Ron de Jeremy was just another bar joke. Olli Hietalahti and Jouko Laune were in Amsterdam, relaxing with an afterwork pint, and they saw a poster for a ron de something. Ron means ‘rum’ in Spanish, and Ron Jeremy is arguably the most famous Ron in the world.
That night, Laune drafted a label of the then imaginary bottle on a napkin.
“We thought it was really funny – but at the time that’s all it was,” Hietalahti recalls. “But it kept on popping back to my thoughts every now and then.”
Six years later, Laune created an actual layout of what the label could be and showed it to Hietalahti. He was sold.
“We decided we needed to see if it could actually happen,” Hietalahti says.
However, you can’t just splash someone’s name and face on a bottle and go sell it; they needed to get in touch with Jeremy himself. Fortunately, during a visit to Finland, the man himself had kindly provided a local lady (and an acquaintance of the men behind the idea) with his personal phone number. Nervously and with written notes to support his pitch, Hietalahti grabbed the phone and suggested a meeting.
Jeremy agreed to give them 30 minutes of his time, and so Hietalahti and Laune flew over to Los Angeles. It was worth the extra miles: the man said yes.
“He’s received all sorts of requests throughout his career, but this was something no one had ever proposed. He was keen to join along.”
Flying almost across the whole planet sounds like a lot of effort when the answer could’ve been a downright ‘no’. Weren’t Hietalahti and Laune anxious?
“We figured it’d at least be a nice holiday in LA, if nothing else!”
Tom of Finland joins the gang
With the newly-founded One Eyed Spirits and Ron Jeremy’s stamp of approval, the two advertising professionals with zero booze business experience found themselves formulating a drink to pair with its unique namesake. The work paid off, and now there are four award-winning varieties of Ron de Jeremy rum and The Hedgehog gin.
After the success of Ron de Jeremy, the growing amount of Tom of Finland merchandise caught Hietalahti’s attention. The artist’s global appeal and commercial potential made it a suitable candidate for the men’s next endeavour.
“There are so many positive values entwined in Tom of Finland that made it interesting: creativity, courage, liberty, equality, humanity,” Hietalahti lists. “These things resonate strongly both in and outside the target group, which for us is gay communities around the globe.”
Tom of Finland Vodka is officially sold by Spirit of Tom, which is a separate company from One Eyed Spirits. The people behind it are still Hietalahti and Laune.
Whereas Ron de Jeremys are distilled in the Caribbean and bottled in the Netherlands, Tom of Finland Vodka deliberately tips its hat to Touko Laaksonen’s birthplace. It’s made of organic Finnish wheat and rye by Finnish distillery Lignell & Piispanen.
“We were thinking about all kinds of options, but soon it occurred to us that you can’t sell Tom of Finland Vodka made anywhere else than in Finland.”
Finger in a lot of pies – or bottles
Ron de Jeremy is now sold in around 30 countries around the globe from Kenya to Canada, and Tom of Finland Vodka is on bar and shop shelves in Finland, the UK and Denmark. Other European countries will get their share later this year, with the US next in line.
“Our goal is that within the next few years, we’ll have a small but intriguing portfolio of spirits. We’re always open to interesting ideas and collaborations, and right now we’re discussing about creating a spirit for a world famous rock band,” Hietalahti says.
On top of all this, One Eyed Spirits also offers other services, such creative consultancy and brand design for companies like The Flying Dutchman.
“One thing always leads to another and opportunities can rise out of the blue. You need great ideas, a lot of hard work – and a bit of luck!