At www.okctalk.com there’s an interesting conversation underway about Metore’s Vodka, which is produced at the old Fred Jones plant on west Main Street. Here’s a couple of stories I wrote in November, 2007 and December, 2005:
Brewing hobby taking on new role
By Steve Lackmeyer Business Writer
Marc Spain’s hobby is quickly turning into a full-time job these days — but he can take comfort in knowing that his latest creation is bringing smiles to OU and OSU fans across the state.
Spain is hoping that no Bedlam party Saturday will be without the newest brands of vodka from his Oklahoma City-based distillery — Metore’s OSU Orange and OU Cherry Red.
“We understand the special regard Oklahoma fans have for their teams,” said Spain, founder and chief distiller at Old Russia Distillery and Spirits. “We hope they’ll become a whole new tradition at tailgating and game day parties.”
Spain said the creation of the two new flavors was inspired by the Oklahoma Centennial and desire to introduce “distinctly Oklahoma” products.
“It’s been out since August, and it’s our No. 1 seller,” Spain said.
Spain said sales indicate the dividing line between OU and OSU territory might just be in Moore.
“You can tell which part of the state you are in by how which one is selling,” Spain said. “You go down to Norman and it is 80 percent red and 20 percent orange. ”
Stillwater residents, Spain said, favor the OSU Orange by about 80 percent to the 20 percent buying OU Cherry Red. In Moore, however, the sales split about 50/50.
Spain estimates his vodka is sold in about 50 stores across the state. The venture started six years ago after he saw an article about a distillery in California and then got a taste of real Russian vodka during a visit with his wife’s family in the former Soviet state of Riga Latvia.
Before switching to a career in computer science, Spain’s initial college studies were in botany and chemistry. So when he and his wife Elena took a trip back to her family’s home, he was intrigued by her father’s discussion of how they “improved” the stateowned vodka during the Soviet era. Spain was taken to a back room and treated to the family recipe. He began to draw up a business plan when he saw an article about a Californian who started a distillery.
After setting up shop in a business incubator at downtown’s old Fred Jones plant, Spain and his partners got their first shot at a retail sales outlet with Oklaho- ma City’s largest liquor store — Byron’s Liquor.
Vedia Ming, general manager at Byron’s, said Metore’s is a pleasant surprise when one considers most of Oklahoma winery products are struggling.
“It’s done very good because it’s a very good product,” Ming said. “It ranks right up there with the national product.”
Ready to expand
Ming said her store had no problem adding it to their stock — and she readily recommends it to customers. She also thinks Metore’s is ready to expand beyond Oklahoma.
“I definitely think they’re doing the right thing marketing, and I suspect eventually it will be a good national brand if that’s the direction they want to go.”
And that’s exactly what Spain and his partners want to hear.
They do well with taste tests — Spain reports that he sold three cases one night after offering samples at Joe’s Liquor in Norman.
Spain and partners Gary Robinson and Bret Stacy are still holding down full-time jobs while working 40-hour weeks at the distillery in the old Fred Jones plant downtown.
“We’ve doubled our sales, but it’s been a long slog,” Spain said. “We think we’re to the point we’re ready to find some outside investors, go regional and eventually national.”
The introduction of new flavors like the OSU Orange and OU Cherry Red is a part of that strategy. The company hired a marketing firm that helped style a new bottle, bottle cap and label. They now sell 10 flavors that have led to increased sales statewide.
“We’ve reached the point in Oklahoma that we’re growing, but we need to start growing faster,” Spain said.
Here’s the one from 2005:
Family recipe builds spirits
By Steve Lackmeyer Business Writer
Marc Spain drinks on the job. His wife drinks on the job. So do his friends and business partners.
Their chosen drink: “Old Russia,” 100-proof grain vodka. And they all have a drinking problem — getting Oklahomans to sample spirits from the state’s first and only distillery.
“It’s Russia invented, Oklahoma perfected,” Spain boasts.
Spain admits sales could be better. But three years after starting production in the Fred Jones Business Development Center, Spain no longer is struggling to convince wholesalers to pick up the “Old Russia” brand. And bottles can be found at stores across the state.
Spain is looking to expand beyond Oklahoma — and is replacing his stainless steel still with a copper model recently brought in from Arkansas. If all goes well, he hopes to expand production from vodka to gin and brandy within the next couple months.
And in doing so, Spain is thinking up his next move: sales in Texas and Missouri, and the addition of three more stills.
Call him crazy. That’s what friends and acquaintances did when Spain first pitched his plans a few years ago. He was inspired by two events: an article about a distillery in California and a visit with his wife’s family in the former Soviet state of Riga Latvia.
Before switching to computer sciences, Spain’s initial college studies were in botany and chemistry. So when he and his wife Elena took a trip back to her family’s home, he was intrigued by her father’s discussion of how they “improved” the state-owned vodka during the Soviet era.
Spain was taken to a back room and treated to the family recipe. He began to draw up a business plan when he saw an article about a Californian who started a distillery.
“I thought, ‘Why not do it here?’ ” Spain said. “I talked to different people and, basically, everybody looked at me as if I was crazy.”
Luck changed for Spain when he shared his idea with Gary Robinson, a former co-worker at Fred Jones Industries. Together, they approached Scott Weaver, who was overseeing conversion of the old Fred Jones plant downtown into a business incubator.
Approval of Old Russia as one of the business incubator’s first tenants was key to making the label a reality, Spain said.
Over several months, Spain, Robinson and a third partner, Bret Stacy, worked with federal authorities to get permits for production and navigated their way through the Legislature to win changes in state laws to allow the distillery to open.
They bought rolling-counters from the closed Lucent plant, tanks once used at dairy farms, and searched the Internet for the right still.
They found it for sale from a man who refers to himself as “Col. Morrison” and lives atop a mountain in Arkansas.
“He’s an interesting character,” Spain said. “You might get the impression at first he’s a hillbilly, but he’s a very sophisticated man. He’s got a very nice place.
“But there’s something about driving 25 miles past the border, turning right and going five miles down a state highway, then going 10 miles on a dirt road and being told ‘drive through the front lawn to the back, and you’ll find my place in the back of my father’s house.’ ”
Spain spends his work days at the Oklahoma Real Estate Commission as a computer technician, then works most afternoons at the distillery. On weekends, he’s joined by his wife and their business partners. They use a multiple-filtering system Spain boasts is unique for vodka production, and they each sample the product to “ensure quality.”
“We do it in moderation,” Spain quickly adds.
The company produces about 30 cases a month — a figure Spain hopes will rise considerably once they add gin and brandy. He’s proud that “Old Russia” can be found at the city’s largest liquor retailer — Byron’s — and at stores in Tulsa and across the state.
“I always tell everyone if they don’t see us, they should demand us.”
BY MICHAEL DOWNES, THE OKLAHOMAN Marc Spain, president of Old Russia Vodka, stands near the company’s new still Monday at the downtown Oklahoma City distillery.