Are you taking your vodka seriously? You certainly should be if you consider yourself a fan of craft spirits. It might seem ludicrous to suggest the category is having a moment. After all it has remained the best-selling segment of liquor in the US for decades. But in 2021 the very definition of the liquid evolved in the eyes of the federal government. It no longer has to be bottled “without distinctive taste.”
Eric Brown and David Ross are at the vanguard of this rebrand. Last year they launched NIGHTBLOØM, leaning heavily into the notion that vodka can—and ought to be—something with unique flavors and aromas. The brand’s lineup features four labels, ranging from a classically-styled potato vodka to a copper-tinted variation infused with smoked dates.
Each expression hovers at around $40 per bottle, which is considered ultra-premium pricing for the category. And yet they didn’t struggle to amass a sizable following straight out the gates. It speaks to the point that today’s beverage connoisseurs are open-minded enough to explore new and exciting flavors from all categories, including vodka. Yes, seriously.
It definitely comes as no surprise to the co-founders of NIGHTBLOØM. Cousins by birth, they invested heavily in the notion of a ‘New Age Vodka.’ In an exclusive interview with Forbes, the duo shed some light on the evolution of their brand and of the category, itself. Read on below…
How is NIGHTBLOØM defying the cliché of vodka being a flavorless, odorless spirit?
Eric Brown: “One pull of the cork on a bottle of NIGHTBLOØM and it immediately makes an impression. You can tell that there is something interesting inside. We like to imagine this brand like a bold new set of paints with flavors unlike any other spirit. Whether you prefer the botanical expressions or a classic potato vodka, a bottle of NIGHTBLOØM most definitely has character, just like our drinker.”
Do you think drinkers will reinvest capital back to vodka and away from other ‘trending’ spirits? How are you inspiring drinkers to revisit vodka?
EB: “The popularity of various spirits has ebbed and flowed over the decades. While vodka may have fallen out of favor in recent years, it is still the top selling spirit, and we believe there is untapped potential in the market. We have a nuanced, balanced collection of spirits, and a fresh and new approach is always an intriguing proposition.”
What’s the origin story of NIGHTBLOØM?
David Ross: “My old man ran the Officer’s Club stateside back in the ’50s. He was quite the showman, and some of my earliest memories are of him behind the bar. I still remember him mixing drinks, appointing me to run the home bar, and sneaking sips when no one was looking. His love for entertaining and that unforgettable era rubbed off on me something fierce. In my early twenties, I ran off to India. Fearing I had been swept up into a cult, my dad came to rescue me. Of course, I was fine. We ended up having a drink at this magnificent joint called the Ambassador Hotel in New Delhi. The bartender there was a true artist, whipping up a cocktail with more ingredients than I could count. It was like watching a magician at work and it inspired me to delve deeper into Eastern botanicals and herbology. It wasn’t until years later, when my cousin was over for dinner, and I made him a cocktail using one of these secret blends I had kept stashed. He was so impressed that we decided to bottle it and NIGHTBLOØM was born.”
What differentiates NIGHTBLOØM from other vodkas on the market today?
EB: “Purity and complexity. Our handcrafted process begins with the purest limestone-filtered Appalachian spring water, a favorite of [Al] Capone bootleggers during Prohibition. Other vodkas may rely on chemicals compounds created in flavor houses, but we believe in using only the best ingredients to ensure an authentic flavor. The ingredients speak for themselves. The result is a truly unique taste of vodka.”
Tell us about these different tastes and the ways in which you’re crafting/sourcing them?
DR: “NIGHTBLOØM Vodka Ø is our pure potato vodka single distilled from Colorado russet potatoes. It’s an exceptionally clean sip with a light floral note, a great canvas for our expressions, which are inspired by Eastern-Apothecary botanicals; flavors that have rarely, if at all, been seen featured in American spirits. The same way a prolific chef or dish has levels of flavor, we sought to create flavor profiles and a process that created a depth of flavor. NIGHTBLOØM Number 1 seamlessly combines succulently tart omija berries and sweet dates with earthy bitterness of American Ginseng. NIGHTBLOØM Number 2 is a blend of satsuma orange and mandarin with an aromatic shock of lemon peel that brightens a cocktail. NIGHTBLOØM Number 3 is a crossing of sweet dates with a meticulous smoking process that yields a smooth, smoky flavor.
The smoked date expression definitely offers an unexpected depth of flavor. How was that recipe conceived?
DR: “Thank you! [It] is Eric’s favorite, proving we can convert whiskey drinkers to the world of vodka. The flavor development started with a burst of creativity, a sort of eureka moment, and then production process took close to two years, and I was tinkering with it right up until the moment of bottling our first batch. It was important that NIGHTBLOØM offer flavors that hadn’t been traditionally seen. The moment something tasted familiar, we moved on. The goal was to create blends that were unexpected, layered, and redefined the spirit element of a cocktail.”
You really broke out in the Los Angeles market before anywhere else. How have bartenders there been working the brand into cocktails?
DR: “There are so many unexpected ways in which they’ve been adopting the spirit. At Here’s Looking At You in Koreatown, they unexpectedly took us into Tiki territory with a riff on a Pearl Diver cocktail. It’s called the Driving Westward and combines NIGHTBLOØM Number 3 with rum, rye, and a gardenia mixer. It’s flippin’ delightful. Highland Park Bowl created a cocktail called the Doctor Wente. It’s a riff on a Penicillin using Japanese Whiskey and NIGHTBLOØM Nº1. Violet in Westwood is crafting up a NIGHTBLOØM Number 2 Negroni. Our botanical expressions have become an easy substitute for gin. It’s always nice to change things up from the juniper and usual botanical suspects of gin.”
What is the expansion plan for the NIGHTBLOØM brand? Are there any brands that have launched that you are inspired by their strategy?
EB: “NIGHTBLOØM is bottled and blended outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Our plan has been to go deep in Tennessee and California markets, build loyalty and awareness, focusing on key on-premise accounts that can drive off-premise sales, and the initial response has been overwhelmingly positive. So much so, we decided to expand into Nevada ahead of schedule. Despite the encouraging start, we are fully aware that we are still in the early stages of our journey and want to avoid spreading ourselves too thin. Therefore, we plan to gradually expand our reach, with our sights set on entering the New York and Arizona markets by the end of this year.”
How do you ultimately want NIGHTBLOØM to be perceived by consumers?
EB: “A sophisticated disruptor. An American-made top shelf spirit that revitalizes a category.”
DR: “It’s certainly aspirational, but we hope NIGHTBLOØM can be a bridge between the rich cocktail culture of the past and a new wave of mixology, a harmonious blend of Eastern botanicals and Western mixology.”