Hitting the shelves
Waterloo’s black Hounds Vodka arrives at LCBO next week
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
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.