A few weeks ago, I accepted an offer to sit down for lunch with Absolut Elyx CEO and founder Jonas Tahlin, mainly because I enjoy his product, a high-end vodka that sells for about $50 per bottle. Like most people in food media, I’d spent the previous few years circling further and further out of vodka’s orbit. Negronis, Manhattans, G&T’s — none of these go-to cocktails require a certain flavorless, colorless spirit. Why’d I come back?
First, I received an unexpected promotional package: a bottle of Absolut Elyx and a copper pineapple drinking vessel that weighed more than the bottle itself. My interest piqued, I brought the bottle home — and it sat in my liquor cabinet for months. Then I tried Elyx at an event at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans in 2015, and spoke at length with Absolut master distiller Krister Asplund. He had me drink the spirit straight, and I had the kind of revelation that he and Tahlin are surely seeking: I saw the light. Elyx is an extremely drinkable vodka, one I could enjoy with a big square ice cube, the way I would a nice bourbon. I’m not the only one who’s come around; for instance, Chris Crowley wrote a mostly positive piece on Punch that I’d recommend reading right after you’re done here: “Can Elyx Fashion a New Image for Luxury Vodka?”
Over lunch, Tahlin walked me through the evolution of Elyx, then revealed a bit of news that the company is announcing today: Elyx will expand from mere luxury vodka brand and starting Elyx Boutique, with design products such as drinking vessels, as well as cuff links and copper turbans and cookie cutters. The items all play off the copper theme because Asplund, Tahlin and their crew are all very proud of the copper distillation process, which is kinda vodka-nerdy. To use Tahlin’s description, “It’s the use of sacrificial copper that removes, in the distillation process, almost all of the unwanted trace compounds that you don’t want in the vodka that allows it to not have the filter, and that’s why it retains the flavor.” At a time when many vodka companies tout things like “4x distilled,” Absolut Elyx is suggesting that multiple distillations strip vodka of flavor.
Before he offhandedly mentioned the boutique, I pressed him about why Absolut, which has such a strong brand with its namesake vodka, needed to expand into the luxury market. He reminded me of the Swedish company’s ill-fated Level, a premium product that failed, and graciously admitted that parent company Pernod Ricard really needed a high-end vodka that actually appealed to consumers. The fact that Elyx, which soft-launched about three years ago, is on trend with the craft spirits movement was a happy accident, he suggested.
“It was not part of a big strategy where we sat down five years ago and said, ‘All right, craft spirits are about to explode in America, let’s create a craft vodka,'” he told me.
The boutique, on the other hand, does seem strategic. The brand sold the same pineapple drinking vessel they’d sent me at launch and found a surprisingly large audience for it, and the copper theme is like a marketing godsend. Thus, they’ve expanded into cufflinks, gnome cups, decorative pieces, a collection of turbans by designer Julia Clancey and more, all priced between $70 and $400. There’s also a charity partnership with the organization Water for People: For every item sold in the Elyx Boutique, Elyx will provide access to one month of safe water (560 liters) to someone in need.
Most of the items are limited edition and available at the online boutique as well as at two holiday pop-ups, at Bryant Park’s Bank of America Winter Village in New York City (through January 1, 2017) and during Miami’s Art Basel in December.
Toward the end of our lunch, Tahlin conceded that he now has two challenges: convincing people that Elyx is a truly extraordinary vodka and, he said, “to continue to build Elyx not just as a strong vodka but as a lifestyle brand.” It’s a tricky feat to be sure, but Absolut has done it before, working with artist Keith Haring and tapping into New York City culture in the 1980s. Could a copper pineapple bring Absolut Elyx the same type of synergy? Time will tell.