When the small-batch spirits movement began gaining momentum about seven years ago, few were watching as closely as Åsa Caap, who was then the innovation director for Absolut Vodka. “There was a lot of talk about the growing craft and local trend,” she recalls. Rather than panic, Caap took it as a challenge. “I couldn’t get it out of my head: Why couldn’t there be a local brand that’s also a global brand?”
Her solution: Our/Vodka, a network of semi-independent distilleries under the umbrella of Absolut’s parent company, Pernod Ricard. As CEO of Our/Vodka, Caap partners with entrepreneurs to help set up their facilities, which include tasting rooms and bars. The distillers run the operation as their own, creating vodkas based on the same Pernod Ricard formula, but with local ingredients for a distinct flavor. After debuting in Berlin in 2013, Our/Vodka now has outposts in Detroit and Seattle. But it’s expanding quickly, with distilleries in Amsterdam and London about to open, and ones in Manhattan, Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, and Paris on deck.
The key, according to Caap, is tapping into a growing entrepreneurial community that’s not too slick or “glossy,” but also not resistant to working with a large brand such as Pernod Ricard. “We didn’t want to be in Brooklyn or Austin or Portland,” where residents can be too picky about the localness of their products, says Caap. “Early on, we ended up defending why we’re not local enough. We want to be global and local.”
In that regard, Detroit, with its entrepreneurial-driven urban revitalization, is an ideal destination. “It was just a perfect match with us,” Caap says. Our/Detroit, which opened in August 2014, operates as a bar four nights a week, sells bottles of vodka and other Detroit-made products, and doubles as a gallery and event space. Its founders have hosted dinners for local micro-grant organization Detroit Soup and completed a pocket park on the distillery’s block. “We have all the freedom to do what we want with the brand,” says partner Kate Bordine, who is also the creative director of Detroit coworking space Ponyride.
So far, none of the locations have turned a profit, but Our/Berlin expects to be in the black by the middle of next year. Meanwhile, Caap is starting to think about Asia, Australia, and Latin America, though she’s taking it slowly. “We’re still dreaming about conquering the world,” she says, “but at a good pace.”