Illuminati Vodka is a seven times distilled Rye Premium Vodka, which then undergoes a unique filtration and purification process. For most major brands this would be enough, but brand founder James Warwick strives to create the best product on the market. With this in mind, the final step is to age the Vodka in vats, a centuries old technique which refines the taste, providing one of the smoothest and refreshing Vodkas available.
In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview James Warwick, Founder of Illuminati Vodka about how the brand was launched whilst he was living in Poland. Made from Polish rye, the brand aims to be a high quality and smooth tasking vodka soon to be served in bars and nightclubs when lockdowns are lifted. Our host Peter Brooker and James also talk about relocating production to the UK, Polish vodka culture, how Covid-19 has affected trade, the meaning behind the brand name, and why bottle design is so important in the drinks industry.
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Hello, and welcome to another episode of The menswear style podcast. I'm your host Pete broca. On this episode I'm going to talk to James Warrick, owner of Illuminati vodka limited seven times distilled right ultra premium vodka, which undergoes a unique filtration process. Their mission is to create the best product on the market. So the final step in that process is to age the vodka in vats, a centuries old technique which refines the taste, providing one of the most smoothest and most refreshing vodkas on the market. And you can find out more about the brand through their website at Illuminati vodka limited.com. And here is James work to tell the story of Illuminati vodka. Well, so I'm obviously from England, 30 years old. I've lived all over the world. So I'm currently back in Southampton, but I've been living in my bear Dubai, Warsaw, in Poland, Australia. So I've been bouncing around back and forth quite a lot. See, I'm kind of halfway to an expert on the national not sure which one of the islands with the vodka, I started that two and a half years ago, in Poland. I used to own a bar in Warsaw. So I've been running that and then eventually sold my shares in a bar. And I was kind of stuck thinking, what should I do next? And just out of the blue, I suddenly thought, what about what about vodka? Because I'm in Poland, which is one of the best places to to make vodka and where it's not the best fork in the world comes from? And I just figured, you know, is that is that possible or not. And the more I looked into it, the more I kind of fell into things I said, you know, making random connections here and there. And out of out of nowhere, I suddenly had a prototype bottle in my hands. And I was okay, like, it didn't really seem real. And suppose it doesn't really seem real now, either. Actually, it's quite out there, different adventurous business. So it's kind of, you know, fell into it, really. And as I kept going and pursuing it, I became more and more going down that path. And it just became more of a reality as time went on, really. So how many people are in the business? Now? There's three of us. There's many there's Kelly, who's the managing director. And as Gabby, who is the CMO, and what I mean, say for example, if someone was to follow your footsteps and born and start a vodka brand, a Polish vodka brand? Well, they're going to be the main incumbents of getting something off the ground. Well, everyone will tell you that every day from multiple, multiple angles, and obviously are just pushing the box and quite arrogant and stubborn. So the more I got that, the more I was like, Okay, I have to do it now. Did you learn Polish? I didn't actively try and learn it. But I do speak quite a lot of polish. more understanding that actually speaking, I would say but you know, I can do basic conversation myself verbally. And then, you know, I can understand quite a lot of quite a lot of things that being said around me. So it's, it's quite a useful skill, I suppose. Here in England, especially in Southampton, we have a huge Polish population. I think it's temps and polish and Southampton. So my head, it's a huge number. Yeah, yeah. Do you help? Do you think that helped grease the wheels of some of the conversations and the handshakes that were going on when you were trying to get this up and running? I'm not really to be honest. Because over there, it's, you know, they do business in a very different way. And yes, I spoke a little bit, but I know for them, they're just not very trust trusting foreigners in a lot of businesses. They're, you know, political, a great and lovely, but a lot of businesses are very, you know, they want to work with a Polish person, not International. So, you know, despite being a little bit of a language, they were still a bit suspicious here and there. And I still have problems with some of the contracts over there actually, to be fair. I'm actually in the process of switching my distillery from Poland over to England at the moment, because they are just very hard to deal with. So do you find it more difficult being based in the UK and not being on ground zero over there is a contributing factor. Well, I decided to leave Poland's just over a year ago. And I wants to relocate to the UK and then figure out where to go next. From there. With Brexit happening, I've actually decided it's better to have all my operations in the UK for now. I'm hoping there'll be a, you know, a US trade deal. But obviously, it's been a lot of trade deals with countries like New Zealand, Scotland coming in Australia, as opposed to an Indian