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The Swede Life

Story and photos by Elyse Glickman

The days of the simple pour-serve-taste beverage promotion are long gone. The relationships between distilleries, bar operators, bartenders, traditional media journalists and “influencers”––social media-savvy devotees who can reach thousands of people in one swipe or text––have become more complex and symbiotic. Just ask the folks at Absolut, one of the brands that could be credited for “writing the book” on today’s high-concept multi-platform marketing campaigns. Need proof? Look no further than Absolut’s Elyx Experience.  

During the brand’s annual media trip to Ahüs, Sweden , the members of its inner circle, from Master Distiller Krister Asplund and CEO Jonas Tåhlin to a fleet of Elyx ambassadors, discuss the ways Absolut anticipated the evolution of grand-scale beverage-industry marketing, from the brand’s 1979 inception onward. Consider its high-profile support of the arts, the resurgence of bartending as a career and the advent of craft cocktails and the groundbreaking “Absolut LA” promotional film, released at a time when liquor ads were essentially taboo.

 

The CEO of Absolut Elyx Jonas Tåhlin

“Absolut was positively pivotal in that time in history, from the ’80s through the late ’90s,” explains Asplund, who has been with the company from its early days. “It was omnipresent in elevating the bar trade, as well as the status of bartenders and others working in the liquor industry. This energy around the brand was something that spoke directly to bartenders, because it wasn’t like other brands. Furthermore, while other products came around with great packaging, what was inside did not deliver. Our products have always delivered.”

As the rest of the industry caught up with the artistic and aspirational underpinnings of Absolut’s most successful campaigns, the brand did one better: It launched Absolut Elyx in 2013 to stand as the pinnacle of the portfolio. On-site at the distillery, it’s not enough for the Elyx team to tout that the artisanal spirit made with single-estate winter wheat is perfected in a 1921 copper still , or that its name is an amalgam of “elixir” and “lyx” (a Swedish word for “luxury”). 

“One thing that was interesting at the time we released Elyx was that we were dealing with a very different scenario from 1979,” says Miranda Dickson, Director of Trade and Brand Aesthetic and the trip’s de facto social director. “In the early 2000s, the bar world was not screaming out for another vodka, or even a luxury vodka. However, [Absolut’s] merging of advertising with culture and fashion paid off in a big way, enabling the brand to immerse itself into American popular culture. Though the culture of making the cocktail lay dormant in the 1970s when Absolut launched, by the early 1990s, there was the arrival of the boutique hotel bar, with bartenders starting to reach for fresh juices, fresh syrups made in-house––a re-emergence of cocktail culture ... and Absolut was at the forefront.”

An Ahüs visit is no mere walk through the distillery. It is an experiential and sensory immersion designed to make participants feel they’ve been absorbed into an Absolut advertisement. Comparison tastings and cocktail demonstrations are staged in hidden rooms with ABBA soundtracks, concealed flat-screen televisions rising from unusual spots and other clever props. Ahüs, neighboring

 

Above the heart of the Elyx distillery, this meeting room hosts tastings and cocktail demonstrations for visiting press and trade.

Kristianstad and the surrounding countryside are punctuated with walk-in set pieces: a swanky hunting lodge, a blacksmith shop on a royal estate, even the doorway to Narnia. In all of these installations, cocktail alchemy is at work, and the lines between on- and off-premise marketing for the brand blur. Even the lovely

 

The fantasy land of Narnia is re-imagined as a sumptuously appointed Airstream trailer with refreshing summer drinks.

Åhus Gästgivaregård Inn, which houses the participants, has just the right amount of urbane Elyx cool integrated into its 18 th -century structure. 

In addition to that Absolut creativity, guests fly in a helicopter over the distillery sites, frolic in Råbelöf Estate’s winter wheat fields and assist in blowing their own glass beverage decanters. While the brand ambassadors and bartenders clearly have a blast helping Asplund and Tåhlin bring fresh insight into the Elyx distillation process and important corporate initiatives (sustainability efforts, the brand’s work with the Water for People charity and offering high-end copper barware sets for sale to consumers and the trade), several were also discovering new ways to bring the Elyx/Ahus experience home for their trade clients.

