Twin brothers give up comfort to bring vodka dreams to the high country
2 to 4 ounces Gypsy Vodka
2 to 4 ounces Sprite
Splash pink lemonade
Garnish with drink umbrella
Designed to be quick and easy to make, for a Gypsy Soul cocktail, Adam Kazanowski suggests, “You start with vodka, a couple ounces — a couple more if you want to have some fun.”
For more Gypsy Vodka-inspired mixed drinks, find the brand on Facebook.
michael Kazanowski found his life’s direction atop a Breckenridge ski lift.
On the lift one day almost three years ago was Paul Dunning, a Colorado distiller who makes Snova Vodka and private label brands at his facility in Aurora.
Now 27, Michael Kazanowski spends much of his time on the road, living out of his van as he searches for liquor stores, bars and restaurants willing to carry his brand of spirits — Gypsy Vodka — produced at Dunning’s facility and now being sold in Colorado and Michigan.
But Michael Kazanowski isn’t alone on this journey. His twin brother, Adam, is a full business partner.
A year before that chance encounter, Michael Kazanowski had graduated college with a degree in health science, was working a good job in Michigan and was considering medical school.
“But I was like, $300,000, I can’t do this,” Michael Kazanowski said of forgoing his continued education and instead moving to Colorado, which came as the result of a single trip he took to Breckenridge when he was in college.
During a recent interview at one of his favorite local haunts, Angels Hollow in Breckenridge, the sociable purveyor of vodka with a million-dollar smile knew at least a half-dozen people well enough to stop and say hi. Listening to him speak, he’s smart and articulate, and he’s down to have a good time.
It might be these qualities that have served Michael Kazanowski so well thus far in his vodka venture. Without a plan or knowing anyone who lived here, he landed his first roommates in Breck on Craigslist and found a job in a local shop to make ends meet.
He lived in Colorado for about a year — loving the lifestyle — when his parents’ calls for him to do something with his life started growing louder.
“I was up here for a year, working at a shop in town, when finally my parents were like, ‘All right, you got to do something,’” Michael Kazanowski said. “But instead of getting my life together, I call my twin brother. ‘Hey Adam, I’m out of money. I need you to come out here.’”
Then, they met Dunning on the lift, and the pair’s course was set.
Live like a Gypsy
While lots of 24-year-olds probably want to start their own vodka label, few have the follow-through — or financing — to actually do so.
“Being 24 at the time, I couldn’t get a bank loan. I couldn’t get a credit card,” Michael Kazanowski said. “I didn’t have credit at the time, and we couldn’t get financing.”
How did they pull it off?
“We sold most of our belongings, moved into our van and started working music festivals, doing odd jobs, anything we could,” Michael Kazanowski said. “We’ve been doing that for about three years.”
Basically, they lived like gypsies as they traveled and worked odd jobs to save money.
After a couple of years, Michael Kazanowski said, they had enough capital — roughly $80,000 — to take their concept from the drawing board to the bottle.
“Everyone told us we needed at least $500,000,” he said.
Hoops and bottles
Staying on the right side of the law is probably the single biggest hurdle Michael and Adam Kazanowski encountered.
Living out of their car, cold-calling businesses for a little shelf space, neither of those was as bad as securing all the proper federal and state licenses, he said.
“Getting (state distribution licenses), there are literally five different steps of stuff you have to go through,” Michael Kazanowski said, “and that’s what took the most amount of time was reading up on that.”
There was one hiccup on the bottle, where a generic statement printed on it was misconstrued as a statement of medical fact. However, after checking with a lawyer, the bottle design was a go, and it turned out to be only a speed bump, not a roadblock.
However, the bottle itself still needed work.
Early on, Michael Kazanowski said, he intentionally designed the first Gypsy Vodka bottle to resemble a woman’s figure — a bottle trait that has carried over to the new design — but it was “super tall, top-heavy and not functional.”
As luck would have it, the brothers were working a music festival close to home in Northern Michigan when they met their answer in the form of a critic.
“A (festival) neighbor came over (to our setup), and she was like, ‘I don’t want to sound mean, but this bottle sucks,’” Michael Kazanowski said. “And we were like, ‘Yeah, we know.’”
But she also happened to be a glassblower in town and she told them, “I’ll help you out.” Michael and Adam Kazanowski went to her shop and she blew the bottle for them.
Not bad, Michael Kazanowski said, considering a design firm wanted $15,000 to do the job.
As for the logo on their bottle, their best friend’s little sister, a college student at the time, did it for the low cost of simple credit.
“Everything we did was done with friends, family and random people,” Michael Kazanowski said.
Without a marketing budget, their strategy has been knocking on doors and trying to make new friends, with some success and a fair amount of media attention.
The pair has been featured in pieces in DBusiness Magazine, a Detroit-based publication; the Detroit Free Press and on beyondmyhome.com.
The twins also appeared together Oct. 29, 2015, on NBC affiliate WDIV Local Channel 4’s morning show in Detroit for the station’s “Homegrown” series and again on June 17 on Fox News Channel 2 in Detroit, when Adam Kazanowski created a mixed drink called a Gypsy Soul for meteorologist Jessica Starr.
The first live on-TV interview followed early vodka sales, and came shortly after the pair announced Gypsy Vodka was in its first store in East Lansing, Michigan, on Aug. 31, 2015. By that September, they were in almost a half-dozen stores in the city.
Distribution in Colorado has come more slowly, but only because free rent made working in Michigan easier to facilitate at first. However, those sales are picking up, too, and Mountain Moonshine in Idaho Springs became the first Colorado store to start selling Gypsy in January.
Locally, Gypsy Vodka has found a home at Valet Wine & Spirits and Lionshead Liquor Store, both in Lionshead Village; West Vail Liquor Mart and Alpine Wine & Spirits in the City Market, both in West Vail; Beaver Liquors and Avon Liquors in Avon and Riverwalk Wine & Spirits in Edwards. The vodka also is being served at Pepi’s Restaurant & Bar, The Left Bank Restaurant, Up the Creek and Root & Flower in Vail Village and Moe’s Original Bar B Que in Lionshead Village.
Michael Kazanowski is currently crashing with a friend in Vail as he continues his quest to promote the brand.
“We took the same approach in Colorado that we did in Michigan,” Michael Kazanowski said. “It’s literally me driving around in my van, where I sleep, to different liquor stores trying to tell my story, talking about the vodka, and if they want, I go get it out of my car and I sell it to them.”
After experimenting with at least 50 or more recipes involving potatoes, grain and wheat, they finally settled on non-GMO sweet corn. Michael Kazanowski said they did this to, hopefully, capture part of the healthy craze that’s sweeping the nation and to put out a clean, pure product.
“The benefit of the sweet corn is you don’t have to add any sugar. Everything is naturally sweet,” he said. “Our approach: Less is more. Let’s go healthy, let’s go clean. Everyone is into clean eating, let’s go into clean drinking.”
He also hopes it’s a brand that will appeal to his generation.
“Every other (vodka) brand is about sophistication, class, and that’s not what we’re about,” Michael said. “Our Gypsy brand is the brand that we fell in love with on the road — it’s the people we fell in love with. We went for a brand that’s fun, love and adventure.”
It’s a marketing campaign, but in addition to their unique bottles, another selling point is that the vodka’s also gluten-free and contains no additives or flavors.
Adam and Michael Kazanowski are promoting their brand as a six-times-distilled premium vodka without the premium price tag, and a 750 milliliter bottle sells for about $20.
You can check out their website at gypsyvodka.com or find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.