Story by Kim Willis
Vodka is about to get a lot more interesting with the arrival of Hounds Vodka hitting LCBO shelves starting in October. This black vodka, a unique version of the world’s most popular spirit, has Windsor roots.
About four years ago Andrew Kirby and a friend were golfing when the idea came to them to create their own brand of vodka. They later brought Andrew’s father, Dan Kirby, a retired executive with Seagrams on as a partner along with Mark Coulter.
The idea was not totally random. After studying business management at Conestoga College, Andrew founded Fresh Healthy Vending. After building the business, he was looking for new opportunities. Not long after one of the partners attended a party in Toronto and saw BLK water. BLK Beverages sells flavoured spring water infused with fulvic acid. It is basically a sports drink with black colouring. Andrew immediately thought how unique a black vodka would be that is infused with those same trace minerals.
With so many vodkas already on the market, the main question was how to differentiate themselves from competitors. With an entrepreneurial spirit shared by these men, they quickly got busy developing a premium brand of vodka that they have named Hounds Vodka. This premium grain spirit is infused with a fulvic and humic complex.
The infusion process accentuates natural flavours and gives Hounds its distinct colour.
Hounds Vodka has hints of wheat, vanilla and a slight citrus nose scent followed by a slightly sweet velvety and smooth mouth feel. The finish is quick, soft and lingers with sweetness.
After a four-year journey Andrew Kirby and partners, including BLK Beverages, could not be happier to see their product hitting shelves.
Getting a product onto shelves at the LCBO is a rigorous process.
“We spent years developing the product and clearing a long list of regulatory hurdles. The LCBO has to want to have your product on their shelves,” says Andrew. “Essentially you are trying to sell your product to one of the world’s largest purchasers of alcoholic beverages.”
The founders teamed up with a distillery, Rock Spirits, in St. John’s, Newfoundland. They worked with a blender there to perfect their unique product. Hounds Vodka is responsible for the branding, marketing and sales while Rock Spirits make the vodka, bottles it and then ships it to distributors.
"It is significantly cheaper to go this route," says Kirby. "The other route you would go is to build a distillery and produce it on your own, which is a massive capital cost."
Hounds Vodka sourced the main ingredient for its product, ethanol, from GreenField Specialty Alcohols Inc. in Tiverton, on Lake Huron. Canada's largest producer of ethanol, it produces 23 million litres a year of industrial and beverage alcohol.
The company's branding comes from Norse mythology. A story of Skoll and Hati who are ordered to chase the sun and the moon to keep the balance of day and night. Eventually they capture and devour the sun and the moon leaving the world to darkness. “Hound vodka was born.”
Fenrir is a monster wolf and when the sun refused to set, and bathed the world in 24 hours of light, he sent his two sons, Skoll and Hati, to grab the sun, and create the night. "Hounds Vodka was born," says the company's website.
They are very proud of the brand and are confident that the packaging will stand out on store shelves.
The feedback on the taste of the vodka has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We have done several taste tests and every time people pick ours. They love the smoothness.”
Getting the product onto LCBO shelves is just the first step of their plan. The important thing is to get bars and restaurants to carry the product and create excitement amongst consumers.
They believe that Hounds Vodka will create a lot of buzz because of its uniqueness.
“We are going to be all over social media and will also be reaching out to higher-end restaurants across Ontario to feature Hounds. We are also encouraging contests at restaurants to develop new drinks with the vodka.”
Hounds Black Vodka adds a whole new element to mixologists when creating new and exciting cocktails. A martini has never looked so good when made with Hounds.
Something as simple as a vodka soda is elevated with the use of Hound. It really turns an ordinary drink into a sleek cocktail. It takes the saying "new twist on an old drink" to a whole new level.
Next year the group plans to focus their efforts on getting Hounds Vodka distributed to the rest of Canada. They are also currently in the process of getting into the U.S. market.
“Our five-year plan is to be an international company,” states Andrew.
“We see our brand really changing the game for events. There is something about black. What could be more fitting than having a black martini at a black tie event?”