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Berkmann adds DQ vodka to new division

Berkmann Wine Cellars’ specialist spirits brands has been appointed UK agent for DQ Vodka.

The new division, called Spirit Cartel, was launched in April this year and is being run by Justin Berkmann, former DJ and creator of London’s Ministry of Sound nightclub in 1991, as well as son of Berkmann Wine Cellars’ founder Joseph.

Justin joined his father’s business in 2008 “after 25 years DJing and nightclub building,” and has spent the last three years acting as brand ambassador for the Peruvian Ron Millonario, which was part of the Berkmann portfolio.

However, Justin told the drinks business: “The brand wasn’t going anywhere fast because all of our guys are what I call ‘wine fascists’.”

Nevertheless, as Justin recalled, “My father, as a passing shot as he retired, suggest we set up a spirits division. I came up with a load of names and the one he like was Spirit Cartel, which was the one I liked the most too.”

Explaining the inspiration behind the name, Justin said, “In selling wine, it’s all about the taste and the story but in spirits, it’s all about the deal, so it’s a good name [for the division] and appropriate.”

“And because it’s called Spirit Cartel, we have decided to structure it in a mafia way, so I’m the ‘boss’ and my advisor, Charles Marshall – who has worked with Angostura and has incredible experience – is ‘consigliere’.”

As for expanding the business, Justin said, “We are now taking on brand ambassadors and sales staff but we want to grow organically and just take on a few really good brands.”

The essence of Spirits Cartel is rum, and Justin stated, “The list will never be less than 50% rum.”

Aside from Ron Millonario, Spirits Cartel represents Banks Five Island and Mount Gilboa rums, while it is about to take on Rum Nation.

The focus on rum he ascribed to his father’s love of the spirit. “He is a wine and rum drinker, that’s it,” and rum, like wine, he said, “is about the taste and story.”

In contrast, he added, “Vodka is quite often just about the packaging as they pretty much all taste the same.” Continuing he said, “The difference between rums is huge – and I personally love rum.”

The new tie-up with Nordic vodka DQ, which was relaunched earlier this year, stems from a longstanding friendship between Justin and the brand’s founders.

Arne Olafsson, MD of Nordic Spirit, owners of DQ, explained: “We decided to partner with Spirit Cartel as we know that they understand the premium brand market.”

Spirit Cartel is designed to supply primarily nightclubs and style bars with specialist spirits but is also handling the distribution of Amour de Deutz Champagne in Methuselahs.

For the future, Justin said the division would launch an absinthe early next year “which we will probably brand ourselves.”

Although Spirits Cartel has registered the domain name, it has yet to create a website.

“We are just working on Facebook and Twitter at the moment, it is cheaper and quicker,” said Justin.

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