Many people can pinpoint a “eureka” moment in their lives that changed its course. For Alexandre Koiransky, it was an exchange programme in Vermont. He was studying business in his native France at the time. He enjoyed the American lifestyle well enough to secure a job stateside after graduation, working for a high-end French cognac company in Chicago’s city centre.
“I spent four years with African-Americans, listening to gospel,” Koiransky recalls fondly. “But I became frustrated trying to sell high end products to people who couldn’t afford to pay their rent. I wanted to do something that would bring additional meaning to daily lives. I wanted to stay in the spirits business. It’s one with high margins, and I felt I could leverage that, give back to the producers, and still make a good living. I believe that great ideas equal great taste.”
Koiransky founded the Paris-based FAIR in 2009. It is the first line of fair trade certified spirits in the world, and combines French savoir faire with respect for the principles of fair trade. For example, all the crops used to make FAIR’s spirits are organically grown and no children or elderly are employed in the work force to produce them. His criterion is that the companies have to be independent. Koiransky examined all fair trade certifiers and found that flo-cert.net, based in Bonn, Germany, was the biggest, the most detailed, and recognised by the United Nations; that is where he sources from.
“We are a licensee,” he says. “We offer niche, high end spirits, and 2.5 percent of our revenue goes back to the fair trade movement. We operate through an online store and we export from France to Hong Kong via Brand Connect, who is our exclusive dealer for Hong Kong and Macau. Our products arrived here in early February, and we already are in some of the city’s leading bars and restaurants.”
By far, the best seller from FAIR’s range of spirits is its vodka, the first and only vodka made from quinoa grown in Bolivia. “It was my idea to distil vodka from quinoa,” says Koiransky. “The process is different than distilling other grains. We ship the quinoa to France, where it gets processed through a microbrewery, resulting in a beer product. This helps the grain ferment. Then we add malt. It’s the only vodka made using the whisky process. You can feel the grain when you taste it. It’s like moonshine. I recommend that you drink it neat, with no ice.” With a French master distiller overseeing the process, Koiransky has expanded his range to include rum made from sugar cane sourced from Belize, gin, coffee liqueur and goji berry liqueur.
While FAIR’s main markets are the UK, the US and France, it is currently distributed in 20 countries including Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore. “Try the vodka in a cocktail first to see how it compares to your usual brand,” says Koiransky. “Don’t be afraid to experiment.”