Let’s set the scene here. It’s mid-July this past summer at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans (basically the biggest, baddest international cocktail convention of the year), it’s hot AF, and I’m about to wander around Absolut Elyx’s epic house of booze tucked away in plain sight off of one of the French Quarter’s main drags. I’d made an appointment to chat with Jonas Tåhlin, the guy who basically masterminded the entire brand (along with a super talented team, which he’d tell me about later).
I’m early. My boy Jeremy, an Elyx agent, whisks me into the house past a blacksmith-looking dude hammering copper things and straight to a bar with various versions of vodka martinis. I go for a 50/50 with a twist. (What can I say? I like ‘em wet.)
I’m told to wait on line for something, so in the spirit of never knowing what the hell is going on in this week of cocktail-fueled frenzy, I oblige. I’ve got about 30 minutes to spare before the interview, anyway. Suddenly, the line is moving, and I’m guided up a flight of stairs to a Nordic-looking back room tasting situation, where I’m seated with some other familiar Manhattanite bar faces and am served various amuse-bouches accompanied by straight Elyx and the occasional cocktail. Good things come to those who smile and nod.
Time for my speed date with Jonas. I head downstairs and locate my liaison, who sits us both down with a drink, which would be followed by eight minutes and twelve seconds of shouting questions and answers at one other via my phone as a recording vessel. I may have lost my voice, but what I gained was serious vodka knowledge and the experience of sharing a martini with one of the dopest luxury liquor masterminds alive. Here’s what he had to say.
Tell me about the evolution of your vision of Elyx, from the moment of its inception to where it is now and what’s gone down along the way.
Big question! Let’s start with history. I joined Absolut 11 years ago. My number one thing that I wanted to do was to create the ultimate expression of Absolut. But some people in the company back then…they didn’t let me. So in 2011, I became the chief marketing officer for the Absolut company. And then there was no one to say no to me anymore.
So—it’s a wonderful thing, really—there’s a guy who’s been in charge of the production of Absolut since 1979. The same man has overseen the production of every single bottle of Absolut. Christer Asplund. He has made more vodka than any human being has ever made. He knows his stuff. So I basically asked Christer, ”If you didn’t have any restrictions—don’t worry about cost or complexity—what would you do?” And then after probably two years, he came back with Elyx. I tried it and fell in love. It was like, this is the thing. We have to go for this. So I asked Alex Ricard, who was our CEO, if he would let me go and create a separate company just to take care of Elyx. I said, “Just let me hand-pick the best people, give me a little bit of money, and leave me alone for three years at least.” He was brave enough—and enough of a visionary—to say yes.
So that was two years ago. I moved to New York, hired the best people, and—hopefully as you can see around you—very, very talented people, and that’s the beginning of the story. We were very small. We’re still very small but we’re the only growing high-end vodka in America so we must be doing something right. Everybody else is having a tough time. We’re not, fortunately.
I guess what I wanted to do was create a vodka of integrity. I think a lot of things have happened to take the seriousness out of vodka. Bottle service, sparklers, marshmallow fluff fuckin’ flavors…Americans started to believe that vodka was supposed to be tasteless and colorless and odorless. But that’s the easiest thing in the world to do is make something tasteless—you just filter it until it dies. Vodka that has flavor and that is actually pleasant to swirl around in your mouth is not easy to make. *girl interrupts to serve him another martini*
I’ll go back to your question, what am I trying to do…I’m trying to teach America that vodka is not a cocktail ingredient. It’s not something that you have to splash cranberry juice or Red Bull into (but if you do, it’s fine)—it is actually an interesting drink and it’s something that can be pleasant. And I want to show people that with the skill that we have, we can do that.
I want to hear more about the copper. That’s such an integral part of the brand, and I don’t know if people know how rooted in copper the product itself really is, aside from seeing it served in pretty pineapples.
So we didn’t invent the idea of copper in spirits—that’s been around for a very long time—but we kind of took it to the Nth degree with Elyx. With vodka, simplistically speaking, there are two major parts of the process: distillation and rectification. Our distillation process is unlike that of any other vodka in the world…we put sacrificial copper packets into the distillation. Which is kind of expensive [laughs]. But these packets remove the unwanted trace compounds out of the vodka. They suck them up, basically. And then after we’ve done the distillation, we rectify Absolut in a copper still from 1921. Entirely made out of copper. Today, you don’t make a still out of copper anymore. Too expensive. So because Elyx is in touch with copper all of the time through its making, it becomes very, very clean to the point where, unlike almost any other vodka, we don’t have to filter Elyx through charcoal. It’s already clean. And because we don’t have to filter it through charcoal, it retains the flavor. And that’s why it’s delicious on the rocks. So copper is integral to how we make Elyx, and that’s why we decided to make copper our material of choice.
So, all copper everything.
Yes. It started with the pineapple, now we’ve got Elyx the gnome, or the copper julep, or my copper bracelet…*trails off*
What’s your favorite vodka cocktail of all time?
How do you take it?
Elyx with Lillet Blanc, 10 to 1, stirred with a discarded lemon twist.
I’m gonna go get one of those.
Stay tuned for more on our favorite top-shelf vodka of all time.
Written by Céline Bossart
Featured image via Absolut Elyx