Allison Evanow is Raising the Bar with Organic Vodka

Aug. 2, 2007 -- What if you could taste sweetness, thyme leaves and vanilla beans in one sip of a cocktail? Allison Jones Evanow (Foreign Affairs, Spanish ’86) made it possible in April 2006, when she launched Square One Organic Vodka.

One of Evanow’s motivations for founding Square One was her desire to introduce an environmentally friendly mindset to the spirits industry. “It was one of those opportunities I felt the world was ready for: to take fresh, organic ingredients out of the kitchen and into the bar,” Evanow said. 

She was right; her product has been well-received by bar chefs, or mixologists. “Mixology” means using a culinary approach in making drinks, “creating your own recipes or coming up with riffs on original recipes with a twist — a food-like approach, not just saying, ‘Here’s a book and this is how you make a Manhattan,’” as Evanow described it. 

To mixologists, Square One is a flavor carrier, the ingredient that lets other ingredients shine. As a flavor platform, it boosts mixologists’ creativity and versatility.   

“I kind of equate vodka to butter: you can do so many things with butter in the kitchen,” Evanow said.

The organic nature of the vodka contributes to its high quality. Square One uses 100 percent American organic rye as its base grain. “It all happens in the field — everything is farmed naturally,” Evanow said.

The materials used to process the rye are much lighter than those used by other companies, which lends a lightness and sweet flavor to the vodka that can’t be found in nonorganic rye vodkas.

“A lot of times the vodka produced by ‘purists’ has no flavor because they strip it of its character,” Evanow said. “I hear over and over from people, within the world of a drink that is so neutral and difficult to taste, that we create ‘real flavor’ and texture, not just hot alcohol.”

Evanow said that when she launched her company in 2006, many brands called themselves organic but hadn’t been certified as such. “It’s getting a little disconcerting to those of us who have gone to every length to make sure we’re completely certified. Some people are using the term with no certification in sight,” Evanow said.

The organic label of Evanow’s product pushed her company’s name into the spirits industry and into the homes of “conscious consumers.” Once customers realized the high quality of the vodka, they started buying it simply because they loved the product.

Evanow’s description of Square One’s target customer population is “people who love luxury in life — the ‘Tiffany’s’ of vodka.”

According to Evanow, starting her business wasn’t as difficult as one would presume. “Timing is everything. Luck is there, too. I found our distiller on my first Google search for organic vodka,” she said. 

The distillery was family-owned, like Evanow’s business, most of which is owned by Evanow and her sister. “It felt like one family talking to another — we weren’t dealing with a massive corporation,” Evanow said.

Square One started as a solution to Evanow’s need for flexibility in her personal and professional life. Evanow described her motivation for founding Square One as “a combination of personal circumstances that put me in a position of wanting to have my own company in addition to business opportunity.”

Evanow’s background in business began with a four-year stint working at two international firms in Spain. During the latter part of her time abroad, she worked as a research associate for Korn/Ferry España, an international recruiting firm based in the United States. This position required Evanow to review resumés, and she realized that many of the strongest candidates had attended Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Ariz.

From Korn/Ferry, Evanow went straight to Thunderbird, where she earned an international MBA and worked as a bartender at a local pub. After working for PepsiCo for three years in Mexico and California, Evanow worked for Jose Cuervo International, a spirits company that specializes in tequila. Here, she renewed her passion for spirits and realized the versatility of vodka. 

Currently, Evanow’s daily agenda varies from traveling with Square One’s distributor to reviewing her company’s marketing program in her office. “I wear every single hat in the company — there’s not one single thing that I completely farm off; it’s a combination of overseeing finances, marketing and sales.”   

Evanow’s favorite aspect of her job is creating new cocktails with Square One Organic Vodka and the excitement that entails. She enjoys hearing people say, “Gosh, that’s one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had.”

“It’s the ‘aha’ moment, when the consumer can’t believe it’s so good,” Evanow said.

Written by Samantha Lowery, an editorial assistant in Arts & Sciences Communications.