From Goats to Grains: An Interview with Golia Vodka's David Solomon

Mongolian vodka? You heard it here first

Golia Vodka is a new, six-times filtered spirit distilled from Mongolian wheat and made with water from the Khuiten Peak.

A businessman who owns a 20-store Toys "R" Us franchise and invented a DVD vending machine doesn’t necessarily seem like the guy to bring about the next big thing in vodka. However, that’s who you’ll find behind Golia, a new, six-times filtered spirit distilled from Mongolian wheat and made with water from the Khuiten Peak.

Golia is currently available in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but the company is looking to expand distribution throughout the U.S. We caught up with Redbox founder and Golia principal David Solomon to find out how he got into the liquor biz and what makes Mongolian vodka so special.

The Drink Nation: How did you get introduced to vodka all the way from Mongolia?
David Solomon: It starts like this — my good friend was working in Hong Kong as a trader, and he decided to take a junket to Mongolia. He went up on a tour and fell in love with his tour guide, who happened to be the Mongolian government administrator’s daughter. They got married, and like 12 years and two kids later, he ends up owning half the country.

The Drink Nation: Wow.
DS: So, he’s an American in Mongolia married to a Mongolian. He’s got a cement factory, mining lands, the largest real-estate brokerage company in Mongolia, apartments, one of the largest securities trading firms on the Mongolian stock exchange — he’s leading a nice life. I went to visit him, and my background is a lot of retail and consumer products...

The Drink Nation: You started Redbox, didn’t you?
DS: Yeah, it’s this DVD vending company that I sold. So, anyways, I’m visiting him and he’s saying, "Help me bring some brands here, let’s bring Toys ‘R’ Us here, can you help me bring Starbucks or Redbox here?" And I’m thinking, OK, in Mongolia what you’ve got is 3 million people and 20 million goats — and the goats don’t buy a lot of toys, drink a lot of coffee, or rent a lot of movies, you know? At the time we were drinking this vodka, so I said, "I’ve got a much better idea. This is the greatest vodka I’ve ever had, so let’s take this vodka to the rest of the world." That’s kinda how it got started.

The Drink Nation: When we think vodka, we think Russia, or maybe Poland. Does Mongolia have a long vodka tradition?
DS: Oh, it puts those guys to shame. The average Mongolian drinks 10 times more vodka than the average European. Three million Mongolians consume as much vodka as 30 million Europeans. Mongolians know vodka, that much I can tell you.

The Drink Nation: Impressive. How do Mongolians normally take their vodka?
They drink it however they can get it. They’ll drink it like water. That you can drink Golia straight, and enjoy it as a spirit, is one of our strong suits, I think. Because, you know, you’ve got a lot of vodka out there on the market.

You’ve got whipped cream, cake, cotton candy, birthday sprinkles. Those flavorings are just covering up a lot of bad vodka. This, you can drink neat or on the rocks, and I think it’s better than way. Still, because it is so smooth you can put it in any kind of cocktail.

The Drink Nation: Do you feel vodka has moved to the back in the past few years in favor of other spirits?
DS: No, I haven’t seen that at all — in fact, the opposite. Vodka is probably growing the most — as far as shelf space — in any liquor store you’ll find anywhere. I think 40 percent plus of all spirit sales are vodka now. Maybe now it’s only growing 25 percent a year versus 40 percent like it was a decade ago, but it’s still leaps and bounds ahead of any other spirit. You could add up numbers two, three, and four in the U.S. and they wouldn’t even equal vodka. But, as we discussed, there’s a lot of crummy vodka there. That’s not us.

The Drink Nation: You have your own well for water, and your own wheat source?
DS: Our water is coming from a source where you can see lake fish from 50 feet below the surface — it’s just amazing water. You immediately taste it when you taste our vodka. And the wheat as well — we use a winter wheat. No fertilizer, and no chemical treatments. It’s grown organically in northern Mongolia. From Kazakhstan to Siberia, this is the most prized wheat in northern Asia.

The Drink Nation: What makes the wheat so good?
DS: The soil in Mongolia has more minerals per square inch than any country on the planet, and it just grows this great wheat. Plus, the farmers have this ancient, no-till farming tradition for cultivating it and farming it.

The Drink Nation: So once you have the water and the wheat, what’s the next step in making Golia?
DS: We distill each batch at least six times through silver and platinum filters. That removes any impurities. In fact, because of that, if you’re on a gluten-free regimen, you can still drink our vodka without a problem. 

The Drink Nation: Sounds awesome. Can’t wait to try it. 

— Caitlin Van Horn, The Drink Nation

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