Craft vodka bets on uncommon flavors: jalapeno, mint and pickle

By Beth Newhart

- Last updated on GMT

"We want to use better ingredients because that’s what our generation wants." Pic: Holla Spirits
"We want to use better ingredients because that’s what our generation wants." Pic: Holla Spirits

Related tags Vodka

In a sea of US craft distilleries perfecting bourbon, scotch and tequila, Holla Spirits is turning its attention to vodka. Rare savory ingredients like jalapenos and pickle brine are taking a stab at reinventing the category.

Following the long success of craft beer in the US, craft brewing and distilling have persisted as major subcategories in alcohol. Premium, sipping styles have especially gained popularity in bourbon, scotch and tequila thanks to several celebrity endorsements and launches​.

But vodka has been somewhat absent from the craft craze, and with little innovation driving the category. Holla Spirits have been trying to change that perception with their millennial-focused and wide-ranging brand.

Based in Pennsylvania, Holla was co-founded in 2013 by Pat Shorb and Matt Glaser. They started distilling vodka as a side hobby, but the business was reignited after teaming up with industry veteran Riannon Walsh.

A passion for pickles

Though the brand started out with just an original variety, ‘The OG’, it now has 12 flavors that push the boundaries of traditional vodka. The Sweetfire Jalapeno was Holla’s second launch and is now its most popular flavor, ideal for Bloody Marys, mules and martinis.

Holla then launched Amazemint, described as ‘summer’s favorite vodka’ for use in mojitos and tea and lemonade based cocktails. In the last year the brand has rounded out its portfolio with more traditional flavors like lemon, orange and cherry.

But it’s making its name with non-traditional flavors, like Paw Paw (pineapple, banana, mango, vanilla), PBV (peanut butter), Praise the Gourd (pumpkin spice) Cinna-Mon (cinnamon) and the new Salvadili (pickle).

The idea for a pickle flavor came from the brand always wanting ‘to do different things,’ Shorb told BeverageDaily. Holla signed a partnership with local Pennsylvania craft pickle company Epic Pickles to create the spirit.

“We are thrilled to partner with Epic Pickles, a craft producer and Pennsylvania-based neighbor that is as fanatical about their products as we are about ours," ​said Shorb. "The name ‘Salvadili’ is a perfect fit for this collaborative vodka creation, as it represents how we’re irreverently re-imagining the spirits industry for the next generation.”

Salvadili was developed in less than six months, and is described as having a sweet sensation with a hint of spice. Epic’s dill pickle brine and spices blend with Holla’s OG formula, and the end product is naturally gluten free and non-GMO.

It’s available now in more than 75 Fine Wine & Good Spirits Stores in Pennsylvania. All the flavors are also sold to Pennsylvanians on the Holla Spirits website.

Rob Seufert, founder of Epic Pickle, said “We obviously have a passion for pickles, but we also have a passion for craft producers that are changing the game in their categories. Holla Spirits is doing just that. And together, with Salvadili, we’ve combined two craft favorites that bring a new level of awesome to Bloody Marys, martinis, straight-ups and more.”

Going with the flavor flow

As a craft producer, Holla doesn’t consider itself in the same category as major vodka brands. Rather than using any bulk, synthetic or chemical flavoring, Holla sources pure extracts and real ingredients like cinnamon, mint and jalapenos.

Shorb said the team is able to put out a new flavor in as little as three months, while it can take a bigger company up to two years to decide on something new and create it.

“It matters. We want to use better ingredients because that’s what our generation wants, and that’s what we want. We go with the flow and ​[the flavors] just evolve,”​ Shorb said.

Holla vodka is sold in glass bottles, found in more than 100 stores throughout Pennsylvania, as well as bars, restaurants, breweries and clubs in Pennsylvania and Delaware. On Holla’s website, the vodka is sold in multiserve pouches.

They chose the pouches as a more cost-effective ecommerce option. Shorb said they are easier to ship than glass bottles, at one-third the weight and with less packaging.

Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits will also start providing distribution support for Holla for both on-premise accounts and off-premise Fine Wine & Good Spirits store representation.

“I think vodka is ripe for change,” ​Shorb said. “We’re just carving a unique space for ourselves.”

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