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Why making gin is such a tonic for Valtteri Bottas



However, some people prefer to do things that take them out of their comfort zone and not only effectively distract them from career-related stress but also lay the groundwork for their retirement.

Case in point is Lewis Hamilton, who had wide-ranging interests in clothing, music, food and now filmmaking. The seven-time world champion has always insisted that it is important to have a good time outside of competition.

His former Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas went in a different direction by becoming a gin producer.

Finn is not the first race car driver to dabble in the alcohol business. Jarno Trulli, Mario Andretti, Jody Scheckter, Stefan Johansson and Daniel Ricciardo are just a few examples of drivers associated with wine, while Jenson Button and David Coulthard are both associated with whiskey.

The extra appeal of the gin business to Bottas was that he took on the project with partner Australian cyclist Tiffany Cromwell. So it’s something that both parties can put energy into.

“It was really sparked by passion from both of us,” Bottas said. “Before we met, we both liked gin.

“We’ve been collecting gin ever since we started living together and traveling together. We’ve been lucky enough to travel to different countries and try different products.

“So ultimately we wanted to do our own thing. We just decided that one day let’s do it because it’s a shared interest.

“Then we started working on it. We launched the product less than two years later, and that was last year.”

The first step is to find like-minded business partners with in-depth knowledge of the beverage industry.

“We worked with a couple of guys from Blue Coast Brewery, which is a beer from Nice,” says Bottas. “They were involved in starting that company a long time ago and they got out. They’re also looking for something to do.

Valtteri Bottas, Tiffany Cromwell

Valtteri Bottas, Tiffany Cromwell

“Then we started looking at all the options. One was to try distilling the gin in Monaco because that’s where we lived. But we then chose Finland because we knew the people from the distillery we used.

“They already have a number of award-winning gins. One of them is Arctic Blue, which was voted best gin in the world five years ago. They know what they’re doing. So we started working with them Research the recipe and what we want.

“A big reason we chose Finland was actually the purity of the water, because water is very important in distillation. Basically, the purer the water, you don’t have to filter it, and it’s always better.

“In fact, you can even get water from any tap in Finland. If you compare it to bottled water like Evian, it’s always purer. It’s a good product. That’s why we chose Finland as a distillery s reason.”

A big choice to make is finding the formula that sets the product apart. Bottas is keen to use oats from his family’s farm as the main ingredient.

“It’s been around for many, many generations, and it’s a small farm in southern Finland,” he said. “My dad was born on that farm but moved away when he started school.

“So my dad’s brother now runs the farm. They grow oats, wheat, rye and barley. The bakery buys it, or the companies that make porridge or something.

“It’s something new, we believe it’s the first gin distilled with oats, which gives it a really nice smoothness and a bit of sweetness. And because I love porridge! So it’s pretty cool.”

Cromwell’s roots in South Australia’s Adelaide Hills apple-growing region provided inspiration for the other key ingredients, although examples grown in Finland are used.

Bottas added an extra element to the brand by specifying the vacuum distillation process, which is highlighted on the Oath label.

“There are some wineries that use it, but it’s not very common,” he explains. “Vacuum distillation means you can do the process at a lower temperature than normal. A lot of times when you have to use high temperatures, you lose quite a bit of flavor.

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo F1 Team, Tiffany Cromwell

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo F1 Team, Tiffany Cromwell

photographer: motorsport pictures

“For example, if you do the usual distillation with oats and apples, you definitely lose quite a bit of those properties.

“Our brewers have found that, especially with conventional oats, you can easily get an almost burnt flavor. So it works right there.”

It’s one thing to have a good product, it’s quite another to have a product that can actually be sold to the public.

“There’s a lot to learn, we’re really starting from scratch,” admitted Bottas. “We did get some help from a marketing agency. But I was involved in everything from labeling to what kind of bottle and all that, so it was a lot of fun.”

Choosing a brand name that is different and fits the concept is the biggest challenge. The first option, designed to conjure an image of a solid Finland, was out of the question.

