Business Monday: Aspen-based vodka brand gets a Lift on Opening Day
While opening day Friday at Coors Field saw the hometown Colorado Rockies fall 5-3 to division rival Los Angeles, next door at the Denver Chop House & Brewery a trio of Aspen men took a swing at promoting their vodka brand.
LJZ Limited Liability Co. — the acronym represents the respective first names of company founders Lance Armstrong, Joe DiSalvo and Zack Neiditz — debuted Lift Vodka over Labor Day 2020. Now midway through the second year of production, Lift Vodka’s owners hope to raise its profile and gradually expand distribution outside of Colorado, and one day distill the vodka in-state.
“The main purpose of today is building that brand awareness in a new market,” said Neiditz, also a bartender at Mi Chola, hours before the Rockies took the field.
They used the 20,000-sqaure-foot Chop House to host table tents for vodka tasting, which allowed “us to interact with these customers and build brand awareness,” said Neiditz.
When the three partners launched Lift Vodka, their approach to the start-up was to grow the brand, but grow it slowly. Lift Vodka soon appeared on the shelves of local liquor stores and behind the bars at downtown restaurants.
“In that time we were self-distributing,” said DiSalvo of the launch. “We were just schlepping the cases around and selling them ourselves. We didn’t have distribution until a year later.”
Neiditz also noted the three didn’t have much difficulty getting Lift Vodka picked up by Aspen merchants. “In Aspen, it was easy with the connections from the three of us,” he said.
Neiditz has worked in the Aspen bar industry since 2010; DiSalvo has been in local law enforcement 37 years, including his current elected role as sheriff of Pitkin County; Armstrong, a household name for his career in competitive bicycle racing, bought a home in Aspen in 2008.
All three are investors and the company has taken on no outside capital, Armstrong said.
Fourteen months after its release, Lift Vodka was picked up for distribution by Southern Wine & Spirits, and the beverage’s presence grew in Colorado. On Nov. 1, it was being distributed throughout the state.
“We are running a small business,” Armstrong said. “It’s like any business. You try to make projections, and obviously going statewide has been a big boost for us.”
When Southern picked up Lift for distribution, the Lift bottles (which come in the size of a fifth, or 750 milliliters) were boxed six at time rather than the previous 12. About six weeks ago Lift cranked out 1,650 cases — which equates to 9,900 bottles, or nearly 2 thousand gallons of vodka.
“I think the best way to sum that up is that we sell everything we make,” Armstrong said. “We started very small, not just production wise but also expectation wise, and just wanted to see what we had. … The bottom line is we’re blessed with great water in Aspen and so that being the main ingredient, it’s made an incredible product.”
One of the company’s selling points is the vodka comes from non-GMO corn distillate and 100% Aspen water, which is shipped to California where it is distilled.
“For now it’s being distilled in California,” Neiditz said. “As a small start-up we wanted to see we had something that worked before we spent a ton of money and built a huge facility so we outsourced the still, we use 100% Aspen water, we have an account with the city and they love that we use water from there to make an amazing small-batch, local product.”
The company also is eyeing distilling the vodka in Colorado when the time is right.
“For now, we’ve already started to look at bringing it to the valley because it’s been very successful,“ Neiditz said.
Lift Vodka also is working with the Waterboys nonprofit initiative run by former NFL defensive end Chris Long’s foundation. Waterboys works to bring clean water in areas in the impoverished areas of East Africa, primarily Tanzania.
“Our view is you wake up every morning and if you want a glass water, you turn on the tap and drink it and say, ‘Damn, that was really good,’” said Armstrong. “There are literally millions of people around the world that will never have that opportunity. It doesn’t cost a lot to dig a well and change somebody’s life forever.”
The remodel of Limelight Hotel Aspen took about six months to complete, but settling more than $3.4 million in overdue debts related to the project has taken twice the time so far.