(apologies to Joseph Mankiewicz)
VeeV…but more of VeeV, later. All about VeeV, in fact.
…açai (pronounced “ah-sah-ee”) grows in weedlike profusion across hundreds of thousands of acres of the Amazon River delta. It has been a staple of the diet of the region’s people since before recorded history…The ribeirinhos, or river people, as they call themselves, harvest and prepare açai in the manner that’s been used for centuries: they scale the trees, bring down the berry clusters, then pull off the fruit and soak it for hours in water to soften the skin and flesh, which they rub off the pit by hand. They eat the resulting thick purple pulp with fish or game, or by itself, like soup. It has a creamy texture and an earthy flavor, with hints of unsweetened chocolate.
Açai was virtually unknown outside Brazil until ten years ago, when Ryan and Jeremy Black, two brothers from Southern California, and their friend Edmund Nichols began exporting it to the United States. Since then, the fruit has followed a cycle of popularity befitting a teen-age pop singer: a Miley Cyrus-like trajectory from obscurity to hype, critical backlash, and eventual ubiquity. Embraced as a “superfruit”—a potent combination of cholesterol-reducing fats and anti-aging antioxidants—açai became one of the fastest-growing foods in history, billed as a miracle cure for, among other things, obesity, attention-deficit disorder, autism, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and erectile dysfunction. Supermarkets have become filled with açai-laced products: açai jelly beans; açai ice cream; açai vodka… (Strange Fruit by John Colapinto, The New Yorker, May 30, 2011)
Which brings us back to why we are here. VeeV, billed as “the world’s first açaí spirit” (a liqueur at 30% ABV, average retail price $31.95) was founded in 2007, four years after brothers Courtney and Carter Reum discovered açaí on a surfing trip in Brazil. They quit their jobs at Goldman Sachs, where they were treated as “delicate princes,” boasting $75 dinner stipends and staying at Four Seasons hotels, and in three years grew VeeV into a $5 million company with sales doubling almost every year, says Carter. VeeV pronounces açaí “ah-SIGH-ee” and cracked the top 250 fastest growing companies in the U.S. in 2011, landing at #8 in the Food & Beverage category according to Inc. Magazine. VeeV is a case study in Richard Branson’s book Screw Business as Usual and is carried on Virgin Airlines as well as appearing on shelves at BevMo!, Ralphs, Pavilions, Albertsons, and on menus at Starwood Hotels, Ritz-Carltons, Ruby Tuesdays, and T.G.I. Fridays, to name but a few. In 2013, they’ll pop out at Hooters, too.
Courtney is mentioned in the same New Yorker article about Silicon Valley’s self-help guru Timothy Ferriss: “he [Reum] had left a job at Goldman Sachs to start a company that makes and sells Veev [sic]—an organic, kosher, gluten-free, carbon-neutral açaí liquor, bottled in recycled glass, with labels printed in soy inks.” (Better, Faster, Stronger by Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, September 5, 2011)
Besides the au courant açaí, VeeV is the first spirits company in the world to be certified carbon neutral (not sure who certified them, but they are). Their distillery in Rigby, Idaho, features renewable wind energy and a 4-column distillation process that “uses 200% less energy than a traditional pot still.” They donate 1% of profits to rainforest preservation and other environmental causes. Half a million has already helped the Brazilian rainforest (my math says that at 1%, they’ve made at least $50 mil in five years). The corporate office in Hollywood is “green”, employees are encouraged to drive hybrids, everything is recycled, and their gumball dispenser has been repurposed to burp out seed bombs. Company leave-behinds regularly include dried açaí berry bracelets made by low-income women, branded sustainable water bottles, and pitchers with VeeV recipes imprinted on them.
Carter Reum will turn 32 in February 2013, and he’s handsome, good-natured, and as easy to talk to as someone who either practices yoga or participates in fantastic sex on a regular basis, likely both. VeeV staffers, male and female, all boast enviable physiques, rapturous skin, radiant hair, and practically gleam with youthful joie de VeeV. Their smiles are easy and unforced, unlike the creepy rictus grins on Scientologists trying to assess you on the Boulevard.
The latest expression from VeeV is Vita Fruite pre-mixed cocktails. Currently they have three: organic lemonade, margarita, and organic cosmopolitan. Each serving of pour-and-go mixed drinks contains visible pulp but less than 125 calories, and also proofs in at the female-friendly 30 (15% ABV). Their marketing scheme recommends retailers place Vita Fruite next to Skinny Girl products. Carter says the impetus behind Vita was “to give consumers options.” With a new marketing manager, they want to own the brand logo of “a better way to drink.”
VeeV is young, attractive, organic, environmental, healthy, happy, and profitable. They have treated picnic ants like cocktail Examiners only with kindness.
And yet VeeV tastes like spoiled Cherry Coke. Not just to the Los Angeles Cocktails Examiner, but other friends and family he badgered a shot into. There’s something in the sweetener (organic, sure, but flavorful?) that triggers a grimacing aftertaste. That something was there in the VeeV Christmas party cocktails of 2010, it was in the VeeV cocktails at Desert Rose, it’s currently in Vita Fruite.
And yet VeeV bottles feature frosted glass, requiring acids to cloud. VeeV boasts a 200% energy usage reduction vs. single pot via fractional distillation. Column stills, which have been around since the 1820’s, distill spirits multiple times in a cycle, but they also remove the flavors of the original mash. Vodka, for example, is distilled many times (dozens, maybe hundreds), and even though VeeV pokes fun at that, they’re still using the same process, whereas many quality spirits pride themselves on a single copper pot distillation cycle. What’s wrong with the mash that it needs to be refined (distilled) so many times? The more distillations, the fewer flavors the result contains—unless something is inserted to it in the back end (gin’s botanicals do well here). Although they use local lemons and limes, VeeV still transports açaí berries from Brazil (what’s that carbon footprint?). Despite his likeability, Carter talks about SKU’s and “bringing people into the VeeV trademark.”
In essence, VeeV is a company run by clever, ambitious, and savvy trend marketers, as compared to, say, independently wealthy alcoholics with discriminating tastes, a la Pisco Portón.
Like the titular character in the classic All About Eve movie, VeeV is too good to be true. Is that bad? No, these are the games played in an extremely competitive marketplace. Compared to say, the unseemly practices and pungencies large domestic beer companies or flavored vodka energy drinks inflict upon raw 21-year-olds with immature taste buds, VeeV should be sainted.
But for anyone who appreciates a well-refined cocktail, leave VeeV to the sorority parties, Power Bar-chewers, Jenny Craig frequent flyers, Rage Against the Machine–listening Republican VP candidates, and others to whom taste falls in line behind corporate culture, calorie counts, and keen commercialism.
Disclosure: Over the years I’ve received at least a case or more of VeeV, three bottles of Vita Fruite, branded pitchers, jars, VeeV-filled chocolates, environmental donations in my name, invites to VeeV parties, and more. I usually end up giving it all away to people with the caveat “If you don’t like it, just chuck it. Recycle the bottle, though.” There are two sealed VeeV containers on the shelf now. I couldn’t bring myself to crack even one open to sample for this review, which is at least a year overdue. All the nice prezzies, and yet…