This Woman-Owned Vodka Brand Wants to Give Back
A new Minnesota-based spirit aims to donate 50% of its profits to women entrepreneurs on an annual basis.
Kjersten Merila wants you to drink responsibly and dream recklessly. At least, that's the slogan on her vodka bottle and company's T-shirt, and within 30 minutes of chatting with the owner and co-founder of Her Spirit Vodka, you'll believe it. Kjersten's energy is infectious and her mission admirable — and in 2018, she and her husband/co-founder, Steven, will release their first-ever spirit: a corn-based vodka distilled and bottled in Princeton, Minnesota. As you might infer from the name, their spirit wants to celebrate the indomitable spirit of women and their entrepreneurial pursuits through both its profits and its message.
Though the vodka officially launches in Minnesota on January 27, 2018, Kjersten and Steven started giving back to women business owners — both monetarily and vocally — more than a year ago. Through their weekly podcast (released every Monday), the husband-and-wife team share inspiring stories of women entrepreneurs they've met along the way while preparing to launch their vodka brand. The couple's combined passion for spirits and altruism eventually materialized into Her Spirit, the first vodka that will give back 50% of its profits to women entrepreneurs on an annual basis.
TOTC: Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get into spirits?
Kjersten Merila: I've always been in the corporate world. I was never encouraged to do something creative in the entrepreneurial world, but my husband founded a brewery before I'd met him, and I just fell in love with the industry. There was so much energy, I met so many people, and it took me out of my gray cubicle. My husband sold his brewery to his partner about a year ago to fund our project.
You're based in Saint Paul, MN, and Her Spirit is distilled and bottled in nearby Princeton. Do you plan to build a distillery in the future?
KM: We structured it the way we did to produce a product that is cheaper than a handcrafted small-batch bottle, so we can give more back. It's unconventional, but with my husband coming from owning a tap room, you can never get away from [a distillery]. It's like running a daycare.
I usually talk about the mission more than the product, but there is a six times-distilled kickass vodka behind this movement! I wanted to bring it back to basics and keep it simple. It's a classic brand — that's what I hope comes through...that's not to say we won't venture into the brown. A lot of women in the Midwest drink whiskey and bourbon and I think that would succeed, but I want to focus on developing a solid brand first — doing one thing and doing it really well.
So how did the idea of donating your profits come about?
My husband and I love to give back. We wanted a give-back component, but we didn't know how much or what the cost would be in the beginning.
I would save every neglected and abused animal in the world if I could. There's so many causes out there but many of them have sadness attached to them. We live and breathe negativity every day, so we wanted this to be something positive and inspiring and enlightening and every warm fuzzy adjective I could throw out.
Why did you decide to focus on women entrepreneurs?
Since I wasn't pushed to do something on my own when I was starting out, that sparked something with both of us, and I knew there were other women out there like me. What could I do to inspire them? Right now I just want to be mental inspiration: go to networking groups and women-in-business workshops and be that cheerleader and share my story. It's about wanting to do something positive and have an impact on our community and broaden our reach.
Every Monday I share a new story on my website about women I've come across that I'm inspired by. I don't limit it to certain industries. I feel like everyone, no matter your gender, has a woman they admire — whether it's your mother, grandmother, aunt, etc.
Right now, I go to one event a week to introduce myself and talk about my product. If someone is going to drop 20 bucks on our vodka, I want them to know who is behind it — it's not five men in business suits! It's me and my husband and this is our heart and soul.
Another thing I'm focusing on is getting to know bartenders. To me, bartenders can make or break a brand. Making a personal connection with bartenders is your front line. I want to get them involved, connected to the mission, and inspired for when someone asks them, 'What would you recommend?' at the bar. Hopefully they'll see how sincere I am and how I stand for what I believe.
- 2 oz. Her Spirit Vodka
- 1 oz. ginger simple syrup
- 1 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
- bit of honey
- bit of sugar
- splash of sparkling water