Hello, I’m Yasha. If I haven’t crossed paths with you, I’m part of the team here at Piper and work with our partner brands in helping them become brand legends. I also happen to be Ukrainian. When the war broke out last February, I did what any good patriotic diaspora Ukrainian should do – I started a vodka brand (Solovey)! The world doesn’t need another vodka you might say. Well, typically you might be right, but this one comes with a charitable caveat – all profits go to support Ukrainian refugees via War Child.
I wanted to tell you a bit more about Solovey and share the five things I’ve learnt along the way. But before I do that, I know you are of course wondering how you buy this lovely purpose-led gift for Christmas 😉 – www.solovey.co.uk. Dyakuyu tobi (thank you)!
Vanity to virtue
There are few sectors as scary to launch a brand in as alcohol. Within alcohol, there is no more intimidating a product than vodka. Despite the hype around gin, this commoditised white liquid is still the best-selling spirit in the UK, gracing the most popular cocktails, from the Bloody Mary to the Cosmo. It is monopolised by Diageo, Pernod Ricard and Bacardi brands and is the money earner, helping bars hit their margins and allowing them to play around with more premium whiskies, tequilas and gins. Having said this, the category messaging is increasingly looking anachronistic. It’s driven by cues of vanity, status and provenance that consumers are no longer engaging with. Yet the world around vodka is moving from vanity to virtue signalling. I don’t know anybody who cares about how many times vodka has been distilled. Vodka is a commodity. But there is a beauty to working with a commodity product. When you can’t talk about the product, it becomes all about the brand.
Don’t mention the vodka
Solovey was always meant to be an uplifting brand that didn’t just represent the war. Its purpose is rooted in a deep pride in the Ukrainian spirit of everyday people showing courage, creativity and hope. Thank you to the wonderful team at Ragged Edge who helped design the brand pro bono. They took my scribbled folktale of a solovey (nightingale in Ukrainian and a symbol of Spring renewal) that I wrote as a brief and helped it take flight. Anna Sarvira, a celebrated illustrator based in Kyiv, did the illustration of the nightingale that has become the heart of the brand. For a brand-builder starting afresh, vodka creates a perfect canvas for brand storytelling. My pitches over Zoom, coffees and cocktails rarely mention the vodka. People are not looking for just another vodka.
Loved brands make you feel like you are part of something greater. That you are buying into positive change, not a product alone. Solovey was always a campaign to raise £1m for Ukrainian refugees. Vodka happened to be a great way of getting at least some of the way there.
I learnt early on that despite the huge pouring contracts with the big boys, there is always room for special cocktails on bar menus. Everyone is looking for ways to show that they care. It’s helped override the premium price-point – £20 per bottle rather than the £12-16 that the mainstream vodka brands sell in at. All profits from every bottle goes to War Child’s Emergency Ukraine Fund. I’m proud that the money that’s been raised has contributed to psychosocial support to 3,500 Ukrainian child refugees and 1,600 parents.
Rebranding a serve
Nobody, or at least nobody I know, chooses their vodka at the bar. This is why the big spirits companies spend so much money securing valuable house pour and cocktail slots. In spirits, the serve is everything. Every on-trade partner has created a beautiful cocktail and yet owning a serve is crucial for the long-term. With limited budget, it’s better to reinvent one that already exists. Given that it would be a brave person who puts a Moscow Mule on the menu these days, a Kyiv Mule felt like a natural rebrand. The Kyiv Mule will be our cocktail of the month for February for the first anniversary of the invasion on 24th February. Try it, it’s delicious!
The Kyiv Mule
Mix 50ml vodka with crushed ice,
150-200ml ginger beer,
and serve with a sprig of mint to garnish and the lime to squeeze over.
As a one-man band, it’s impossible to do everything. From day one, I wanted to partner with people who are experts and know what they are doing to help. Thank you to East London Liquor Company (the distillers) and especially the founder, Alex Wolpert, for his ongoing generosity and support.
A special thank you Iryna Nikolaichyk , who has come over to the UK from Ukraine to escape the fighting, is a fantastic graphic design and videographer and who we have hired at Piper to create our content; Oliver Jenkins who created the website; Dan at Airship/Toggle, Claire at Acorn-i, and Joe at For You Advertising.
A big thank you to Ed Davenport, CEO of Incipio Group, who was the first person in hospitality I spoke to about the project and who alongside his team have been unbelievably supportive. Solovey was launched at The Prince. Since then, I have found like-minded partners in the industry. We are now in 500+ bars nationally and have partnered with Hawksmoor, Flight Club, Loungers, Grind, Hickory’s, Turtle Bay, NQ64, Little Door Group, Boxpark, Goodmans, Burger & Lobster, Beast, Brewhouse & Kitchen, Swingers, Puttshack, Revolution and many others. Thank you to all of them.
We’ve got some exciting campaign off-shoots launching soon that will support refugees even further. We’ll keep you posted. If you would like to help or have any ideas for pushing the campaign further by collaborating with Solovey, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Slava Ukraini! x