Locally-crafted spirits with a “pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstrap” origin story have won the hearts of cocktail enthusiasts everywhere in a way that Vodka hasn’t quite been able to capture.
1. reflecting or characterized by both local and global considerations
2. see Our/Vodka
Enter: Åsa Caap, founder and CEO at Our/Vodka—the first global craft micro-distilled Vodka. (Yes, that’s a mouthful.) She, along with five other Swedish entrepreneurs, had the wacky idea to create a global brand with local roots.
Huh? Right. We’ll explain.
Having worked as Absolut’s chief of innovation, she turned to what she knew best: Vodka. She and her merry band of entrepreneurs worked crazy hours outside of their 9-to-5 gigs on a covert ‘black ops’ mission under the umbrella of Pernod Ricard. The result? A series of Vodkas produced by micro-distilleries in cities all around the world using the ingredients and resources available to them locally.
Each distillery is run by its own local entrepreneur who determines how the brand is marketed and sold, while keeping true to the method of production used in each distillery. Currently, the brand has landed in six cities: Berlin, London, Amsterdam, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, with Miami waiting in the wings.
We sat down with Åsa and got to know her and the brand, including the difference in flavor profiles from city to city and what she rocks out to when drinking Vodka.
Why do you think the world needs a “global craft micro-distilled Vodka brand?”Well, I think our brand reflects what the world has become. In my previous research—and this was seven years ago—we saw the craft movement building steam. We saw that people were going to care more about their local community.
But to me, it felt so "either, or." The craft trend is all about local, local, local. They won't buy anything that is produced by a big brand, and anything that's considered “global" is seen in a negative light. On the other hand, I have teenagers—so I know how global they are. They have friends all over the world. They travel without travel, really. They don't see themselves as Swedes, even.
And then I thought: why does it have to be "either, or?” I hate "either, or." I always want to have the cake and eat it too, so to speak. So, I thought, there must be a way that you could create something that is built on local relevance, but has a global belonging, as well. I started looking into all kinds of industries and I couldn't find anything anywhere. I still haven't come across anyone that has succeeded.
Although, I'm not in the research phase anymore and haven't been for the last five years, so I'm sure there are other brands. But I was obsessed with the thought, especially when I wasn’t seeing anyone else trying it. So, it could have been anything. It wasn't just Spirits—it was a bigger dream, like a bigger thought. I just happened to be in Spirits. So, you know, it made sense.
Why go with Our/Vodka instead of something that might have been currently trendier, like Our/Whiskey?I think there were probably several reasons. I was working with Vodka. I like Vodka. Vodka is also less complicated with the city distilleries because in a city environment if you want the product to be urban—meaning, it comes from the urban distillery that we build—you cannot store or age any product there because of the angel share and the ethanol.
It could have been Gin, but Vodka is bigger and broader. And I also come from Sweden, you know, the "Vodka Belt" area. And I feel like I should be a defender of Vodka.
We know that you were incredibly passionate and persistent about this project and mission. Can you tell us a bit more about your background and how you found yourself pushing for this company to be created?Well, right before Our/Vodka, I was the innovation director for Absolut. And before I was headhunted there, I had my own company. Before going to Absolut, I sold off some of my businesses and decided to join a big company for the first time in my life. I had never been employed by a big company like that, so it was a huge change.
If you ask my mom, I've always been stubborn. And now I have stubborn kids, so she's quite happy that I get it right back, actually. So I was raised to challenge the world, I think. Not that my parents were hippies, but they were entrepreneurs. And they were really raising me and my brother to believe that you never give up. You fight for what you believe in. Just because it's done in a certain way, doesn't mean that's how it should be done. What you bring to the table is your “how.”
In fact, my dad always told me like, "A job description is bullshit." Because if you tell people what to do, then you will never find out how they would have done it if they had done it in their own way.
This is how I was raised. I’m not a troublemaker, but I've always challenged things. I try always to improve things and see if there is another way—a better way.
1) If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
The ability to look into the future.
2) How would you explain Our/Vodka in three words?
Cheeky. Delicious. Glocal.
3) What would you eat and drink for your last supper?
Swedish fish roe dish with rye bread and a glass of ice-cold Our/Vodka.
4) What is your favorite music and what drink goes with it?
AC/DC with Our/Vodka on the rocks.
5) What's your second favorite vodka? (That’s assuming that Our/Vodka is your favorite.)
This is gonna sound like so predictable, but it's Absolut. 100% Absolut. It's been my favorite brand my whole life. I grew up with Absolut. It's the world's biggest craft brand. They do everything right. I feel that they are the big handsome brother of Our/Vodka—it’s such a beautiful brand, I think.
Our/Vodka was born out of Pernod Ricard, but it’s been your brainchild from the beginning. Can you tell us more about how it came about?I mean, Absolut is a super innovative brand—it’s one of the world's biggest brands. We had a lot of resources at hand and we worked with the best trend forecasting agencies in the world. And so, for me, it was like being a kid in a candy store because we were served with these trend reports quarterly.
