HAUTE PARTNERS : Double Cross Vodka

 “We have a world-class vodka on our hands and, if we play our cards right, possibly one of the great spirits brands of all time. No pun intended, I’ve poured my entire life into the success of this venture.”

With the sky glowing a stunning blend of orange, pink and blue and the massive summer sun slowly sinking below the jagged horizon of the Tatra Mountains of Slovakia, a small blue car wound its way down from the mountains into the valley below. In the car sat Dr. Malcolm Lloyd, his godfather John Gellner and their trusted Slovakian translator and local country liaison. After touring dozens of distilleries throughout Eastern Europe, Lloyd and his team knew they’d found the one.

Nestled on a hillside in a 13th-century village tucked into the foothills of the Tatras, they’d discovered a distillery and its passionate master distiller Jan Krak, who was working on what he felt was the best-tasting, purest vodka he’d ever produced in his 50 years of making the clear spirit. The vodka stunned Lloyd and the others with its taste and character.

“I knew that day I’d found an incredible master distiller, an ideal distillery partner, a gorgeous and unique country of origin and a rich story for this vodka,” Lloyd said.

Lloyd and his team went on to work with Krak and the distillery to put the finishing touches on the final formula for the vodka. The final product is handcrafted in small batches using locally-grown winter wheat, and mountain spring water. Each batch is seven-times distilled and seven-times filtered, resulting in an exceptionally smooth and clean vodka. The vodka would later be named Double Cross, to honor the centuries-old double cross symbol in the Slovak flag and coat of arms.

“I’m still as excited today as I was that day in Slovakia crammed in the car flying down those mountain roads,” Lloyd says. “We have a world-class vodka on our hands and, if we play our cards right, possibly one of the great spirits brands of all time. No pun intended, I’ve poured my entire life into the success of this venture.”

But make no mistake about it, breaking into the vodka industry is no martini happy hour. The vodka segment is very competitive with hundreds of new brands launched every year – from small start-up brands to new releases from the largest spirits companies. Vodka is the top-selling spirit in the U.S. with 32 percent of the multi-billion dollar spirits market.

And still companies large and small seek to succeed in the vodka segment because if you can build a brand with the right blend of marketing, price and growth you can, for lack of a better term, strike it rich. Acquisition prices in the segment during the last decade average eight times current revenue of the purchased company. Grey Goose famously sold in 2004 for $2.4 billion after about eight years on the market. In 2008, Absolut sold for $8.9 billion. That same year Ketel One sold half its company for $900 million. The year before Svedka sold for $340 million. The list goes on. You can see why companies want into this lucrative space.

Despite the competitive nature of the vodka market, Lloyd is positive and confident in the direction of Double Cross.

“The future is very bright,” he says. “With the larger spirits companies focused more on value brands, the economic downturn actually afforded us with a unique and ironic opportunity to get a foothold in what we believe is the next generation price point for top-shelf martini vodka, which is about $39.99 retail.”

Double Cross is currently available in more than 30 states throughout the United States. It has won numerous industry awards for taste and bottle design. Wine Enthusiast gave it a rare 95 points, the ultra-critical Spirits Review gave it four stars and Double Cross is the only vodka ever to win gold medals for both taste and design at the San Francisco World Spirit Competition, arguably the most important spirits competition in the world.

As a result, top bars, clubs and restaurants in markets like New York, Miami, Boston, Atlanta, New Jersey and more feature the vodka. It’s popular in places like the Boom Boom Room and 1Oak in New York City and Prime 112 and the Fontainebleau in Miami. The brand recently signed a deal with Morton’s Steakhouse, to be the lead vodka used in a signature martini throughout the country.  After much success in The Palm Steakhouses of New York, Double Cross is now behind every Palm bar across the U.S.