“What this trip does is bring to life everything you’ve read about the drink,” says Steffin Oghene, a Los Angeles-based Senior Brand Manager of Trade Marketing who has attended the annual event several times. “ When you look at every stage of the process, you see ‘integrity’ is a word that means it is true to its origin. Although every trip is different, what stands out is that Sweden is an amazing country, and different seasons bring something magical to the perspective of the distilling process and the drink creations. Sweden takes so much care of its people, environment and its country, and for me Absolut is the living embodiment of Sweden.”

Though the position of brand ambassador may seem like a non-stop party, Ian Cohen (who came to the attention of Absolut’s decision makers by winning several bartending competitions) treats his job as serious business. While some ambassadors focus on spreading the word through splashy on-premise events, he prefers more intimate avenues of promotion. He says his first trip to Ahüs will enhance the educational dinners he conducts with small groups of bartenders.

“A word I use to describe what I do is ‘lobbyist,’ Cohen says. “By being here first-hand and interacting with the part of the production process, it makes the idea of Absout Elyx more real for me. It will add a new level of authenticity to what I am saying. As a lobbyist and ambassador for the brand, you would want to be perceived as an expert.”  

Roman Pavée, a native of France, former Las Vegas promoter and resident of New York City, concurs. “One of the most important parts of this trip for me is going to the source and understanding the process,” Pavée notes. “The biggest thing was realizing why Absolut Elyx was a luxury good and not just another ‘premium product.’ I learned during this trip about how Elyx’s production is controlled from the source to the bottle, and had no idea that [some luxury vodka] competitors bought spirits from a secondary source and put it in a bottle with their name on it. I feel like I am dealing with a true vodka company involved in all the steps of the process. When I make deals with venues, [having visited Ahus] makes it easier for me to explain to a client why Elyx and other Absolut products will work well at his venue.”    


The stunning scenery of Ahüs, Sweden

Thousands of miles from Sweden, the mystique of Absolut Elyx lives and breathes at the Elyx House in the Hollywood Hills, which serves as

Tåhlin’s U.S. residence and a showplace for promotional functions, trade events and tasting dinners. In the same vein as the whimsical rooms, trailers and lodges staged in Sweden, this property, and other U.S. Elyx Houses in the works, gives professionals access to an experience that other brands cannot duplicate with two-dimensional materials or standard meet-and-greets, Tåhlin points out

Dickson sums up Elyx’s advantages best: “Honestly, telling the story behind Absolut and Absolut Elyx is exciting––there is much more to Absolut being a vodka company when you consider the fact that it is a part of the cultural fabric and not just clear liquid in the bottle.”

 

 

RECIPES

ELYX MARTINI, PLEASE

2 oz. Absolut Elyx

1 oz. Lillet Blanc
Lemon zest or green olive for garnish

Stir over cubed ice and strain into a chilled cocktail coupe.

 

ORCHARD

2 oz. Absolut Elyx
½ oz. Calvados
2½ oz. pear juice
2½ oz. Lapsang Souchong tea
1 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 oz. simple syrup

Pear essence and dried lemon slice for garnish

Shake and strain into copper pineapple over cubed ice. Cap with crushed ice and garnish.

 

Copper Rose

2 oz. Absolut Elyx
¾ oz. bitters
2 oz. cranberry juice
1 oz. simple syrup
½ oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
6-8 raspberries (save 1-2 for garnish)

Lightly muddle raspberries and add other ingredients in a shaker. Shake and fine-strain into a highball over cubed ice.

1921

2 oz. Absolut Elyx
½ oz. cherry brandy
½ oz. sweet vermouth

Cherry garnish

Stir over cubed ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. 

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