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Lindauer spent six months exploring what it would take to bottle Spring 44 water, but he finally abandoned the idea when he realized he would have to charge somewhere between $12 and $15 per bottle to turn a profit, thanks to the immense amount of work it would take to extract the water from the ground. "We would have to sell to spas and resorts and very niche markets," he says. "It just wasn't worth it."

He delivered the bad news to Wall, and assumed that any idea of selling the water would soon dry up.

A few months later, though, Lindauer was at a family reunion in Nebraska when he ran into a cousin who owned a chain of home-brew stores. "I told him about the bottled-water thing," recalls Lindauer. "He said, 'You should find out how well your water would do in spirit rectification, since water is one of the most important components in spirits, especially clear spirits.' That resonated with me as a business proposition."

When he returned to San Francisco, where he was now a partner at a boutique strategic advisory firm, Lindauer started thinking seriously about vodka.

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Video: Take a video tour to the spring that started Spring44.

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Although there's a reference to vodka in an 1871 issue of the New York Times, the spirit wasn't really discovered in this country until after Prohibition. And according to "Vodka Nation," Victorino Matus's August 15 story in the Weekly Standard, it didn't become popular until the 1950s, when the Moscow Mule was invented in a Los Angeles bar and the cocktail quickly spread across the country. By the late 1960s, vodka had surpassed gin to become this country's most popular clear spirit; by the mid-1970s, it had edged out whiskey to become the most popular liquor in America. There's no sign of vodka's growth slowing down, either: It's increased its market share year after year, especially at the premium and super-premium levels, and is now a category worth billions of dollars.

One reason for vodka's popularity is its neutral flavor. Rob Masters, a founding member of the Colorado Distillers Guild, calls it "white paint." It's also been compared to a chicken breast, tofu and a blank canvas. Unlike other alcohols, which have distinct characteristics and flavors to be hidden or enhanced in a drink, vodka is a spirit that takes on the flavors of whatever it's mixed with.

But more than flavor characteristics (or lack thereof), the rise of vodka can be credited to a successful stretch of advertising that's helped push it along, says Todd Leopold of Denver-based Leopold Bros. "It leaves you breathless," Smirnoff, America's first — and still largest — standard brand, famously claimed almost fifty years ago. Celebrity endorsements that followed helped.

Later, Swedish-produced Absolut launched its groundbreaking visual campaign featuring the silhouette of its bottles; it soon overtook Stolichnaya, until then the largest imported premium vodka.

In the 1990s, Grey Goose burst onto the scene with a luxurious product story that focused on its distillation in France — perceived to make the best of everything — and created an entirely new category of vodka: a super-premium category where producers could charge $30 a bottle. Typical marketing antics today include parading attractive women in impossibly tight clothing through clubs, where they dole out shots and drinks. Vodka is the alcohol associated with bottle service and A-list partying with bling-wearing celebrities. Even the recession hasn't tempered that: Super-premium vodka brands grew by 17 percent last year.

A few years ago, a new niche in the market emerged: Craft spirits have experienced a major upsurge, and many consumers have begun to favor small-production brands over the mass-produced players. If they drink vodka at all, that is: The spirit has lost popularity with some of the top bartenders in the country, who attempt to steer their patrons toward gin instead.

But that is "a haughty bartender thing," says Sean Kenyon, Euclid Hall bar manager and writer of Westword's Ask a Bartender. "Vodka is the number-one spirit by far, and there's no sign of it letting up. As an intelligent barman, you have to embrace vodka."

Lindauer and Wall were certainly ready to. Joined by Jeff "Mac" McPhie, the VP of operations of a manufacturing firm who would soon come on as Spring44's third partner and COO, in 2008 they went to Colorado Pure, a distilling company since sold to Shadow Beverage that specialized in creating private-label spirits. "We knew how to make spirits and deal with the B.S. of the government," explains Rob Masters, who was working there at the time. "But we didn't want to deal with selling it. So we made it under private labels and sold it to people who could sell it."

The future partners presented Masters with a sample of Spring 44 water and their vision for a new vodka. "They wanted something that could be re-created and scaled up," he remembers.

That meant the cleanest, purest spirit that Colorado Pure could make. While Masters believes in using high-quality spring water for any spirit he crafts — Indian Peaks spring water is key to Rob's Mtn Gin, the small-batch gin he's now making in Boulder — it's especially important for vodka. "There's technology out there that will let you strip water down and add things back in, and a lot of brewers do that," Masters says. "But vodka is 40 percent ethanol and 60 percent water. Ethanol is ethanol. It doesn't have much to it. But the water is a big deal."

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12 comments
pure drinking water
pure drinking water

Reverse osmosis is a phenomenon which is used to purify water. Reverse osmosis water is obtained by forcing the water from tap through small holes on the membrane. The small holes are smaller than the particles of microscopic impurities. These holes ensure that only the pure water passes through it and all the contaminants, micro organisms are left behind. Reverse osmosis water has gifted several families a healthy life.

Karen Hufnagel Hoskin
Karen Hufnagel Hoskin

Welcome to the family from Montanya Distillers of Crested Butte (formerly of Silverton). We invite you to swing by our new Distillery (up from 2,000 sq ft. to a total of 5700!) for a visit. Ultimately, I think the only way to stay in the game is to control and oversee the making of your product from start to finish, from grain (or cane in our case) to glass, and to make the spirit as close to your exceptional water source as possible. I can't imagine how you will get enough water to Oregon to meet Southern's needs, and how it will stay fresh in transition on our lovely US highways. So I hope a distillery of your own becomes a reality for you soon! Best of luck and hope to see you along the road...

Emgqabbert
Emgqabbert

Great article, I wish you guys a very successful business. Bring it to Tampa.

SG
SG

A great read about a beautiful brand in the making - I wish you fortune and health in your endeavors, gentlemen!

It's just fantastic that you've captured, and further created, lightning in a bottle by use of Mr. Lindauer's water, water far superior to Belvedere's and Grey Goose's unremarkable, RO/DI-engineered "blank canvases".

SGDenver, CO

 
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