Clive Watson, co-partner at Our/Vodka, explains how they are redefining the drinks industry, one city at a time. Having opened London’s first vodka-only distillery under Hackney Downs Station, the team at Our/London Vodka are doing things differently, with art, entertainment and no nonsense branding at the forefront.
Words: Rachel Mantock
Looking through the glass wall in the middle of Our/London Vodka’s warehouse space, located inside the arches of Hackney Downs train station, is like being transported into an ultra modernised version of Walter White’s laboratory, with enormous brushed chrome and copper machines dominating the minimalist, white expanse and house music blaring as production takes place. Still only a baby, having being launched in November of last year, Our/London Vodka is one of five micro distilleries under the Our/Vodka umbrella. Aside from London, the cities of Berlin, Detroit, Seattle and Amsterdam each have their own versions of vodka, differing ever so slightly from city to city, but carrying a strong commonality. Local entrepreneurs own each distillery, making them semi independent, with a worldwide network that they can tap into for creative direction.
Initially being told that their idea was ludicrous, the expansion of this franchise has been astounding, with their first city distillery opening in 2011. Further distilleries are now set to launch in Houston, LA, Miami and New York. Our/Vodka will be opening the first Manhattan based vodka distillery since prohibition, which will no doubt make a big splash on the Manhattan drink scene. They are backed by multi national company Pernod Ricard, yet carry a very raw, fresh approach – something that is more commonly associated with small start ups. Pernod Ricard proves useful when it comes to negotiating around the differing legal systems in each country. They take a step back and let each micro distillery take charge when it comes to everything else, meaning that the innovation aspect of Our/London Vodka is in full force.
One half of the duo that own Our/London Vodka, Clive Watson, arrives at the warehouse full of witty energy and says: ‘In essence, we are a global vodka [brand] with local roots. The partners on the ground in each city produce and do all the selling in their territory. ‘The people who know all about vodka have joined forces with the people who know all about their city. Large drinks companies don’t think entrepreneurially. The fact that a company like Pernod Ricard has chosen to go into relatively unknown, risky territory is innovative.’
Our/Vodka was the brainchild of CEO and co-founder, Asa Capp, who was initially met with concerned faces and told she was crazy when she pitched her idea. Clive says: ‘They told her it would never work and that there was a reason it had never been done before. They said, “you have a day job, stop doing this”. She was adamant though and eventually they said go ahead, but do it in your spare time.’
After bringing her idea to multiple different audiences with the steering committee, she was given the official go ahead. Five years on, Our/London Vodka is the first vodka-only distillery in London, producing a premium, ‘stripped back, no nonsense’ product. ‘It has a genuine story behind it. We are not hiding behind a mass marketing blurb. We are very clear about what we are and we have an exceptional product. It doesn’t feel vulgar,’ says Watson. They produce a great quality vodka with no gimmicks or pretentious, filtered-through-unicorn-horns production techniques, keeping things simple yet refined.
‘The various terms surrounding these things have been over used; premium, super premium, ultra premium… we are not relying on that. Vodka needs a facelift, it’s been marketed and packaged in a certain way that needs updating and that is where we come in. We are going back to basics.’
The other half of the London ownership duo, Neil Chivers, is not from a typical drinks background, owning a music PR company. This is common practice when it comes to scouting for talent at Our/Vodka, with many of their partners coming from digital advertising, music and fashion. Watson describes their network as ‘a brilliant thing that has very high energy’.
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Doubling as an events space, their industrial, chalk-white warehouse, dotted with plants, aims to serve as a platform for talent in the arts, music and drinks industries. Watson stresses the importance of community and helping your neighbours out, also recognising this as a great way to build their network within London. ‘We want to find cool people to partner with; you can come down for a tasting, a tour and just hang out. We put on parties here and the sound system is great. People can take in our product in context this way,’ he explains.
‘We are not going down the traditional route; we are finding creative ways to get out there. This disruptive approach to selling is everything; it means we can’t just throw money at it.’
The sense of having a big, restlessly innovative family scattered around the world is something Watson relishes, stating: ‘There are a lot of creative minds at work at headquarters and this is their dream, despite the funny looks they got back when they started.’
Find out more about Our/London Vodka at ourvodka.com