Thursday, February 15, 2007

TLM Interviews Square One Vodka CEO, Allison Evanow

Against The Grain

Allison Evanow has a long relationship with the spirits industry. She began by bartending while working on her MBA at Thunderbird Business School, in Arizona. Upon completion of her studies, Pepsico offered her a position in Mexico City, where she lived for two years. After spending the next five years in Spain, Jose Cuervo came calling, in need of an
Executive who spoke Spanish and had a strong understanding of Latin American and Hispanic cultures.

Today, Allison lives in Novato, California with her husband, Bill, and twin boys. After becoming a mother at 39, she decided to parlay her know-how and experience into her own business. Driven by the concept that a sound
business can have “soul,” Allison conceived the idea for Square One vodka.

Her organic spirits company is an expression of socially responsible meeting modern lifestyle. Allison defines herself, first and foremost, as a foodie. Alison calls Square One "a great vodka for foodies.” She explains, “I had worked with Domain Chandon - and I love wine - but as a business person and consumer, I find spirits more fun. Wine is someone else’s end product. With spirits, you create your own.” She warns that one has to be careful mixing spirits and food, and it helps to be knowledgeable bout food and balance. For example, she suggests a straight martini to complement oysters, while a slightly sweet vodka cocktail made with fresh ginger, agave nectar and vermouth is fabulous with sushi or ahi tuna.

Allison also enjoys taking her passion for creating in the kitchen to the bar, cooking up new combinations resulting in mind-blowing cocktail recipes! While doing this interview over the phone, she was cooking up persimmons, nutmeg and ginger to use in drinks for a party, that evening. (recipe below) She jokes, “My husband says, I bet CEO’s of other liquor companies don’t spend time cooking up herbs in their kitchens.”

And, this type of personal touch is exactly what makes Square One vodka shine. As I preach in my cocktail seminars, the quality of the ingredients makes or breaks the cocktail. Also, as a proponent of sustainable lifestyle, I feel good about supporting these rare companies that follow through on their promises. Allison says that 80% of the emails she receives are from women, who are choosing which bottles to buy in the stores, taking cocktail classes and expressing interest in companies who ‘walk the walk’ of their marketing campaigns.

Square One is truly organic, not ‘organic-lite’ like many other things we are sold. Allison explains, “All vodkas talk about filtration. I thought, rather than cleaning up the vodka on the back end, why not start at ‘square one’?”

Allison points out that making Square One “organic” happens at two levels. First, they start with 100% certified organic rye, no herbicides, no genetic modification, etc. Next, the distillation process is organic. Finding that rye is a more difficult grain to distill, Square One loses 50% of the yield. However, the result is a creamier, softer flavor.

Square One even uses non-toxic ink and recycled paper made from bamboo, cotton and sugar cane pulp for their labels. Allison points out that it costs more money to produce vodka this way but she prefers a smaller profit for a product which makes her proud. She says, “We took a big hit on our profit margins to present Square One, on the shelves. We ask our distributors to do the same.” (With an average cost of $30, Square One vodka runs $2 - $8 more than Grey Goose.)

Allison sums up her approach to spirit-making like this, “We are literally trying to go against the grain but we are up against the big boys.” She says that the deep pockets of large liquor companies can afford to put a lot of money toward marketing, and differentiates Square One this way, "Our philosophy is not just inside the bottle."

Square One is served worldwide but if you find yourself in Allison’s neck of the woods, a few Bay Area restaurants serving it are: Fifth Floor, Frisson, Rye and NOPA.

Here is a special recipe created by Allison, herself! :

Square ‘simmon (aka: “Golden Gate”)

Persimmon Puree
fuyu persimmons, chopped (remove seeds)
1 fresh vanilla bean, split down the middle to open
2 Tbsp. Crystallized ginger, cut into small cubes
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 c. sugar
3 c. water
Juice of 1 lemon

In a medium-sized stock pot, melt sugar over medium heat until amber/golden brown, stirring occasionally to avoid burning. Once color is achieved, remove from heat and pour water slowly down the sides of the pot. Water will bubble, steam and sputter and sugar will immediately harden. Return to medium-high heat and cook until sugar is melted again, stirring occasionally. Once completely melted again, add chopped persimmons, vanilla bean and crystallized ginger. Cook on medium-low heat (strong simmer) for about 2 hours, or until persimmons are completely soft and liquid is reduced by almost half. Stir in a pinch of nutmeg. Cool, then remove vanilla bean, discard pod, and scrape any remaining pulp from inside bean into mixture. Add lemon juice, then puree until finely pureed. Working in small batches, pour puree into a sieve strainer. Use the back of a large spoon to press the puree solids against the sieve. Use the fine liquid puree to make the cocktail. The remaining thick puree in the strainer can be jarred for a few days and used as a delicious jam.

Golden Gate Cocktail
2 oz. Square One Organic Vodka
2 oz. Persimmon Puree

Shake vodka and puree vigorously for 30 seconds. (This cocktail needs dilution or it will be too thick, so shake away!) Strain into chilled martini glass. No garnish required as the vanilla bean specks float beautifully in the glass!

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