Featured Image by Suad Bejtovic Photography.
Vodka is defined as a flavorless, odorless, colorless spirit, and since it’s easy to make (no aging required!), it’s a cheap source of alcohol, especially for the many cocktails that rely on it.
Vodka choices tend to overrun liquor stores – you’ll typically see hundreds of varieties, from dozens of different brands to various flavor and color choices. The top ten brands account for half of the vodka market in the US, while the other half is left for everyone else.
The Journey to Create a Better Vodka
A few years ago, one Frisco resident decided to carve a piece of that pie for himself.
His name is Roman Talis, and he’s a Ukranian Frisconian; he was born in Ukraine but has lived in Frisco for almost 12 years now. He used to go to the stores just like you and me and pick from the brands big and small and none of them quite satisfied him.
You see, a lot of the major vodka brands are owned by even larger corporations, and in the rush to fulfill the volume demands, corners are cut, and the quality of the product suffers. What they count on is people not really paying attention what’s in their Moscow Mules or White Russians, or not caring about the difference a good vodka can make.
He says the idea to make vodka came to him almost by accident. He was in the telecom business for many years and developed many connections and relationships all over the world. He’s a strong personality and he knew what he wanted to achieve, and so on the journey to create a better vodka he was soon joined by Billy Adcock, his VP of Operations, and Neha Kapadia, President of Sales. The company got its US start in 2015.
Vodka is essentially ethanol alcohol watered down to 40% ABV, so water is a huge part of what makes a vodka good. Roman’s factory in Ukraine sits atop an 800-meter well from which they get the water. “I don’t need to filter my water!”, he says, not without pride.
The other part, the alcohol, by now is the stuff of legend – you can ferment and distill alcohol from just about anything that has starch in it. Famously, most Russian vodkas use potatoes, and a lot of American producers use corn. Roman knew he had to compete on a different level.
Since Ukraine was called the “Breadbasket of the Soviet Union” because it was rich in wheat and fertile soil, Roman decided to use the summer wheat for his alcohol, which is the superior option, because it contains the least amount of pollutants.
The distillate is filtered through activated charcoal and fine sand to create the smoothest possible spirit. Then, they had to come up with a name.
Roman was trying out different Russian-sounding words, but they all had too many consonants and not enough vowels, so they didn’t exactly roll off the tongue. He told his team they needed something cool, so Neha asked, “How do you say ‘cool’ in Russian?” Roman jokes that it took an Indian to come up with a good name for his vodka: ‘cool’ in Russian is ‘kruto’.
The Burn Test
When I first met Roman, he told me he doesn’t do blind tests. “Pick any vodka you like, and I’ll let you try mine right next to it, you’ll see it doesn’t burn.” Sure enough, he created a taste test on our next meeting.
I had a sample of a top brand (we’ll call it “Vodka G2”), and I could feel a bit of a burn in the back of my throat as it went down. Roman’s Kruto vodka has two products, Original (red bottle, filtered 9 times) and Flawless (blue, 15 times). As soon as I tried Original, I tasted the difference. Barely any burn. I tried Flawless and was blown away – zero burn, smooth and luxurious.
I may have been the first person in North America outside Roman’s team to try out the samples for their upcoming flavored vodkas – with apple, peach, and pineapple flavors. Roman had just gotten back from a trip to Ukraine where they blended their vodka with the fruit juices he purchased in France. It’s worth noting they’ll keep the alcohol level to 35% in their flavored products, while most others lower it to 30%.
I tried all three against the same flavors in premium brands; Roman’s samples were all satisfyingly smooth, with good flavor and just a touch of sweetness. One brand did not do so well in the comparison, while another held its own – at more than twice the price of what Roman plans to sell Kruto flavored bottles for.
But wait, you don’t have to take my word for it. In the early years of Kruto, their product won several notable awards, such as gold medals in San Francisco (twice!) and elsewhere.
The awards Roman is most proud of are the ones they won at SIP Awards competitions because that’s where the consumers judge all the spirits. In 2015, the Kruto Flawless won gold at SIP, and in 2014, Flawless won gold, and Original won Platinum.
In other words, Roman is on to something with his humble Kruto offerings. His driving thought was the purity of the product. He explained it with a colorful analogy:
When you see Russian bad guys in a movie, they’re not sitting around drinking Moscow Mules, are they? They’re shooting vodka straight from the glass!
And when there’s nowhere to hide the impurities, the flavor makes all the difference. He likes to ask,
Did you ever hear of Ukranian barbecue? Or a famous fashion designer from Russia? No – but we are known for vodka!
Roman loves Frisco, and Texas in general (“Friendly people, lots going on, great community”, he says), and so Kruto is starting out in Texas – you can find it in bars around Austin, San Antonio, DFW, and Houston (Common Table in Frisco is one of them), and you can also buy it in most liquor stores in those markets.
He wants to get established here before he expands to other states, and to that end, his team is mounting an aggressive marketing campaign. Part of it is their project #Kruto52, where they feature an up-and-coming artist from around Texas, every week. Kruto also sponsored events for “Real Housewives of Dallas”, Allen Americans hockey team, and many other local brands.
Next time, when you go to someone’s “stock-the-bar” party, or you’re just buying a bottle for yourself, give Kruto a shot. Literally. You’ll be glad you did.