Behemoth liquor conglomerate Pernod Ricard is bringing its "local"-styled multi-city/global vodka brand to Ballard. Here in Seattle, it's going to be called Our/Seattle Vodka—feels so inclusive, doesn't it?—and it'll have an "urban micro distillery" (very likely including a tasting room/bar) in the former Ballard Camera space on Market Street at 20th.
Pernod Ricard is the corporation that owns Absolut, as well as Chivas Regal, Jameson, Glenlivet, Malibu, Kahlua, Beefeater, and on and on and on. Its Our/[Insert City Here] local-lookalike marketing scheme was first rolled out in Berlin last year; it's now been installed in, or is imminent in, 11 cities around the world.
From a 2013 Pernod Ricard Our/Vodka press release:
Our/Vodka is different. It’s a global vodka made by local partners in cities around the world.
We believe in local power and supporting the neighborhood. Therefore, we partner up with local people who love their city. They have their own take on Our/Vodka and give it the city’s personality and expression. The vodka is produced in urban micro distilleries that we build in each city. It is made with ingredients sourced as local as possible using a global recipe. Our/Vodka always looks the same but each city gives its name and character to the vodka.
The Our/Seattle Vodka website namechecks the Ballard SeafoodFest and the Syttende Mai Parade (which were back in July and May, respectively—someone at Pernod Ricard better hit whoever's in charge of the website with a rolled-up newspaper), and says, "We are super excited to be apart [sic] of the Ballard community."
Steven Stone, who runs actually local Sound Spirits in Interbay, says that Pernod Ricard put out feelers for what they're calling "local partners" in the Seattle distilling community earlier this year, but that as far as he knows, no one wanted to join the big liquor empire. (Right now, Pernod Ricard is looking for a distillery manager and a sales manager in Seattle on Craigslist.) Stone says, "I can't believe they think that it's a good idea. I really don't see it working out." But, he continues, "Every distiller in Seattle and beyond is watching this closely."
Holly Robinson, one of the co-founders of actually local Captive Spirits Distilling in Ballard, says:
I do believe they will be ABSOLUTLY be eaten alive by the community. Seeing they are opening a few blocks away, we are hoping to use some of their dollars to lure more customers to the neighborhood to see our awesome Ballard breweries, distilleries, & such... this is their way to get their foot in the door to a [local] scene that they've [otherwise] dominated for decades.
Lexi (she just goes by that), who runs the actually local Old Ballard Liquor Co., is apprehensive:
Obviously my feelings are none too positive toward it. But if there's one thing that being a small fish in a pond full of whales is, is that most consumers won't know or care. The cynic in me feels like they'll use their big advertising bucks to manipulate accounts away from local craft vodka distillers.
Because it's always smart to send our local dollars to poor Pernod Ricard in another country.
Speaking of cynicism, there's already an Our/Detroit Vodka. Over at Deadline Detroit, Jeff Wattrick has done a fine job of documenting Pernod Ricard's especially disingenuous, icky marketing in Detroit, which manipulates that city's situation in especially disingenuous, icky ways:
We're launching this business as a catalyst for meaningful community conversations, inspiring exchanges and of course, the occasional party.
Nope. You're launching your business to make money selling vodka. If you truly wanted to create a "catalyst for meaningful community conversations," you would have earned a social work degree, became a community organizer, and formed a neighborhood association.
And what ingredients of Our/Seattle Vodka will actually be local? It's doubtful that Pernod Ricard is setting it up as a craft distillery—which would require that they use 51 percent locally grown materials—so, Lexi says:
This basically means that they’ll be purchasing premade neutral spirits from an industrial factory in another state. To be clear, that’s not a big deal in and of itself if they’re a) presenting it as such, and b) pricing it appropriately. But if they’re doing what Berlin is doing and buying ultra-cheap industrial ethanol and then diluting it with tap water (aside: WHAT. THE. FUCK.?! TAP WATER? SERIOUSLY?!), then charging 2x the going vodka rate, that’s utter bullshit.
Tap water is local, right?
The CEO & Global Brand Director for the project—who also happens to be "Innovation Director" at Absolut—has yet to respond to a query about when the Our/Seattle distillery will open, who (if anyone) they have on board locally, and what locally sourced ingredients will be used.
After the jump: an icky Our/[Insert City Here] Vodka promo video.