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And Spring44's water is particularly pure. Joe Tamburini, senior engineer at Tetra Tech Inc., a firm that specializes in engineering and consulting services related to water, among other resources, confirms the results Lindauer got from the lab. "It's high-quality water," he says, after looking at the lab's report. "It's low in dissolved solids, which essentially means salts. It is considerably lower than tap water in these dissolved solids."

To create Spring44 vodka, Masters used stainless-steel tanks to distill a neutral grain spirit made from American-grown wheat, rye and corn mixed with the spring's water, which had been filtered to remove particulates. He then put the mixture through a coconut-husk carbon filtration system, designed to further even out the edges.

The spirit that resulted was smooth, pure and neutral, with a velvety mouthfeel. As it slid down the throat, it left the same lingering hint of herbaceousness as the water from the spring. When compared to market leaders Belvedere and Grey Goose, the Spring44 vodka had a similar mouthfeel — but those other vodkas had no distinguishing flavor characteristics.

Russ Wall and Jeff Lindauer at the source of Spring44.
mark manger
Russ Wall and Jeff Lindauer at the source of Spring44.
Jeff Lindauer's father bought the forty-acre parcel in the Roosevelt National Forest forty years ago.
mark manger
Jeff Lindauer's father bought the forty-acre parcel in the Roosevelt National Forest forty years ago.

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VIDEO

In this video, we go up the hill with the founders of the spirits company to see the spring that started it all. Watch video.

"It's the water," says Masters. "Belvedere and Grey Goose are the ones stripping down water. It makes a big difference."

While Masters was working on the recipe for Spring44 vodka, Lindauer and Wall got busy researching the vodka market, figuring out how it worked, analyzing the players and exploring distribution networks.

They learned that drinkers in this country give a slight edge to alcohol produced in America, although the overall market split between domestic and imported products is about fifty-fifty. But the figures for premium and super-premium clear spirits paint a very different picture: That part of the market is dominated by imports.

In the super-premium vodka category, Grey Goose alone accounts for 64 percent of the market share, with Belvedere and Ciroc each tallying 8 percentage points. Absolut dominates the premium brands, with a 40 percent market share; British Three Olives, Dutch Ketel One and Russian Stolichnaya weigh in with about 17 percent each. The only U.S. producer that has made any headway in market share is Texas-based Tito's, priced at the lower end of the premium section and now owning 3 percent of that market.

And for gin, the premium and super-premium category is entirely owned by British imports.

The numbers were the tipping point for Lindauer, the tech CEO who was about to become an ex-tech CEO. "If you look at premium-and-above clear spirits, you see a $3 billion-plus and growing segment, and 97 percent of it is imported," he explains. "That stuck out at me so meaningfully. Look at this white space — there is definitely room for a very premium American brand."

He now thought he had that brand. As the partners started introducing Spring44 at blind taste tests, their vodka consistently beat out Grey Goose, Belvedere and Ciroc.

And those were the products the Spring44 partners planned to compete with. They weren't going to market their vodka as a niche product, going up against other small Colorado craft distillers such as Leopold Bros. and Caprock for a sliver of the market. They were going to go big. "I'm not competing with Leopold's," says Lindauer. "I want them to do well. I think we should all want each other to really succeed. There's a lot to be said for the small, handcrafted artisan thing. I applaud that and I love it — but that's not what we're about."

Instead, Spring44 is about taking on the shiny imports. But to do that, the partners knew they had to have not just the world's best vodka, but a great way to communicate that brand to the consumer.

Fortunately, they had a symbol that would sell the story: the actual Spring 44. Through their spirits, they hoped to transport drinkers back to the source. To a pristine piece of Colorado wilderness where the water that bubbles out of the ground is more pure than tap water. To one of the last patches of the rugged, seemingly untouched West.

Not only was Spring44 vodka made with water from that spring, it contained no artificial colors or flavors. What ingredients were used were sourced as locally as possible, with some organic or grown sustainably. "It's a mix of legacy — land of my father and this spring — combined with the cause," explains Lindauer. "We're building a truly great American brand. And we're doing it transparently and authentically. We're not manufacturing anything in terms of the story."

******

Once they had their prototype product, the partners weren't about to stop. They also wanted to make a flavored vodka that was different from other flavored vodkas on the market. And in a nod to Lindauer's personal preferences and a hunch about future consumer preferences, they wanted to do a gin.

Masters worked on the gin first. "We threw a lot of shit at the wall, and one of them eventually stuck," he says.

"I'm a gin freak," Lindauer admits. "There was a lot of suffering." The winner was a blend of juniper berries, of course, plus lemon and lime peel, lime leaf, cinnamon, orange peel, coriander, orris, jasmine green tea, galangal, pearls of paradise and a top-secret ingredient that the company claims isn't used in other gins. It's done in a new-world, non-juniper-heavy style that Masters says is nothing like the gin he eventually crafted for his own brand.

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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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