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In 1879, Lars Olsson Smith, a maverick entrepreneur, introduced a vodka which he later named ‘Absolut Rent Brännvin’, literally meaning ‘absolutely pure vodka’. He pioneered the use of the recently developed Aeneas Coffey’s column still in Sweden, creating his own series of rectification columns, which removed practically all congeners to produce a very pure vodka.
Lars Olsson Smith
Smith’s determination to succeed may have been driven by his being forced to leave his family at the age of six when his father went bankrupt. After a couple of years schooling he started employment and at 14 travelled to work in the docks of Stockholm. It was here that he saw stores of vodka and realised it could be exported around the world and duly set about travelling to sell vodka, while learning a new language each year. By the age of 22 he was known as the vodka king controlling half of the spirits sales in his home country.
It’s ironic that his vodka would end up being owned by the Swedish government because part of its success was due to Lars circumventing a state-backed vodka producer’s cartel by establishing a retail shop on the island of Reimersholme just outside the Stockholm city limits and offering a free ferry service to his customers.
At the end of the 1870’s, more than half of all alcohol in Sweden was produced in the southern part of the country, particularly the Skåne region. Lars Olsson took over a number of distilleries in the region and battled against distribution of what he considered to be inferior vodka, even encouraging labour unions to boycott certain retail outlets.
Lars made many enemies and survived two assassination attempts on his life, only to fall ill with appendicitis. Before travelling to London for a potential lifesaving operation, he left all his money to his wife, sons and daughters in the belief he wouldn’t survive. When he returned home after the successful operation they refused to return his wealth and he died penniless in 1913.
After Lars Olsson’s death, the brand enjoyed little success under the ownership of the Swedish state liquor monopoly. Then, in 1979, the brand’s centenary, Lars Lindmark, the new president of Vin & Sprit, decided to relaunch it. The bottle was redesigned to the style of an old Swedish medicine bottle which was found in an antique shop window in Stockholm’s Old Town - appropriate, since vodka was sold in 16th & 17th century pharmacies as medicine.
The literal translation, ‘Absolute Pure Vodka’, of the brands original name ‘Absolut Rent Bränvin’ could not registered in the States because ‘absolute’ was a common adjective so was shortened to Absolut as in the original Swedish spelling. The word ‘Pure’ in the original name also posed legal problems and so was dropped. Bränvin, meaning burnt wine is the original Swedish word for vodka. The slogan ‘Country of Sweden’ was added and an enduring piece of brilliant packaging design was created. In a befitting memory to Lars Olsson Smith, every bottle of Absolut bears a silver medallion with his image.
Launched in 1986, this was the first Absolut flavour. It is flavoured with essential oils of roasted jalapeños, green tomato and dried herbs. Its release inspired a series of flavoured variations of the Absolut advertising theme, including ‘Absolut Mary’ with tomatoes hugging the bottle.
Absolut’s eighth launched in March 2006, this grapefruit-flavoured vodka comes in Absolut’s iconic bottle distinguished by what look like a couple of balloons rising from its base – oddly, like the typography, these are more orange than red, let alone ruby.
Absolut Pears was launched in 2007 with a two month “New Temptation” digital campaign, based around the shapely pear being more tempting than a plain round apple. This was the first pear-flavoured vodka and the frosted bottle incorporates the shape of the fruit into its design.
Released in November 2012, this apple and ginger flavoured vodka is designed to be mixed with juices and sodas. The bottle features a carved golden apple surrounded by white transparent ginger leaves. When filled, the golden apple appears to float due to the lens effect of the bottle.
Flavoured with natural extracts of Swedish blackcurrants, which grow as far north as the Arctic Circle. Absolut Kurant was launched in 1992, in the Cosmopolitan days which followed the launch of Absolut Citron, with the result being the Metropolitan cocktail.
Launched in the UK in October 2014, Absolut Cherrys is flavoured with 100% natural flavours and contains no added sugar. As with other flavours in the growing Absolut range the bottle has a striking modern design.
Launched in March 2004, this ’spirit of Absolut‘ comes in a bottle that’s more model-like, being both taller and thinner than its older sibling. In deference to its family heritage, Level is graced with a silver silhouette of the original Absolut bottle sitting like a medallion just under its neck.
Flavoured with extracts of mandarin, orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit. Launched in 1988, the success of Absolut Citron paved the way for the popularity of citrus-flavoured vodkas throughout the industry and is believed to have played a fundamental role in the creation of the Cosmopolitan.
Flavoured with mandarin and orange extracts. Launched in 1999, Absolut Mandrin benefited from the brilliant idea of painting the bottle’s punt orange to mimic the fruit. Amazingly the first 100,000 bottles had to be hand painted. If you have one unopened, do keep it, they are collector’s pieces.
As Absolut Vanilia’s official launch date of 15th March 2003 loomed near, back in Sweden they were experiencing problems applying the finish to the space-like white bottles. Production was delayed but they met the deadline by air lifting 198,000 bottles in four Jumbo Jets.
Absolut Raspberri is not a misspelling. It’s meant that way to remind you of the Swedish origin of Absolut. It’s a fitting flavour for Absolut since wild raspberries are often found in the Swedish hillsides. Absolut Raspberri was launched in 2004.