Hit­ting the shelves

Water­loo’s black Hounds Vodka ar­rives at LCBO next week

Waterloo Region Record - - FRONT PAGE - Terry Pen­der, Record staff

WATER­LOO — Next week, the LCBO will be­gin sell­ing black vodka — a unique ver­sion of the world’s most pop­u­lar spirit — that was cre­ated by a Water­loobased com­pany.

An­drew Kirby, co-founder and pres­i­dent of Hounds Vodka, spent years de­vel­op­ing the prod­uct and clear­ing a long list of reg­u­la­tory hur­dles.

What he de­scribes as min­er­al­in­fused, pre­mium vodka goes on sale next week, and the young en­tre­pre­neur couldn’t be hap­pier.

“It has been about a four-year jour­ney to this point,” says Kirby.

The vodka is in­fused with ful­vic and hu­mic acids, mak­ing the nor­mally clear liq­uid black. There is a hint of vanilla and cit­rus flavours. But most im­por­tant, says Kirby, it is the only black vodka on the shelves.

Af­ter study­ing busi­ness man­age­ment at Con­estoga Col­lege, Kirby owned and op­er­ated a fran­chise of Fresh Healthy Vend­ing. Af­ter build­ing up that busi­ness, he was look­ing for new and in­ter­est­ing chal­lenges.

“One of my good friends and I de­cided we wanted to do a vodka com­pany, but there are so many vodka com­pa­nies, how do you dif­fer­en­ti­ate your­self from ev­ery­one else?” says Kirby.

The an­swer came at a trade show in Toronto where Kirby’s friend saw a com­pany, Blk Bev­er­ages, that was sell­ing flavoured spring water in­fused with ful­vic acid. It is a sports drink with black colour­ing. When Kirby heard about that, he im­me­di­ately thought “black vodka.”

“That would be unique,” he says.

Kirby’s dad, Dan, who used to work for Di­a­geo, one of the world’s big­gest mak­ers of spir­its, thought it was a great idea. To­gether, they own a ma­jor­ity stake in Hounds Vodka. Two friends — Chris Mak­ila and Mark Coul­ter — are co-founders. The com­pany that makes the black-coloured sports drinks is a part owner.

“We cold-called this com­pany,” says Kirby. “We told them who we were and what we were try­ing to do. They loved the idea. So we ended up bring­ing them on as a part­ner as well.”

Kirby teamed up with a dis­tillery in St. John’s, N.L., called Rock Spir­its, and worked with a blender there to per­fect the taste. Hounds Vodka does the brand­ing, mar­ket­ing and sales. Rock Spir­its makes the vodka, bot­tles it and ships the prod­uct.

“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.

Hounds Vodka is in­fused with the ful­vic and hu­mic acids.

“And we do add a slight bit of colour just to keep it con­sis­tent, and to make the colour just a tad bit more at­trac­tive,” says Kirby.

A few days ago, 750 cases of the vodka ar­rived in the Water­loo com­pany’s ware­house.

It will go on sale at 85 LCBO out­lets in the com­ing days. Kirby is run­ning a con­test with some lo­cal bars and restau­rants to de­velop new drinks us­ing the vodka.

Not in­clud­ing mar­ket­ing costs, the founders say they have in­vested $130,000 in the ven­ture. Be­cause the vodka is in­fused with ful­vic and hu­mic acids, it had to be tested and cleared by Health Canada and the Cana­dian Food In­spec­tion Agency.

As a re­sult of the reg­u­la­tory re­view, the first batch of bot­tles must in­clude a sticker that says: “Not a source of min­eral nu­tri­ents.”

“We are able to sell the lot we pro­duced,” says Kirby.

“We have to put our sticker on it. Go­ing for­ward we have to tweak our la­bel a lit­tle bit, not much. We have to es­sen­tially take off the word ‘min­eral’ and call it a ‘black vodka’.”

The com­pany’s brand­ing comes straight out of Norse mythol­ogy.

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.

…there are so many vodka com­pa­nies, how do you dif­fer­en­ti­ate your­self… AN­DREW KIRBY, HOUNDS VODKA

DAVID BEBEE, RECORD STAFF

An­drew Kirby, co-founder and pres­i­dent of Hounds Vodka, holds a glass of the com­pany’s black vodka. The Con­estoga grad wanted his prod­uct to stand out.

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