Meet Everyone: Hanson Organic Vodka
You may be familiar with our Meet Our Makers series, in which we interview EO Products employees so you can get to know the people who make our products. We’ve expanded our series to our greater community in a series called Meet Everyone. Come along while we get to know like-minded businesses in all types of industries who go the extra mile to make the best quality products with strong business standards, priority for people and our planet, and love.
Meet Hanson of Sonoma Organic Vodka. They are family-owned, artisan distillers of grape based, organic vodka located in the heart of the wine country: Sonoma, California. We were lucky enough to spend an afternoon at their distillery and got a personal tour with owners Scott and his son Brandon Hanson. The more time we spent with them, the more we realized how much the alcohol and body care industries have in common. Our markets, product offerings, and consumer base may not be exactly the same. However, the challenges we both face as value-driven manufacturers were surprisingly similar.
So, how did it all begin? It turns out Scott Hanson hasn’t always been a spirits enthusiast. He built his career in the film industry as a producer and it wasn’t until his work on the 2012 film Lawless that he began his foray into the world of distilling. The film, based on the book The Wettest County in the World, tells the true story about three brothers who make whiskey during Prohibition in the 1930s. As a producer, Scott immersed himself in the history of whiskey making. Serendipitously, it was around this time that sons Brandon and Chris approached Scott with their spot-on instinct for a business opportunity. At the urging of their sons, the Hanson family embarked on their mission to make outstanding spirits in an industry plagued by sameness. Today, Scott and his four children Darren, Alanna, Chris, and Brandon work at the distillery full time and all are owners in the business.
“If you had told me seven years ago that I’d be in business with my kids, I would’ve thought that’d be problematic,” Scott recalls with a laugh. “But having four millennials running our business has really enlightened us about ingredient sourcing, which has become a crucial point of differentiation for us. They all wanted to know where their food comes from, who makes it, what’s behind it.” The Hansons saw a real opportunity in an incredibly impersonal industry. Their strategy to keep things independent has helped them hold onto high standards and practices, and it’s paying off.
Just like in the body care world, third-party certifications go a long way with earning customer trust. Hanson Vodka is Certified Organic, Certified Gluten Free, and they were the first Non-GMO verified spirits company in the country. (Jinx! EO Products was the first Non-GMO verified body care company in the country!) Scott recalls the early days when such business standards weren’t seen as an advantage. “When we took our pitch for a certified organic, grape-based vodka to distributors, we were told to stop wasting our time. ‘No one cares about organic in spirits’ they said. That’s what the industry was about just five years ago! Now the tables have turned, distributors from all over the country are coming to us wanting organic spirits with a new found value on the best ingredients available. People do care. They want more from their food and beverages, and they deserve to know what’s behind the products they buy.”
Hanson’s vodka is made from organic grapes, picked early in the harvest season due to their high acidity and low sugar content. (We happened to get our tour on their once-a-year grape delivery day!) In order to make vodka from grapes, they must first make wine; something the community of Sonoma knows well. Everyone on deck today has been harvesting and working with grapes for generations.
Once pressed and fermented, the wine hits the copper potstill and passes through 50 individual chambers and is turned into vodka. Hanson son Chris handles each step by hand, carefully reaching the perfect point of proof. Now it’s time for the infusions, handled by Brandon. There are no concentrates or extracts used in Hanson’s flavored vodkas – only real, organic fruit macerations. That means you may often find employees hand peeling ginger or de-seeding cucumbers on a massive scale. We like their style – unwilling to compromise their values no matter how difficult they may make the work.
“We source our ingredients as close to the distillery as possible,” Brandon says, as he pours us a taste of their seasonal boysenberry distillation. “These berries come from Swanton Berry Farm in Santa Cruz. Our peppers come from the only certified organic habanero farm in the state, which is in Southern California. Our ginger comes from the best certified organic supplier in the country, which is in Hawaii.”
Being this picky about ingredients means they’re spending more money and are at the mercy of a farm’s harvest threshold. Ultimately though, it’s a win-win for Hanson and for the farmers, and it allows for each bottle to be infused with care and genuine relationship. This meticulous attention to detail is also prevalent with the labels on the bottles – 6 different labels to be exact. Even after purchasing state-of-the-art labeling equipment from Italy, the crew found one of their label elements still needed to be applied by hand. To this day, each bottle is signed, numbered, and hand-labeled. At the end of the day, the finished product is better for all the trouble.
One thing that stood out to us was how clearly the Hansons honor relationship. Everyone we met greeted us with smiles, hugs, and an eagerness to explain what was happening in front of us. The distillery sits on a beautiful plot of land occupied mostly by vineyards. Owned by three generations of the Ceja family, the campus is home to a winery, the vodka distillery, and a brewery. The commitment to a happy, collaborative culture has obviously soaked in to each operation taking place on site. It may be a busy workplace – they distill four days a week and bottle five days a week – but it has a laidback family vibe and the gritty feel of small-batch perfection.
By the end of our tour, we had met four of the five Hansons. We remarked on how hard it must be to work with family at times, but Scott was quick to correct us. “It’s worked out really well,” he said. “We’ve been very lucky, too.” The family can agree on one priority: Hanson must distinguish themselves on all fronts. “I’m so happy that people have responded to the differences we offer. We worked hard to make sure we look great, taste great, and we get to follow all that by telling our story. There are real people behind this great product. That personalization is so important.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
In an industry that’s dominated by a handful of global corporations, the Hanson family is thriving by staying independent, family-owned and operated, and community-driven. By nurturing relationships with local farmers and remaining driven by their passion to ‘do better,’ Hanson is making a truly unique, superior, and delicious product. We are honored and excited to spotlight a fellow company that infuses every bottle with love. Cheers, Hansons!
Connect with Hanson on social: @hansonorganicvodka on Instagram! Tell ’em we sent ya!