It started in 2009 when Kelly and his family took a trip to Slovenia. Impressed with the beauty of the land and sophistication of its people, Kelly “wanted to be part of something that could bring Slovenia to the lips of America.” Already in the food and wine business, Kelly saw vodka as a natural progression. So he teamed up with Slovenian beverage company Fructal to develop a recipe.
“I believe by using a culinary perspective to make the vodka, we were able to create a recipe that is head and shoulders above the competition,” says Kelly. One of the key ingredients: Slovenian buckwheat, which, Kelly explains, adds a richness and viscosity to the vodka while also giving a smoothness found in very few vodkas. With a palate perfected through years in the kitchen, Kelly found only a small portion of buckwheat was needed. “I like to think of it like using saffron in my bouillabaisse—a little goes a long way,” he says.
Because he owns a restaurant, Kelly legally can’t invest in the vodka, so he’s acting as “goodwill ambassador” to help market the product in the States. Bill Murray and Mikhail Baryshnikov, both long-time friends and patrons of Kelly’s, also joined on to help market the vodka after Kelly had them taste it. “I think they add a level of sophistication and fun to a market segment badly in need of both,” says Kelly.
Launched in April and already the recipient of a couple of awards, Slovenia Vodka will be available around the tri-state area for about $36 a bottle. The company expects to sell at least 40,000 bottles this year, and that’s only the beginning. Says Kelly: “The concept of a European product utilizing American branding techniques coupled with the appeal of two celebrities with international recognition speaks to global aspirations.”
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