Gypsy Vodka: A dream in a bottle | SummitDaily.com

Gypsy Vodka: A dream in a bottle

A 24-year-old Michigander fresh out of college and looking for direction, Michael Kazanowski found it atop a Breckenridge ski lift.

On the lift that day almost three years ago was Paul Dunning, a Colorado distiller who makes Snova Vodka and private label brands at his facility in Aurora.

Now 27, Michael spends much of his time on the road, living out of his van, as he searches for liquor stores, bars and restaurants willing to carry his brand of spirits — Gypsy Vodka — also produced at Dunning's facility and now being sold in two states — Colorado and Michigan.

But Michael isn't alone on this journey because his twin brother, Adam, is a full business partner.

The idea

It seems meeting the seasoned distiller left a lasting impression on the young Michigander, who only a year before that chance encounter had just graduated college with a degree in health science, was working a good job in Michigan and was considering medical school.

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"But I was like, $300,000, I can't do this," Michael said of forgoing his continued education and instead moving to Colorado, which came as the result of a single trip he took to Breckenridge when he was in college.

During a recent interview at one of his favorite local haunts, the Mexican food restaurant Angels Hollow in Breckenridge, the sociable purveyor of vodka with a million dollar smile knew at least a half-dozen people well enough to stop and say hi. Listening to him speak, he's smart and articulate, and he's down to have a good time.

It might be these qualities that have served Michael so well thus far in his vodka venture. Without a plan or knowing anyone who lived here, he landed his first roommates in Breck on Craigslist, and he found a menial job in a local shop to make ends meet.

He had lived in Colorado for about a year — loving the lifestyle — when his parents' calls for him to do something with his life started growing louder.

"I was up here for a year, working at a shop in town, when finally my parents were like, 'Alright, you got to do something,'" Michael remembered. "But instead of getting my life together, I call my twin brother. 'Hey Adam, I'm out of money. I need you to come out here.'"

Then, they met Dunning on the lift, and the pair's course was set.

Live like a Gypsy

While lots of 24-year-olds probably want to start their own vodka label, few have the follow-through — or financing — to actually do so.

"Being 24 at the time, I couldn't get a bank loan. I couldn't get a credit card," Michael said. "I didn't have credit at the time, and we couldn't get financing."

How did they pull it off?

"We sold most of our belongings, moved into our van and started working music festivals, doing odd jobs, anything we could," Michael continued. "We've been doing that for about three years."

Basically, they lived like gypsies as they traveled to music festivals, working them and any other odd jobs they could find in the meantime to save money.

After a couple years, Michael said, they had enough capital — roughly $80,000 — to take their concept from the drawing board to the bottle.

"Everyone told us we needed at least $500,000," he added.

Hoops and bottles

Staying on the right side of the law is probably the single biggest hurdle Michael and Adam encountered.

Living out of their car, cold-calling businesses for a little shelf space, neither of those was as bad as securing all the proper federal and state licenses, he explained.

"Getting (state distribution licenses), there are literally five different steps of stuff you have to go through," Michael said, "and that's what took the most amount of time was reading up on that."

There was one hiccup on the bottle, where a generic statement printed on it was misconstrued as a statement of medical fact. However, after checking with a lawyer, the bottle design was a go, and it turned out to be only a speed bump, not a roadblock.

However, the bottle itself still needed work.

Early on, Michael said, he intentionally designed the first Gypsy Vodka bottle to resemble a woman's figure — a bottle trait that has carried over to the new design — but it was "super tall, top-heavy and not functional."

As luck would have it, the brothers were working a music festival close to home in Northern Michigan when they met their answer in the form of a critic.

"A (festival) neighbor came over (to our setup), and she was like, 'I don't want to sound mean, but this bottle sucks,'" Michael said. "And we were like, 'Yeah, we know.'"

But she also happened to be a glassblower in town and she told them, "I'll help you out." Michael and Adam went to her shop and she blew the bottle for them.

Not bad, Michael noted, considering a design firm wanted $15,000 to do the job.

As for the logo on their bottle, their best friend's little sister, a college student at the time, did it for the low cost of simple credit.

"Everything we did was done with friends, family and random people," Michael said.

Finding success

Without a marketing budget, their strategy has been knocking on doors and trying to make new friends, with some success and a fair amount of media attention.

The pair has been featured in pieces in DBusiness Magazine, a Detroit-based publication; the Detroit Free Press and on BeyondMyHome.com.

The twins also appeared together Oct. 29, 2015, on NBC affiliate WDIV Local Channel 4's morning show in Detroit for the station's "Homegrown" series and again on June 17 on Fox News Channel 2 in Detroit, when Adam tuned up a mixed drink called a "Gypsy Soul" for meteorologist Jessica Starr.

The first live on-TV interview followed early vodka sales, and came shortly after the pair announced Gypsy Vodka was in its first store in East Lansing, Michigan, on Aug. 31, 2015. By that September, they were in almost a half-dozen stores in the city.

Distribution in Colorado has come more slowly, but only because free rent made working in Michigan easier to facilitate at first.

However, those sales are picking up too, and Mountain Moonshine in Idaho Springs became the first Colorado store to start selling Gypsy in January. Then American Liquors in Breckenridge started carrying the spirit in February.

"We took the same approach in Colorado that we did in Michigan," Michael said. "It's literally me driving around in my van, where I sleep, to different liquor stores trying to tell my story, talking about the vodka, and if they want, I go get it out of my car and I sell it to them."

What's inside

After experimenting with at least 50 or more recipes involving potatoes, grain and wheat, they finally settled on non-GMO sweet corn. Michael said, they did this to, hopefully, capture part of the healthy craze that's sweeping the nation and to put out a clean, pure product.

"The benefit of the sweet corn is you don't have to add any sugar. Everything is naturally sweet," he said. "Our approach: Less is more. Let's go healthy, let's go clean. Everyone is into clean eating, let's go into clean drinking."

He also hopes it's a brand that will appeal to his generation.

"Every other (vodka) brand is about sophistication, class, and that's not what we're about," Michael said. "Our Gypsy brand is the brand that we fell in love with on the road — it's the people we fell in love with. We went for a brand that's fun, love and adventure."

It's a marketing campaign, but in addition to their unique bottles, another selling point is that the vodka's also gluten-free and contains no additives or flavors.

Adam and Michael are promoting their brand as a six-times-distilled premium vodka without the premium price tag, and a 750 milliliter bottle sells for about $20.

You can check out their website at GypsyVodka.com or find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Making A Gypsy Soul

Designed to be quick and easy to make, for a Gypsy Soul, Adam Kazanowski suggests, “You start with vodka, a couple ounces — a couple more if you want to have some fun.”

2-4 ounces of Gypsy Vodka

2-4 ounces of Sprite

Splash of pink lemonade

Splash of grenadine

Garnish with drink umbrella

For more Gypsy Vodka-inspired mixed drinks find them on Facebook.

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