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By Joshua G. Thomas

Household names such as Absolut, Grey Goose, Smirnoff and Ketel One have reigned supreme as the premiere vodka brands for quite sometime. Yet, recently, a newcomer has stepped up to the plate to challenge the champions for the title. Since its American debut in 2003, Cîroc Ultra-Premium has become one of vodka’s hottest brands and one of the top ultra-premium vodkas.

“I would put it in the top five most requested [vodkas],” said Faruq Hussein-Bey, a bartender for a national hotel chain. “More people are ordering it across the board, putting it right up there with Grey Goose, Absolut, Ketel One and Stoli’s (Stolichnaya).”

The numbers tell a similar tale. After less than a decade in the business, Cîroc has become one of the most recognizable and sought after spirits in the liquor industry. Ciroc sales jumped to $8.8 million for the year ending January 23rd and earned the brand the number two spot on the list of top-selling ultra premium vodkas, according to SymphonyIRI.

So what has set Cîroc apart from its more established competitors? To what do we attribute Cîroc’s success in such a short period of time?

The finely produced vodka is a selling point in its own right. The process of making the vodka, more accurately categorized as an eau de vie, is unique in that it more closely resembles that of winemaking. It begins with its signature “snap frost” grapes and the entire process takes place while the base product is kept chilled. First, there is the cold maceration (when crushed grape skins are left in the juice until the desired color is reached), then cold fermentation and cold storage. Finally, it is distilled five times before completion.

This unique process has raised eyebrows among vodka purists. Although Cîroc meets the vodka criteria of being colorless and odorless, some make an argument that it falls short because it is not “made like traditional vodka from grains or wheat, but from snap frost grapes,” said Hussein-Bey.

In its earlier years, Cîroc lacked the status and the market share that it now boasts. The turning point came in 2007 when Cîroc’s parent company, London-based Diageo, brought on Sean “Diddy” Combs to take the reigns of all marketing and branding for Cîroc. As a result of this deal, Combs would acquire half of all profits in an equal-share venture, according to Bloomberg.

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