Grant & Sons we sat down to see what to expect from Stoli now
that they are running their own show; from grain to glass.
Gorvitz, Brand Director, Stolichnaya Vodka, joined us to answer some questions
about the newly formed Stoli Group USA which heralds in the dawn of a new age
SS: Why leave William Grant &
SG: The brand worked well as an agency brand with
William Grant & Sons, but our parent company SPI decided they wanted to
make an investment in the US and felt it was the right move to hang up our own
SS: What’s the focus and mission of this newly
formed Stoli Group USA company?
Our focus right now at Stoli Group USA is to reintroduce the brand. Under our new corporate entity - we're all a
new team gelling together - our hope and our goal is to remind consumers and
trade about why Stoli is different from other vodkas and that it was the
original premium vodka.
the 1st vodka coming into the US market that was premium, and that was back in
the 1970s. To my knowledge there were no
other vodkas in the market that were operating in our premium price point.
SS: So, how is Stoli different
from other vodkas?
SG: The liquid has always been the point of
differentiation to the brand. The way
that I describe our differences really relate to our quality, which has never
changed. We are one of the only brands
that controls the entire production and manufacturing. We own wheat fields, and we own our
production and bottling facility in Latvia.
SS: Why is vertical ownership so
control from grain to glass because we take the quality of our vodka very
seriously. It says a lot about a million and a half case brand to be able to
say this - it sets us apart from the players in this business. It is really important for us in terms of
quality control standards that we are in charge of every single element of the
product. We employ farmers who grow the
wheat that ends up in the vodka and we've owned the bottling facility in Latvia
for more than 80 years. The artesian
well water is drawn directly from below the Latvian building; we built the
bottling facility right over the water source.
We own about 6,000 hectares of wheat fields. We don't own enough land to generate enough
wheat to make all the vodka, but a lot of it comes from our own farms; we buy
the rest of the grain we need from farmers who produce for us, but all comes
from the Tambov region of Russia.
SS: We recently read that the key
messaging around Stoli is: AUTHENTIC,
PIONEERING, PREMIUM and THE ORIGINAL meaning the ‘first.’ Some of our members may not have been of
drinking age when you made these historic strides so, for their education, can
you please illuminate some of these Stoli “firsts” such as being the first vodka
to introduce flavors to the market (1962), and the first Russian premium vodka
SG: We've given it a great deal of thought. The first thing I'll say is that in the old
world style of vodka - vodkas from Eastern Europe and the Baltics - the issue of
flavored vodka isn't a novelty there the way it feels like over here in the
US. According to our brand archives -
Stoli was the first vodka to produce a commercially available flavored vodka.
Stoli started manufacturing an herbal honey style which is a typical flavored
vodka from that part of Eastern Europe.
The second was a pepper flavored vodka.
You'll see from the bottles they have awesome art work on the labels;
and all of that was long before the brand saw its first bottle sold in US.
1986 Stoli sold first lemon flavored in US and that's part of our brand
history. Our approach with flavors in
the beginning was really to stay true to the brand but also appeal to tasting
preferences to the US market, which is a market we love and are making big
has changed and we recently introduced a lot of flavors which, to be honest,
not all were successes. We are in the
process of evaluating which flavors work and make sense to our consumers. At this point, in addition to paying
attention to our base brand, consumers and trade are going to see more attention
to the core flavors; blueberry; raspberry; vanilla and orange.
first power promotion period is around Bloody Marys and one of the key messages
is how great the Stoli Bloody Mary is with some of our core flavors. The two I think work well are Stoli Premium,
and our Hot flavored vodka. Another
drink we're messaging on is the Moscow mule.
SS: Tell me about Stoli’s new
Start With Stoli (SWS) campaign and the value to bartenders who participate?
What I don't want is for bartenders to walk away thinking that this is another
bartender contest, it is a full spectrum program designed to educate and
empower them. With this program we want
to support anyone who wants to become better at their craft.
read Start With Stoli and read it with a critical eye - you'll see it isn't
about Stoli, but about promoting the art of the cocktail. Our primary goal isn't to educate about the
brand it is to educate them about what they do.
brought it to life through print advertising which launched in March and our
digital partnerships have started this week.
We see this as a multi-year campaign.
We'll keep adding content. Our
goal is to bring new, fresh content to life and bring in-depth workshops to
life every quarter.
SS: How are you doing that?
The way we've constructed it is to work with an acclaimed mixology author. We work with the authors to do excerpts of
their books, we set up a Q&A afterwards to reinforce the materials. Through that the bartenders can access the
Bartender’s Dream Library. We launched with Tony Abou-Ganim.
SS: How and why did you get Tony Abou-Gamin
involved in SWS, and what was his input into each module of the educational
quiz and messaging on the site?
Tony wrote a book called Vodka Distilled.
He's well known in the industry and I've known him for almost a decade
now. He wrote such a great and easily
accessible overview of vodka. We thought
there was no one better and no book better suited to launch SWS than Tony and
his book. It was the obvious choice.
SS: And what is this “Bartender’s
The Library is a support vehicle for this program, which is all about cocktail
scholarship. Bartenders Dream Library is a curated list of books that we feel
are the most important cocktail and mixology books ever written. We'll be publishing content on the micro site
each quarter. And we'll have events for
bartenders that Greg Boehm helped us curate.
