Awards springboard vodka to new heights

Entrepreneurs Alex Clarke and Arran Russell drew on mythology to produce and market Babicka Original Wormwood Vodka, which replicates a Czech witches’ recipe from 500 years ago.

‘Babicka’ is the Czech name for the sixteenth century peasant grandmothers who gathered wild wormwood and other herbs to create the charms and tonics that supplemented their meagre incomes, and whose recipes represent some of the earliest vodka formulas ever created.

Tales of the Babickas’ brews peaked the interest of Clarke and Russell while they were travelling in the Czech Republic.

They developed the concept of Babicka Original Wormwood Vodka after meeting an eccentric Moravian distiller who showed them an old recipe book he had discovered while renovating his distillery.

It included a recipe that resembled vodka and had wormwood as the key ingredient.

It took almost two years of production and experimentation to develop the final Babicka vodka to suit contemporary palates.

Taken by suprise

The vodka entered the FOOD Challenge Awards in early 2007 and Clarke and Russell accepted the winning award at a gala dinner in July last year.

This was very early on in the company’s life, explained Clarke. “We had only been going a year and it caught us off guard. We weren’t expecting to be recognised so quickly.

Russell said it has helped the product. “It was a great honour to win the Challenge award and it has opened a lot of doors for us,” he said.

“Our Australian sales have increased exponentially, and it’s really characterised Babicka as a serious player in the Australian spirit market.”

Clarke agreed.

“[The win’s] great for us to use as a sales pitch. It gave us confidence about the brand and certainly made me feel better about my investment.

“Because we launched here in Australia, getting this award has been a really good thing for us.”

“We are in about 400 stockists in Australia now; at that point we had one A4 page of stockists and now we are on five.“

Soon after winning the FOOD Challenge Award, Babicka went on to receive a Silver Medal at the UK International Wine and Spirit Competition.

“When I go round and see people I explain Babicka has won awards and people recognise that,” said Clarke.

“They give it a shot far more quickly than if I was to walk in without anything.”

Slowly and surely

In addition, the award resulted in increased international interest in the brand, from distributors and customers alike.

But, according to Russell, the pair is in no rush for global expansion, preferring to take their time building the brand.

“For us, finding the right distributor for Babicka is the most important thing, as a distributor can make or break a brand.

“And winning the FOOD Challenge Award has provided us with that all important first foot in the door,” Russell said.

The Australian spirits market is notoriously difficult to conquer but Babicka Original Wormwood Vodka was able to rely on its uniqueness to help it stand out from the crowd of newly launched vodkas.

Clarke felt that winning the Australian FOOD Challenge Award, judged by leading industry figures, also helped give the original vodka credibility as a new brand.

“Launching a new alcohol brand in Australia is one of the toughest markets to crack, due to the relatively small population and proportion of educated drinkers,” explained Clarke.

“We knew that if we could make Babicka work here, it could work anywhere in the world.”

The award is on display at Babicka’s PR company, surrounded by a selection of sample bottles of the vodka sent over from the Czech Republic at the time the company was started.

Babicka has expanded into the Hong Kong and New Zealand markets and will be launched in the Czech Republic, the US and the UK this year.

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