Pauline and I met one sunny afternoon at her studio/distillery/shop in Berlin, where she and her partner sell hand crafted vodka. Having a background in marketing and PR, they were asked to take over OUR/BERLIN, one of many urban micro-distilleries of the brand OUR/VODKA. Here vodka is produced and hand bottled, made with ingredients sourced as locally as possible but using a global recipe.
Janis: When OUR/VODKA was launched beginning of last year, you and your partner Jon took over management for OUR/BERLIN – how did that happen?
Pauline: It actually was pretty random that we got in contact with the guys who came up with the project. The concept originates from PERNOD RICARD, the second largest brand producing spirits. They thought they should get into the latest trend of producing hand manufactured local products, and after some time this concept by their innovation team came forward: a local product within a global project.
Berlin was their first chosen city and through some circumstances they came to us. We already had an agency PAULSANDERS GMBH, focusing on marketing, PR and event management for big brands. OUR/VODKA were actually looking for someone unfamiliar with the liquor business and we were taken by the product, the quality and had ideas to combine many things we were already doing with this new project – all under one roof. But I would have never guessed how much fun it can be to form a brand from the beginning to the end!
So OUR/VODKA didn't have an explicit vision for the brand?
The innovation team and creative heads of GREATWORKS already had formed a corporate identity for the project, but since their ideas have always been very similar to ours, this was never an issue. Our mood boards were pretty much the same.
How is your cooperation going now - your team, their team and RICARD?
Well, RICARD built with all their knowledge the distillery and then handed us the keys over, so we'd be the management and look after production, marketing, sales and distribution. Now we are 100% free to shape the brand - so cooperation is limited to talking on the phone every fortnight, when they call to see, if we're doing good and if they can help us in any way. But yeah – we are quite detached regarding our work from either GREATWORKS and PERNOD RICARD.
One can feel the investment behind the setup here.
Yep – it is a big amount of money you've got to spend to realize such a project. Some of our friends thought we financed this out of our own pockets (smiling), but hey... we'd have had to dig deep for that... But it really is a very innovative and strong concept, the longer I work for it, the more I realize: great idea!
Your distillery/shop/office is well located amongst some famous clubs in Berlin, but still a bit hidden – was that strategically a good choice and do you feel comfortable around here?
Sure, totally – we don't really notice all the partying around as we are here weekdays from 10-6. But to have many clubs and bars close by surely makes a good link to vodka.
It wasn't easy to find a suitable spot for the distillery actually, as you are not allowed to have anyone on top or underneath your business, because of the danger of explosion. So we are really glad to have found this place that many people know.
When was your agency PAULSANDERS GMBH founded?
Four years ago.
And GREATWORKS came to know you through a particular project?
One of my former bosses proposed us, when we were still in our old office at Alexanderplatz.
Are you originally from Berlin?
Yes, and Jon is from Denmark.
...and you two met through another project...?
Exactly! (smiling) We did once work together for WOODWOOD and were like: this went so well, why don't we start up our own business?!
You also formerly worked for companies like NIKE, BECKS and WEEKDAY. How did your interest to work in the field of social sustainability grow?
mportant issues like sustainability have always been a big topic in my family growing up, but have always been a bit hard to find in fashion.
When you have your own business it's just so much easier to make a difference. It is very important to us to do something for the environment and the people around us.
Where exactly do the ingredients for OUR/BERLIN come from?
We were looking for regional ethanol (pure alcohol made out of wheat), but our quality standard was too high and the local resources too poor - so we decided on a producer about 200 km from Berlin, close to Münster. The raw product of distillation, that blended with the alcohol defines the taste, it‘s sent from Sweden. All the different components are refined with purified Berlin tap water.
Is the ingredient from Sweden also sent to for example OUR/DETROIT?
That's right. The recipe is the same everywhere with its little differences: in the States for example, you can only sell 40% alcohol and the water tastes different of course.
Are there enough people in Berlin, who want to have locally produced alcohol?
After eighteen months we have about hundred and fifty shops in Berlin where OUR/BERLIN is sold. It feels like it spread well.
A lot of people also come and visit us to buy vodka and to look at the distillery. They think it's great that OUR/BERLIN is produced locally, supports the neighbourhood and doesn't come from some factory far away.
How would you describe a typical customer coming to the distillery?
Hard to say – varies a lot. Our target group is between 20 and 40 and more of a hipster kind: interested in design, travelling and trends, who like locally and hand made products. People who also spend some money on clothes and culture.
But we also have customers, who are very different from that and for example are simply vodka-lovers.
What has been your most successful marketing-tool?
Good question – I think there isn't one most important tool, but many who make OUR/BERLIN successful. The key is: we are here, producing the product here, in Berlin, and everyone can come and check it out - it's no fake. And the product is good, the design simple... there is actually no comparable vodka bottle in the world, that is small and cute, still very stylish and that's got premium vodka inside, which is very good value for its price.
Also, what helped us a lot, was that we took a different route than usual alcohol seller: we asked our friends with concept-stores like VOO-STORE and WOODWOOD to add our vodka to their collection, that created much attention. Plus, that I used to work in a press agency and had many contacts from that helped heaps.
But what were the biggest difficulties in setting up OUR/BERLIN?
hmmm – getting to know the liquor business and finding our way around toll and production, and how to find good staff... the usual problems of a new setup, I guess. But nothing is unmanageable and in the end it feels good that everything works out.
And what is the trickiest part of running a small business?
To keep a good relationship with your staff, that everyone finds their part and is happy with what they do.
What is your vision for OUR/BERLIN?
To sell many more bottles and get poured much more in bars and restaurants so we make more profit. It's pretty hard to get into the pouring business as a small brand: that people don't order an OUR/BERLIN-vodka-tonic, just a vodka-tonic.
In what way are you financially dependent on PERNOD RICARD? Suppose you grow bigger, who'll get the money?
There's no financial risk for us, but profit is shared in definite percentages. Of course this is a good stimulus for us to sell lots. For RICARD it was a big risk, but in the end the concept is genius! And yes, you have to sell a lot of bottles to make some profit (smiling).
And where do you go to shop yourself?
I love shopping at markets. Flee-markets and food-markets like NEUE HEIMAT and MARKTHALLE NEUN - beautiful and with character. Other than that, I mostly work and don't get to shop often (laughing). But I try to go to the local organic store, rather than to the big chain stores. Better to pay a bit more for good products and local support, than to eat convenient food.
Thank you Pauline Hoch for the interview! To find out more about her work visit their website and web-shop here.
photography, interview & text: Janis Manini Claudia Kanga