“The original idea was to have ‘sisu,’ which is Finnish for mental strength or willpower,” admits Bottas. “But obviously trademarks are very strict about it.

“I had to find a plan B, and then we went through something different. The vow became the word because it was like a promise, and on the back of our bottle, there was a poem and a promise.

“So these are strong words from two athletes who have dreams and have been chasing them.

“And it’s distilled from oats, so obviously the word is there too. You can play with it, like Blood Oath and all that stuff! So it makes sense.”

So how does it work financially? Bottas admits there were a lot of costs up front, but the business is starting to make sense now.

“When you start a company, there is an investment,” he said. “When you start producing stuff. But hopefully by the end of the year we should be profitable. That’s the plan.

“Obviously we don’t intend to lose money in the long run. But I don’t think it will make me rich in F1 racing!

“In the first year we sold about 33,000 bottles in Europe. Obviously we expect to sell even more this year. The distillery is still running ample capacity, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

“But we definitely want to make sure we can maintain quality. We’re not going to be a mass producer. That’s not in the plan because it’s a passion project.

sworn gin

sworn gin

“We are now entering more and more different countries. That is probably the biggest challenge, getting the right distribution network and getting approvals in different countries.

“So we now have Finland, Sweden, Norway, Spain, France, Monaco, Italy. Certain countries require their own lab testing before approval, and the whole process for alcohol products takes a long time. So step by step.”

Australia is one of the toughest markets, but Bottas and Cromwell are keen to break into it given its ties to the country.

As a first step, they teamed up with well-known South Australian producer Ambleside to produce a special gin called Omena (meaning apple in Finnish) for the domestic market, using gins from nearby Cromwell House. Made from the peel of Adelaide Hills apples.

The initial batch is limited to just 1477 bottles – Bottas’ race number is the deciding factor – but it is hoped that Oath will eventually be sold at a low price.

“We absolutely want to go to Australia,” he said. “For that, we’re still looking for the right solution in the long term, because export costs and taxes are quite high. So one option is to try and make gin there. Still to be determined. Then. The US is definitely on the list, and there’s U.K.”

Now that the Oath name is up and running, the possibilities for using it for other products are endless. Some ideas are already brewing.

“We’re not just planning alcohol,” Bottas said. “One we’ve been working on is electrolyte water because we’ve been asked to drink something non-alcoholic because you can’t drink gin all the time!

“As Tiff and I get into sports, we feel like Europe is still not on the same level as the US. They’re very interested in electrolyte water and stuff like that. So that’s an area we might target.

“We’re also looking at other alcoholic products, maybe next year. But I don’t want to reveal anything just yet.”

Bottas admits it’s good to have something to take his mind off the car.

His life at Alfa Romeo is a little easier these days, but it’s worth recalling that he embarked on his gin adventure while still dealing with the intense pressure of being Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate and facing the prospect of keeping his job. Annual challenge.

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo Racing

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo Racing

Photography: Alfa Romeo

He really threw himself into the project and during the recent Australian Grand Prix weekend he worked hard to promote the Oath and Omena, taking part in events at the track and in central Melbourne.

“Of course for me, I feel like sometimes I need to do something else or my brain will explode!”, he said.

“It’s really refreshing to do other things and focus on other things for a while. Then when you get back into the game, you feel refreshed and ready to give it your all again.

“It’s really, really enjoyable. And, like the example, it’s different doing a PR campaign for a vow than for some partner that you have to do. You’re obviously passionate about it.

“It’s not just that you’re giving energy, but it’s feeling like you’re getting something or doing something you love in a way.”

The vow project, and the parallel adventure of coffee production, also gave Bottas something to look forward to when he hung up his helmet.

“This is a long-term plan we have for this company,” he said. “We’ve all really enjoyed working on it and want to see how we develop it further. So it’s a long-term thing, for sure.

“But I’m also involved in a lot of other things and investments. I think it’s important to have something when you’re in sports so that you don’t end up doing nothing, basically, when you’re in the middle of an active career. So I think Oath is part of the plan. But I’m sure there are many, many more years!”

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