"They said I was nuts when I said I wanted to make a tobacco flavored vodka, but as I'm CEO not too many people argued against me," said Ivanabitch CEO Tony Elward.
The first time you tell someone that you're drinking "Ivanabitch" vodka the reaction is pretty much the same. An eye roll, a gasp, an exclamation of WTF? Ivanabitch is not a sit down, mixed drink, take-it-slow type of drink; it's an in-your-face liquor that demands you have a good time. Well at least that's what Ivanabitch CEO Tony Elward would like you to think, and the vodka website's lurid red and black theme backs up this premise.
Currently, Ivanabitch offers more traditional vodka fare, with ten flavored varieties that include Blackberry, Orange, Lemmon (spelled like this), Peach, and Dutch Apple. Nothing that unusual for vodka, the main attention grabber here being the name.
"The Ivanabitch name came about during the time I was having a bad divorce," Elward shared. "I told my team that I wanted to name it after my ex-wife, and they liked it!"
Elward has just announced two new flavors to the Ivanabitch line up, and they're a little out the ordinary flavored vodka palette which tends to be cherry, vanilla, or lemon.
First of its kind, Elward said the liquor launches in 33 states at the end of the month.
Yup, you read that right. Ivanabitch tobacco flavored vodka and tobacco menthol vodka.
The vodka is created in Holland, distilled five times, and triple filtered over active charcoal. It will retail for a price point between $10 and $20, depending on the bottle size.
The idea for the tobacco taste came about much the same way as the name. Elward was frustrated at feeling like a second-class citizen when he smoked (he started a year ago after ten years of abstinence). "You need to trundle outside to smoke now," he said. "You don't want to leave your friends but you have a craving. Now you have a vodka that can help that, inside and out."
Why does Elward think tobacco - of all things - will appeal to a young crowd that's consistently told that tobacco products are bad? For Elward, it's all a matter of perception.
"To get new drinkers you need a brand that will intrigue the millennial demographic, they don't want to drink their dad's drink, or Smirnoff, they want something new and exciting," he said. "No wants wants a peach vodka anymore as there are 20 or 30 of them."
This won't be the first time a vodka brand has tried for novelty to entice young drinkers, but Elward thinks tobacco has a stronger staying power than novelty favors like bacon vodka or Popcorn flavored vodka (yes, really) and cupcake vodka.
Elward believes the time and care spent creating his liquor will give them a longer shelf life.
"You get the nice smell and no harmful effects. There's no nicotine, no tobacco extracts. Just the taste."
So what does drinking tobacco taste like?
"Everyone thinks drinking tobacco vodka is like drinking an ashtray but its good, it gives you a little relief," Elward said.
A first sniff of the vodka provides a thick musty aroma, a rich almost woody notes that speak of leather armchairs, cigars, rolling papers. I asked Fusion co-workers to sniff as well and one recoiled, one looked nauseous, and two seemed intrigued.
It was curios that there were two flavors- tobacco and tobacco menthol, as smokers often consider metholers second class citizens. For Elward, this was all about getting the right reaction. "A lot of hispanics smoke menthol cigarettes he said."And African Americans most of them, like 75% smoke menthols." Elward based his calculations on hearsay and personal observations, but the stats do correlate. For numerous reasons young African Americans and Hispanic smokers do tend to opt for menthol tobacco products.
"I never stop thinking about new flavors," Elward said. "The next I make might be a Tobacco Whisky or a Cuban Tobacco... partly because there's a big Spanish and Cuban population who drink and smoke."
Then Elward trotted out his catchphrase. "The only thing you'll get addicted to is the taste."
That's probably a matter of opinion, but if you're going to drink vodka and like the taste of tobacco, nicotine free Ivanabitch might be the way to go.
Note: The bottles shown in the image are press samples. The full-size bottles are made from glass.