Spirited venture for engineering Alumni

Meet Katherine Vellinga and John Vellinga

The next time you browse the shelves at your local LCBO, you should know that two vodkas there — Slava Ultra Premium and Zirkova — come from alumni, Katherine Vellinga (BASc ’92) and John Vellinga (BASc ’91).

Katherine and John VellingaThe couple began producing and distributing their own successful vodkas after moving to Ukraine in 1997 and starting a large private management consulting firm.

“My sister moved to Ukraine in 1994, and in many ways, it was like the Wild East: there were so many opportunities to make a difference on a large scale,” Katherine says. “I wanted to move there to experience work overseas and John has always been driven to creating a legacy, so we went, and together with my sister, Lenna Koszarny, and other business partners, we founded Emergex Business Solutions.”

It was through their firm that Katherine and John started to learn about the production of spirits. They collaborated with industry professionals on vodka production and ultimately founded their own two vodka brands, marketed through their Oakville firm Multiculture Bevco.

Slava and Zirkova are both quadruple distilled, using the finest centre-cut spirits, Artesian-mineralized water and classic-method filtration. Both have won Gold Medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Slava, their ultra-premium vodka, has been described by Tidings Magazine as “gorgeous stuff” with a smoothness that can be sipped straight. Zirkova, their premium vodka, was designed to make mixed drinks taste noticeably better.

“We partnered with a distillery in Zolotonosha, Ukraine that has been around since the 1800s and is in the Chekasy region, which is the historic birthplace of vodka. The people who make our vodka are experts, so we couldn’t think of a better place to produce than the place vodka originated from,” John says.

John and Katherine speak highly of the University of Waterloo and the importance of giving back. During their time as students, John co-founded the Waterloo Engineering Endowment Foundation Fund. The fund is now valued at $12 million, and helped create the Sedra Student Design Centre.

The couple also recently donated their “Vodka Experience,” a tutored vodka tasting and exploration of the world of vodka, to Waterloo’s President’s Golf Tournament, raising $8,000 for Waterloo student athletes and teams.

“We try to contribute in unique ways that can make a difference, and give back to Waterloo. It has made such a difference in our lives, and in the lives of so many others. We are proud to be Waterloo alumni.”