Limited edition vodka to benefit Gulf Coast rebuilding, LA
By JANET McCONNAUGHEY
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ What's the real taste of New Orleans? The sweet rum punch called a Hurricane? Bourbon with touches of cayenne and absinthe?
For the company that makes Absolut vodka, it's mango with a black pepper kick.
Absolut New Orleans vodka will be introduced Wednesday afternoon at Tales of the Cocktail, an annual New Orleans gathering of more than 10,000 cocktail drinkers, mixers and manufacturers.
The vodka is a limited run of 35,000 cases _ 3½ times the company's total U.S. sales in 1979. That was Absolut's first year in a market which grew $6.4 billion in the last four years to hit $15.7 billion last year.
"The way we're describing it is a fruity vodka with a spicy kick, which is a way you could describe the city of New Orleans," said Tim Murphy, vice president of marketing for Absolut Spirits Co., the U.S. arm of Swedish manufacturer Vin & Sprit AB.
The company tried other fruits, and tried cayenne. But they didn't taste as good, Murphy said. Another important factor was how the vodka is likely to be used in New Orleans, he said.
"It can also give a unique twist to the Hurricane recipe," Murphy said.
Going on sale in August for about $19 a bottle at retailers nationwide, it's expected to raise $2 million for five Gulf Coast charities, which the company says will get all the profits to help rebuild from Hurricane Katrina. Flavored vodka is a fast-growing segment of the adult beverage market.
Company president and chief executive Kevin Fennessey said he doesn't know of comparable charitable products except those produced by Newman's Own, the company created by actor Paul Newman specifically to raise money for charity.
"I'm not aware of anything in the spirits business," he said. "There have been programs where for a certain time they donate so much per case. In this line, all of our profits will go for charity."
The Tipitina's Foundation will use its share on a concert series featuring local musicians, a musicians' co-op in the Lower 9th Ward, and buying instruments for musicians who lost them to Hurricane Katrina, which hit in August 2005, music director Adam Shipley said.
The timing couldn't be better, said Diana Brinson, spokeswoman for Volunteer Mobile Inc. in Alabama. "As time has passed, funding is beginning to dry up. The rebuilding is going to continue for many years," she said.
Hands On Gulf Coast, in Mississippi, the Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation and New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity also will share in the first of what the company plans as an annual series of limited edition flavors inspired by and giving back to cities.
Flavored vodkas made up 12.4 percent of all U.S. vodka sales last year, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. That was three-tenths of a percentage point down from the previous year, and the first drop in their share since 2000, when they made up 6.2 percent of the market.
"We wanted to kind of innovate within the flavored vodka category," Murphy said. The company is also playing on the famous "cities" advertising campaign that started in 1981 with the words Absolut Los Angeles over a bottle-shaped swimming pool.
The New Orleans ad showed the center section of a silver trumpet with bottle-shaped valves. The new bottle has the city's name in red, and bears the image of a red-and-silver harmonica engraved "L.O. Smith Trio" _ a wink and a nod to Lars Olsson Smith, whose distillation process more than a century ago led to the brand's creation in 1879.
Murphy said future city vodkas "will definitely have a charitable aspect," but he wouldn't say whether all their proceeds would go to charity.
Tales of the Cocktail started five years ago to celebrate the first anniversary of a New Orleans "cocktail tour" created by Ann Rogers. From two events and about 200 people it has grown to 75 events; about 12,000 people are expected this year for the convention, which starts Wednesday.
On Friday, Absolut _ a major sponsor of this year's Tales of the Cocktail _ has reserved three hours in the Tasting Room, a new feature at the convention. Attendees can meet company experts, learn about products and _ somtimes _ get samples. Absolut is bringing Jennifer Rubell, author of "Real Life Entertaining," and mixologist Andrea Bearbower to talk about pairing food and cocktails.
I'm not completely sure what to think of it. Does this mean I should try to get my hands on this and have it be my vodka of choice in an effort to support NO? Is it just a marketing gimmick? Will it bring more attention to the rebuilding efforts?