one, you know, there's a lot of traders coming in for really good markets. So for me, it makes more sense to actually be in the UK at the moment and then start selling back into Europe than to export it from Poland to anywhere else. Not just because the bureaucracy over there in Poland. Obviously for you know, the more international perspective is where I want to be at the moment but in terms of living, not really. Just my Production everything. My plan is to live in Marbella and Dubai over the next 12 months actually buys a pretty special place. In fact, it is one of the only few places still open. I see a lot of people going out to Dubai. It is I was there for two years and I came back on the sixth of January so it was it was very open. Yeah, there's no social distance the only thing you have to wear masks But beyond that, it's I mean, not inside venues just walking on the streets and walking up to your tables and you have to wear masks but then once you're inside you can do what you want really it's you know, you can dance around you can you can buy bottles you can mix with anyone you want you know it's not just your own household it's it's very openmat moments and they seem to be doing just fine actually, despite all us all US Brits flying over there. And by the way, if anyone is thinking when the world goes back to spinning of having a decent New Year's, the New Year's in Dubai or with the fireworks over the fountains and what they do on the Burj Khalifa, you know, obviously you would have seen it putting all the kind of fruit machine graphics up on the on the side of the Burj there, the one that Tom Cruise was hanging out of in Mission Impossible for, it's really quite something to see. It was beautiful, actually, I was on a 74th floor penthouse, and I was actually above the firewall. So we were looking down on the fire. So I've never experienced before, it's crazy. I was at my friend's place over there. And I've never seen fireworks from above. It's so strange feeling nicely. So James, tell me about the vodka itself, what is so unique about a luminary vodka. So obviously, visually, it's a very, it's very good looking bottle. We have a range of them now but the main bottle is matte black, and then it lights up with a with an LED lights. So in the nightclubs in the bars, it's very visually appealing. But then you know, the most important thing is actually the quality the vodka itself. So it's seven times distilled made from Polish rye, which something will never change. And then we age it for a period of vats, which separates all the impurities at the top just makes it really, really clean, smooth vodka. So everyone who I've personally given it to to try has said it's the best book I've ever tasted. That's not leaving bias. But people have said that there's been a lot of reviews coming out saying is really good. In cocktails, you know, you can't taste the vulgar taste that much. It also allows you to taste all the flavours in the drink, and then drink it straight on. You know, on ice. It's almost like water. It's that smooth despite being 40%. How is that possible? That's it That's not having cinnabar liver. It's quite dangerous, actually. Because it's very easy to drink that whole bottle too fast. It really goes down so easily. So you do have to be careful. I'll say that. It's almost too good. My girlfriend is Russian. In fact, my girlfriend doesn't actually drink Russian vodka. Does she not know she says that all Russians actually drink Polish vodka, or the majority of Russians that know their vodka would drink poetry. That's interesting, because um, the poll was very stubborn about you know, not liking Russian vodka. Obviously, they're very nationalistic and proud of their part of the country, which is great. And yeah, they I wouldn't imagine them going the other way around. So I don't know about the Russians. I haven't really encountered any Russians to talk about Polish vodka with Let's be honest. Let me just get a clarification on that. Babe. That was true, right. David is French. And German is polish. Greg is French. Oh, sorry. I screwed that up. All right, that way, I'll let it all out and toast. All over, you can get her feedback on it. Because Belvedere used to be on I was always pretty nice in it like McGregor's and Belvedere used to the vocal I was always testing people with because obviously I was in Poland when I first set it up and Belvedere was the benchmark over there. There is a big difference between the two. I'll put it that way. Well, we'll do the death's doorstep challenge with my girlfriend and her mum who are huge proponents. Russian mothers yeah. Oh, yeah, it's it's quite it's quite the thing to see really because I mean, I say it's to my girlfriend all the time to see them drinking over lunch, you know, I mean, I britch kind of do it in nightclubs or you know, for cocktails or something like that, but they will just have it over a meal and just kind of you know, not legit it's it's a cultural thing. It is, you know, a lot of restaurants you go to in Poland's they'll literally serve you a shot with your, with your meal without even asking for it. So there's traditional Polish restaurants, you know that if you had pizza, obviously not that traditional Polish restaurants will serve your show vodka with your with your food without saying they bring into the table. Here you go. And, you know, it's always right not to, but then over their business deals. For example, if you're having a networking event or you have a specific business meeting with one two people, it is customary to drink vodka at the end of the meeting to kind of seal the