May 2010

MEDEA is the Message

By: Ralph DiGennaro
Photos By: Doug Young
". . . as the fine spirit loosens your tongue, the world's first interactive bottle unleashes your inner poet, your inner philosopher, your inner flirt."


Someone wise once quipped that "There is nothing as great as an idea whose time has come." And while that axiom may be overstating things a bit with regard to spirits, Medea Vodka founder and creator Tim Goldburt would beg to differ: "I saw the idea for Medea in my head at 5 a.m. on the morning of September 26, 2006," says Goldburt; "it made me jump out of bed."

Medea features a programmable LED ticker that can display the message of your choice.

For the uninitiated, Medea (rhymes with idea) is an 80 proof, single-batch wheat-distilled vodka made with artesian water imported from Schiedam, Holland and packaged in a special, custom-made glass bottle that houses a LED ticker capable of displaying six lines of programmable text, with up to 255 characters per line.

Bar owners can program the name of their establishment or any promotional message they wish to convey; consumers can have the bottle read out their family name, send a message to their significant other or program the vodka bottle to announce a favorite sports team or drinking slogan. Each message runs for three minutes before it has to be reactivated with a push button on the bottle. The possibilities, says Goldburt, are endless.

For Medea, the message (as well as the vodka) is clear—there is no other marketing idea quite like it in the beverage industry.
But lest one dismisses this newcomer and its message on the bottle (testing for the product began in certain markets late last year) as pure gimmick, think again: Medea Vodka is produced by a Dutch distilling family who emigrated from Germany to Holland in the 17th century and began distilling spirits as far back as 1777.

"As much as I love the scrolling message on our bottle, there is much deeper thought behind the vodka," says Goldburt. "Having emigrated from Russia in 1976, I specifically wanted the vodka to be made from grain. It had to be pure and extra smooth so that it could be enjoyed straight without the typical vodka burn."

According to Goldburt, who earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science (voted by The Scientist magazine recently as the best university in the world for life scientists to conduct research) his goal in creating Medea was to reach a perfect balance between 18th century distillation processes and 21st century LED display technology. Goldburt unabashedly characterizes his achievement as "a paradigm shift" in the liquor industry.

"Everyone we've shown Medea to embraces it," says Goldburt, founder of the company that produces and markets Medea in the United States. "At tasting events so far, one out of every two people who try it have bought a bottle [SRP $39.99], and we've sold as many as 60 bottles at a single in-store tasting."

Medea Vodka founder Tim Goldburt (right) with co-founder Matt Sandy (left).

Some restaurant bar mixologists have already begun working with Medea. At Amarelle, a new restaurant in Wading River, NY that serves up "contemporary country cuisine," bartender Katie Maurice Dombroski pours a "Medea Martini," which consists of Medea vodka shaken (not stirred) with ice and poured over a skewer of two olives and a cocktail onion into a frosted tall-stem glass. Dombroski programs the bottle to read "Amarelle," which she displays at the bar while mixing the Martini. Customers, she says, seem to love it and want to know more about the vodka.

Mixologist Katie Maurice Dombroski pours a "Medea Martini" at the bar at Amarelle in Wading River, NY.

Initial sales appear to portend real potential for Medea in other upscale restaurants like Amarelle as well. According to Matt Sandy, the 32-year-old Columbia University MBA graduate who oversees business operations for Medea, the company sold more than 1,000 cases to a handful of key accounts in the New York metropolitan area in less than four months. In fact, sales have been going at such a rapid clip that Southern Wine & Spirits has recently taken on Medea for distribution.

Meanwhile, both Goldburt and Sandy have been hitting the road, visiting spirits retailers in Florida, Illinois, Nevada and California. Sandy, an Oxford Scholar in economics who created the name, Medea, says he saw the merits and potential of Goldburt's idea from the outset.

"The idea behind Medea was never about quick gain, which some might mistakenly think," says Sandy.

"We realized the inherent value in the product almost immediately. Our initial challenge was in how to realize the idea in the biggest possible way. There was beauty in the idea, but the possibility for success was lodged in the reality of the market."

"It was never a case of 'Let's come up with another idea that nobody really needs'," adds Goldburt, who confesses that his greatest initial concern was never bringing a new product to the already crowded premium spirits market or if Medea would eventually find favor and acceptance on the palates of American vodka drinkers.

"What mattered to me most, what kept me up at night when we first began, apart from all the hard work," says Goldburt with a smile, "was whether or not we could actually realize our idea and vision. And, get it done before anyone else."

Quick Programming Guide

Present Medea Vodka for the first time to a friend by programming their name. For example, to program "Joe," press the On/Off button (top left) to turn the screen on. Press the Enter button (bottom left). A blinking number will appear (showing which line to assign the message to). Press Enter again. Keep pressing the Down button (bottom right) until you scroll up the alphabet to J, and press Enter to store J. Repeat same to scroll to O, press Enter. Repeat to scroll to E, press Enter. Finally, press On/Off to save "Joe," which will begin scrolling on the screen.

More advanced instructions are available at

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