We worked with him on a seminar at a recent USBG conference; the topic
was the 50 Most Important Cocktail Works of Our Time and we'll be turning the
footage from that seminar into something that's viewable on our platform, StartWithStoli.com.
SS: So, how does one get their
hands on these 50 best cocktail tomes?
They can learn all about winning the Bartender’s Dream Library on the
website. We'll be awarding a couple of
Dream Libraries - three per quarter.
You can have either a hard copy version of all 50 books or an electronic
version. While there's something so beautiful about receiving this entire
collection we're also considerate that some bartenders live in small apartments
in urban environments so we don't want to foist that on them.
SS: How did you come up with the
list of the 50 most important cocktail books?
the list was tough but fun; we were iterating on the list for many months. There were several people who contributed -
from Stoli US and also outside the company we consulted with Jeffrey Lindenmuth
and Greg Boehm. We even made a couple
of changes up until two weeks before we launched the program. We took it very seriously. It was difficult to do, but we feel that
though our collective knowledge base this is the most comprehensive list ever
SS: What can existing Stoli
drinkers expect from the brand now? And
what can they, and potential new fans look forward to?
There are a couple of things on the horizon for the brand. Vis a vis bartenders everywhere, particularly
in key markets, we're producing more POS than ever before that will help
them. And they should expect to see more
barware too; physical tools - things like rail mats and bar mats and shakers
and things like that that all bartenders need to have in their arsenal to make
SS: But doesn't everyone already
have a Stoli rail mat or branded shaker?
Why are you sending us new stuff now?
Because we have a new designers and thought leaders on the business it seemed
like the right time to refresh our materials.
One of the biggest frustrations in the community is to receive materials
that don't work - shakers leak, spoons aren't long enough. We've tried to address those things in the
design and production of the materials. So
everything works really well and was created with some close consultation with
notable people in the bartending community who gave us great feedback in the
prototype stage so we think they are great tools that are useful and
SS: What do you want our bartender
members to understand about Stoli's heritage and current place in the vodka
Our message with bartenders is a little different than other trade. The message to bartenders is Start with
Stoli. It's all about education and
empowerment. We want bartenders to be
able to rely on Stoli for information that will advance their career path and enhance
their skill sets.
insight here is simple. What we were
hearing from bartenders is that it is hard for them to access free information
that's going to help them in their careers.
The bartenders who we hope to appeal to with Start With Stoli are
primarily bartenders who are new in their career. For them, given their feedback, the impetus
was to bring a freely accessible program that offers information and content promoting
cocktail scholarship and bartending skill development This is targeting anyone who wants to be
better at their craft. Whoever they are.
Whatever kind of bar they work in.
But also wherever they are; it's a global initiative being promoted
around the world in Stoli marketing.
our trade partners - I want them to understand that Stoli USA is making an
effort to listen and make them real partners for us. We're trying to build brand plans that are
receptive and responsive to what bartenders are telling us they need.
SS: Are you expecting any classic
drinks to regain popularity as SWS rolls out?
first promotional period is around the Bloody Mary and second, this summer, is
around lemonade. So we're not
necessarily focused on retro or historically important cocktails. We think messaging about lemonade will be a
fun, exuberant expression of the brand and adds something very different to it.
With the lemonade we'll be talking to the trade about how great our flavors
SS: Many vodka brands have personalized copper
mugs for Moscow Mules but nobody has turned things on their head and co-opted
both of the main ingredients in this drink.
Share your thinking with me on the development, flavor profile, and roll
out of your new ginger beer.
Our approach at Stoli is to try and do things a little differently. When we had our initial brainstorm around how
to develop a new and interesting program around the Moscow Mule, our SVP of
Innovation and Trade, Michael Oringer, suggested that we create our own Ginger
Beer. Prior to joining Stoli Group USA, Mike spent about 20 years working in
the soft drinks industry, so he has the capability and know-how to bring a
Ginger Beer to market. That's how the idea originated, and how we were able to
bring it to market in just a few months.
construction of ginger beer comes from three profiles- the level of spice from
the ginger, the level of citrus notes (you need something acidic to make your
mouth water), and sweetness. The main
part of the development was to find the right balance on the flavor
profile. The product was developed to
taste great on its own as a standalone beverage but also to be delicious in a
SS: So when can the ShakeStir community
get their hands on it?
will be launching in the next eight weeks or so. We're doing aluminum cans, 8.4-ounce slim
cans, packed in four. We’re still
developing our distribution plan, but we hope to make it available through many
of our current distributors.
SS: How do you think Stoli is currently perceived
by our members and does that make you happy or is there something you'd like to
share to tweak their perception of the brand?
SG: I'm hoping that when they look at Stoli they
perceive a brand that is trying to help them improve their craft through a
program like SWS. I would also hope that
the bartending community understands our story about quality messaging and how
seriously we take the product quality.
SS: Before we go we just had to
ask- what's your own "go-to" Stoli cocktail and why?
SG: My favorite Stoli cocktail is a Bloody Mary
with Hot, which is our jalapeño flavor. I like spicy, savory drinks.
For more information about Stoli's Start With Stoli campaign and the Bartender's Dream Library, please visit StartWithStoli.com.