deal. It's it's like it's like a handshake. They just drink shots. So that's so much for as much better than the white bread that you get Italian missions I mean just knock on the head and just replace it with vodka. That'd be fun. Of course it's much more fun life more enjoyable especially the boring you know, menial things you have to do no one likes to do these do these boring meetings and stuff then you know you can just live enough but by doing that, yes, making more of a social event Yeah, it's nice to know British we looked into pub and imagine business meetings on pub. So what's the plan we got Illuminati on the shelves in bars and nightclubs in the UK? Well bars Michaels no at the moment because obviously they will shut down now. So yes, we were just getting into some places because I just I transition everything over here and then we're just trying to get some traction getting some venues and then COVID heads, which has not been great. So once last summer, I started focusing on my bear so I flew over to my bear because they were much more open and liberal side selling places there. But now I've kind of come back to the UK and I'm setting up a lot of online sales and getting the online store built up and we've got a view to be into the bars and clubs heavily again by sometime this summer hopefully but you know, a lot of people in the industry are saying September will be the time and restrictions and properly because obviously you know the industry is not great even you know even here they had table service only the whole summer it was you know, it wasn't the same as normal clubs and parties. Yeah, so that's not that's not good for the industry obviously sales are down but you know, for me it's been okay but other markets I'm targeting and as the UK opens up, we will heavily rolling out into bars and clubs here we're actually looking at a big distribution deal right now in the UK so so when things do open up again, we you know, they said September we're looking at September, that should be a time where we really roll out so hitting all the clubs and bars properly again, okay, for now online stores, online sales grades, we've got Valentine's Day coming up soon and we're gonna be launching our raspberry vodka for Valentine's Day it's got a pink light logo instead of the blue one so it's beautiful and and the raspberry flavours really good still 40 percents but it just gives a nice little nice little twist. Is this the 1776? Or is that that's not that say the seventh This is another article that we've got going as well. It's obviously less flashy, but in a way more elegant and that's the target venues that are not clubs so you know, restaurants or you know, more formal bars or pubs You know, there's private members clubs, golf clubs wants to target all these sort of venues so you know, super high quality biker good pricing and just nothing to you know, to out there like the other bottles are definitely for nightclubs and you wouldn't you wouldn't imagine anywhere else. So we are providing the full range of ages really full of this but it's something that really has to be at the forefront of your mind when you do designing of the bottles to make it look like it's something you'd want to order off a shelf. So when we talk about like aftershave and perfumes quite a bit on the blogs and the forums about how they have to go distinguish themselves and what makes a good bottle etc. How much time did you devote to trying to get the bottle that you think would leap off the shelf that you'd want to look at and pick up a lot of time actually, that's that's why I spent the most time on apart from getting the vodka itself right so in the beginning, I've always had about six months developing the first bottle so the one that lights up the blue light that took about six months of designing and not being good enough and then sending it back and forwards and taking it to get samples made sure it's not good enough and you know, send it back in there was a lot of that so about six months the rise we won was less so because obviously want to count the flavour I match the style, I've put some text on so that was just a couple of weeks to get that just right. Under 1776 again, that's I've had that idea for that one for almost a year now just being in production now. So you know, it was a matter of you know, is it rise and knots, designs changed a few times. But I'm very perfectionist with design work, you know, some things you can't obviously afford to spend too much time on the things like the design, the bottle itself and the quality the vodka. You know, there's no shortcuts on that. Yeah. And what is significant about the year 1776 by the way. So that's the year of independence in the US and it's also the year the Illuminati was formed. Two very significant dates. Obviously in the US, you'll notice that certain certain secret things are lined out in their bank notes and around the city, the capital. There are things you can notice that will tie up together with that so there's a little rabbit hole you can jump down there. You know what my mom jumped down here? A couple of months ago and she's still down there. I think you've sent me some Yeah. packets well if you if you ever want to come back anyway. Yeah, if you ever come back, otherwise you might just be gone. So it's you know that. Yeah, there's a lot of fun. A lot of things you can delve into this world This must be a full time gig for you know, James Is it is it, it started off a bit more part time at one point. But it became full time very fast before and then obviously COVID here that that really screwed me over and I