Friday, November 19, 2010

Moon Mountain Vodka. Crafty. But Crafted?

Moon Mountain is a new vodka launched this week by Diageo, the world's largest drinks company. They have a big promotional push on now so if you haven't heard about it yet, you will.

Diageo loves the new brand's catch phrase so much they've claimed it as a trademark. The phrase is "Crafted. Not Made."

Giant Diageo is not exactly known as a craft distiller, but they are a crafty marketer. They say things in a way that creates a certain impression which may or may not be accurate, but you'll never catch them in an outright lie. The picture above may be as close as you'll get.

They claim Moon Mountain Vodka is made in copper pot stills. The six copper alembics they show are what you will find at Diageo's distilleries in Scotland, but such stills are rare in the American Midwest. They don't actually say these are the stills in which Moon Mountain Vodka is made, but you're entitled to that impression.

They are vague about exactly where Moon Mountain Vodka is distilled. The press release says it is "at a Midwest distillery using a small batch copper pot still." Since it is technically impractical to make vodka in an alembic like the ones in the picture, they presumably mean a hybrid, so called because it is a pot on the bottom with a rectification column on top. Any non-continuous, i.e., charge, still is technically a "pot" though not an alembic. Exactly how Moon Mountain is made, where, and by whom they're not saying.

They hang a lot of the brand image on Master Distiller Gerry Webb. I can confirm that he is a real guy, long time U.S. Master Distiller for all of Diageo's U.S. plants such as the one in Plainfield, Illinois, a 450,000 square foot distillery, brewery and bottling plant, one of the largest in the world. About 26 million cases of spirits and malt beverages are produced in Plainfield every year, including the plant's flagship brand and #1 distilled spirit in the world, Smirnoff vodka.

They disclose that they are bottling Moon Mountain Vodka at Lawrenceburg, Indiana, presumably in the old Schenley plant Diageo owns there.

The Moon Mountain name is interesting because although it is borrowed from a Diageo-owned California winery, it subtly suggests moonshine.

Why is Diageo doing all this? As they told investors earlier this year, "Vodka is the most contested and fastest growing spirits category in the US and this is where we have unleashed our most comprehensive innovation programme. We have protected and extended our well-established brands of Smirnoff, Ketel One and Ciroc with exciting new line extensions. We are tactically introducing brands such as Rokk vodka in the premium tier and Ursus in value tier to compete with the influx of new entrants. At the same time we are strategically introducing Moon Mountain Vodka in the super premium and Godiva vodka in the ultra premium tiers to position us even more strongly as the economy recovers and consumers start trading up."

So crafted? Maybe. Crafty? Definitely!


Unknown said...

I don't know why those corporate marketing statements always make me feel sick to my stomach. "premium, super premium, ultra premium" Is it possible to come up with yet another level adjective for selling the same spirit for more money?

Unknown said...

Hello Mr Cowdery,

there is or was a Smirnoff Black 55 by Diageo with the claim of being pot still distilled.

Same questions here as with the Moon Mountain I would think.

Paul said...

Not exactly a Potemkin distillery like so many of the little guys, but its certainly not really a small batch, nor a 'craft' product. The big guys will never succeed over the long term by pretending to be a little guy.

Anonymous said...

This post and the aforementioned comments reek of brand snobbery. Who cares what distillery makes this vodka? I certainly don't deny the marketing implications of associating the word "moon" with a spirit as to connote imagery of moonshine. Personally, the connection was lost on me - we're talking about a different classification of spirit here, and let us not neglect the other graphical element of the label, which has nothing to do with moonshine. Nevertheless, why is it such a bad thing that a product like Moon Mountain enjoys all the benefits of wide corporate profit margins and distribution networks? That equates to a lower-priced product relative to the same quality of product which might come from a very small, local distillery. In layman's terms, that means I, who raises a family on a average middle class salary, can pick up a sipping-quality vodka for $13 on sale, which I just did. Is it better than such-and-such copper-pot-distilled craft vodka? Maybe, maybe not. Do I like it? Yes. Is my wallet happy? Yes. Please look up Dr Levitt's study on brand snobbery (as it pertains to the Harvard Fellow's wine society tastings) and keep it within the wine and craft beer aisles.