And this is when I saw a trend that I personally was really fond of was—producing things local to where you live and buying local. But it wasn’t applicable to Absolut because Absolut is a one-source brand item. It’s actually the world's biggest craft brand, but nobody really knows because it's so big now. But it's made in one place. That's part of their brand story.
So that idea was not applicable to Absolut. I was just told, "We put this aside, you know, it's not accessible for any of the big players." And I was like, "Why? There has to be a way." This is when I decided that there must be a way.
I sketched up the structure of the business model and I had some outside entrepreneurs on board. Then, I tried to convince Pernod Ricard to invest in it from the beginning. First of all, because I thought it was fair. I had the idea because of the trends I was exposed to at work. It was not in my job description to work on any new brands, I was only innovating on the existing Absolut franchise.
I get this question all the time: "Why didn't you take the idea outside? You know, there must have been several investors." And there were. But coming from the inside, I also know that it's complicated with Spirits. Not only complicated in making a good product, but also because of the legislation, because of the tax, because of everything that's been going on around Spirits and the criminal world over, I mean, decades. It's complicated and it's very regulated due to the history of the industry.
And it’s costly to spend all our money on that. So I thought that if we had the support from a company with big muscles, but still run this brand as a separate company under the umbrella of Pernod Ricard, that would be the best of both. Of course, I didn't really know what I was getting myself into because it was way more complicated than I thought. But you know, like everything you pursue in life, sometimes it's good that you don't know all these things from the beginning.
Which cities are the Our/Vodka micro-distilleries currently located?It’s Berlin, Amsterdam and London. Then it's Detroit, Los Angeles and New York. We also opened Seattle, but that one we closed. After a year, we closed it, which was super sad and tough. Usually, from when we sign the lease until we open, we do a lot of research. But it’s hard to know everything. 11 distilleries opened during that time. So the market was crazy. A lot of legislation around alcohol changed. The tax situation changed. I mean, there were so many things that changed that the business case just didn't make sense anymore, which was sad.
How do you choose your local partners?Our local partners are young and hungry—this is the break that they've been looking for. They have an entrepreneurial soul. And this is they type of person we were looking for, which turns out to be way more suitable for the nature of our business.
Let's say we open Miami. Now, we’ve already opened six distilleries. If you're young and hungry, you also wanna learn. You want to do things your own way, but you're also willing to listen. Like, "Okay what did you learn there? How can we do this better? What are they doing over there?" You're not, "been there done that. I know my own way," kind of person.
What’s the flavor profile of the Our/Vodka? Does Our/New York taste different than Our/Los Angeles?They do. If you lined them up, they taste differently. If I took you through the tasting, you would definitely sense the difference between New York, Los Angeles and Berlin.
The difference comes from the ingredients we source locally. There could be wheat in Berlin, grapes in California, sugarcane in Florida, corn in Michigan, and so forth. And also water. I mean, water is a big proportion of the Vodka. That has a great impact on the product. Like New Yorkers, I hate New York water, but they're super proud of their water. And for them, it's a big thing that it's made out of New York City water, city tap water.
However, with Our/Vodka, there's always a global ingredient, because we're global and local. The majority of the product is sourced locally. But there is one ingredient that is the same everywhere. It's a wheat distillate that we make in Sweden and that they distill on site. And this gives the Vodka a slight floral note. And if I took you through a tasting of Our/Vodka, you would definitely sense, I hope, this little ingredient we pop in. It's a super small part of every Vodka, but it's a common strand of DNA that we have in all our babies.
You’ve made some unusual choices when it comes to bottle size, caps and packaging. How do you want people to consume Our/Vodka?This is not to criticize anyone else, but we, the founding team of Our/Vodka, never share a bottle of Vodka or Spirits with our friends. It’s too big—you don't drink that amount of Vodka unless you're 20 or 10 people. But if you're three to five people and you want to share something, you share a bottle of Wine—you don't share a large bottle of high-proof Spirits.
We wanted to do something else. We asked ourselves, "what is the perfect size for sharing with friends?" Because if you're a person who likes to share, that also says a lot about your personality. That's a special type of person. We also share our lives when we travel and I think that’s the essence of Our/Vodka. We share the world. And when we make a city Vodka, we want share it with everybody. Also, we want to share our city with the tourists who come visit. Our partners are always super in love with their city. And they came on board partly because they want to share it with the world.
What is your favorite meal to pair with Our/Vodka?One good thing about Vodka is that you can pair it up with anything. I like it my Vodka super cold and straight served with fish roe. I do fish roe with thinly sliced onions, and then sour cream and dill. And then you have butter-fried bread and wheat with it. It’s the best. That's my favorite.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.