basically rebuilt it now from zero. So it's it's been started again. But it's been great. That's, you know, that's I've learned a lot from that. And because I'm building back a lot stronger, and much better. And you know, the business is going in a very good direction right now. So I'm happy with it. And yes, it is pretty much full time. So I'm still on my phone doing work at midnight, sometimes just lie on the bed and just on the phone messaging back and forth different people. You know, there's a lot of stuff to do, but it's not. It's not, in my opinion work because I associate work with negative contacts. So it's me It's fun. Yeah. So I enjoy what I'm doing. It's not really, you know, I can't let him do anything else. So I can't remember who said it. But someone said, If you enjoy what you do, then you'll never have to work another day in your life or something to that effect. It seems true. Insofar as it does seem that way. Oh, congrats, man. I've got a great looking product. It looks pretty good on the on the website, which people can check out and buy from By the way, Lumina. Vodka limited. We are rolling out a new website next couple of days as well. So it's gonna be much more flashy and more elegant as well. So you know, that's being done right now. And yeah, by Valentine's Day, we're gonna have our new raspberry vodka launched. So I've been really pushing that because I was planning to launch it in the middle of March. And then literally a few days I was at hanging on. Valentine's Day is coming up. Yeah, actually, I thought about that. Because my girlfriend, and I say Come come out, which I do for it. And then I'll make my own drink. Yeah. It's easier, easier than going to the shop and try to buy some clothes right now. Um, so yeah. That's a good show. I like that. Yeah. I was also going to ask you said you're bringing the production over to the UK and the UK, you know known for for making vodka Is it is it got good facilities? Do you actually have some very good distilleries here. There's a lot of a lot of craft drinks being produced, Jen's got really popular vodka is really booming. Now, actually. So the UK has really, really grown and a lot of production coming back here. So since Brexit votes, there has been a lot of shifting here. You know, you don't really hear much about these these things. But there is more production manufacturing going on now. And you know, with vodka, we do see some very quality vloggers coming to the UK. Now, there's a lot of smaller ones that are emerging. So I'm using a, you know, we're partnering with a huge, and you know, they're gonna be very good. They can do 10,000 bottles a day capacity. So, you know, we have the ability to scale up to any level with them down the line. So that's great. And yeah, we'll still be using the Polish rye and everything, the same ingredients. So it will be the exact same process. Everything's done correctly. But just based at home, you know? And do you contact existing distilleries that might not be producing vodka? I kind of rephrase the question. When I was at the brook laddie distillery in the Isle of LA, they doing that whiskey there. But they then that year started doing gin because they have all the botanicals on the island. And it's a quicker turnaround. You don't have to wait like seven years to get a gin out, you know, the turnaround and the production is a lot faster whiskey distilleries and that sort of doing the same with vodka now, I suppose they could be I'm using someone's very much cherry pick. So it's a bit different. But you know, a lot of the smaller ones I've seen a few people in the industry and there's been there's one guy I met who he'd left one of the giant distilleries and went off and just set up his own thing a shed basically just creating really high quality gins and just you know, really high quality of super small batches just a few balls here and there for friends and he built up to the point there's getting to a few stores here and there and he's now is doing vodka as well he was approaching me asking if I wants to do anything but you know the scale be completely different for us than that sort of level. So you know, he's built up into a commercial venture fairly well and yes, branched out into other products because you know, decisions decisions as a matter of what ingredients you using and how you do it and then things like ageing a different obviously you know, whiskey Genzken age for a long time we vodka we ages for six weeks only, so that's just enough to make all the impurities go to the top, but not not enough to do anything else. If you ate vodka for much longer than it starts to taste like tequila, which is not good. That's not what you want. Well, James, thanks for coming on the show and talking about grievous and and your brand Illuminati vodka, a big pain shake to see hit the shelves in the clubs when we finally go out and get to socialise. But in the meantime, obviously people can find it online and treat themselves and exactly Awesome. Thank you so much for having me on. Thank you for taking time out and best of luck. Thank you, James, and thank you for tuning in to this episode of The menswear style podcast. If you like what you hear, why not leave a review You it does help our egos. And don't forget to check out the show notes for this episode and all content pertaining to fashion watches travel and lifestyle over at WWW dot menswear. style.co.uk and we're on the social at menswear style. If you want to be a guest on the show, maybe tell us about your journey new brand you can email us here at info at menswear style dot code at UK and until next time