Roxx Vodka founder Angela Nielsen couldn’t be prouder of her journey, which included a tumultuous litigation battle with one of America’s largest oil and gas corporations.
Nielsen, who founded the premium craft vodka company roughly 10 years ago, relaunched her product this spring. The award-winning spirit is imported from Poland and can now be found throughout the Valley at select AJ’s Fine Foods grocery stores, as well as the bars of high-end restaurants like Steak 44, Mastro’s City Hall, Ocean 44 and Roaring Fork.
“Roxx has been at Grammy Awards parties, at the Playboy Mansion; it has been on TV sets and sitcoms — it has been in some really cool things,” says Nielsen of Scottsdale. “But, to now actually see that I can go to a nice restaurant and see it (is rewarding).
“I have realized the strength that I have, but it’s only because Roxx is that exceptional and I believe in the product — and everyone who tries it doesn’t deny that fact.”
While most quality vodkas are distilled only twice, Roxx Vodka is distilled six times using premium high-quality grains to create a “smooth and refreshing” product, she says.
The distillation process, which removes unwanted impurities of ethyl acetate, ethyl lactate and fusel oils, seeks to curtail burning sensations or an unpleasant “bite” while drinking. It also works to improve the vodka’s clarity.
It’s the brand’s use of “crystal clean water” from Poland’s “deepest natural springs,” combined with its reverse osmosis filtration system, that really sets itself apart from the rest, though, Nielsen explains.
“In Poland, where the grains come from, it’s pesticide free,” the entrepreneur says. “So, it’s very clean vodka and it’s distilled six times to make sure every little bit of impurity is out of it. What’s left is an award-winning vodka.
“I basically have an organic vodka within the bottle. It’s just not certified organic.”
The neutral finish, boasting slight elements of white pepper flower, whole grain bread, lemon cream and Brazil nut, has so far earned silver at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and received a 92-point rating from tastings.com.
The bottle is priced at roughly $27, offering an affordable alternative to some of the more expensive premium vodkas.
“I describe it as smooth, female focused, fun, intelligent, sophisticated and responsible,” Nielsen says.
While the taste of Roxx Vodka may be smooth, its journey to fruition was not.
Nielsen developed a knack for entrepreneurial intuition after moving to Phoenix in 1988.
Her resume includes founding Mail America, a successful print marketing company, as well as the nationally recognized Nielsen Publishing company.
Around the time of the Great Recession, Nielsen landed the legal rights to the recipe for what would later become Roxx Vodka as part of a settlement surrounding a bad business deal, she says.
Nielsen recalls having a gut feeling about the recipe, so she ran with it.
“I really didn’t know quite how unique the recipe was until I started interviewing different distilleries,” she recounts. “The original recipe was made in Poland. That’s why I was led back there. I was looking for American distilleries to try and have them reproduce it, but no one could provide the same quality ingredients.”
In 2015, Nielsen launched Roxx Vodka in Phoenix with a business partner and later expanded into California. However, the partnership was cut short after Nielsen’s counterpart was diagnosed with late-stage cancer and required to step down.
Nielsen refocused back to Phoenix and found success with a brand ambassador. Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, one of the largest alcohol distributors worldwide, then reached out to Nielsen with the offer of a lifetime.
“They called and invited me into their offices,” Nielsen recalls. “They tried the product and basically, within that one meeting, they said we wanted this product.”
But the excitement was quickly curtailed by a devastating blow.
“As soon as they (Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits) did that, as soon as they publicly announced it, ExxonMobil sued me,” Nielsen says.
ExxonMobil filed a lawsuit around 2015 against Nielsen’s company, citing a trademark violation, according to a press release from Nielsen Spirits Inc.
The gas and oil corporation claimed Roxx Vodka’s logo featuring two interlocking Xs was too similar to ExxonMobil’s brand.
“They sued me because I used interlocking double Xs,” Nielsen explains. “So now, if you look at the current bottle in the marketplace, the Xs are positioned the same. They’re just not locking together.”
After nearly four years of litigation, Nielsen eventually landed back on her feet. But, like many other small-business owners across the country, she found herself blindsided by the economic hardships brought on by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
“I was back in business five months before COVD-19,” Nielsen says. “I had self-funded the business from 2012 through 2018 through the entire Exxon case. I was pretty much wiped out.”
“I was pretty much dead once COVID-19 shut down everything.”
But Nielsen refused to give up.
The entrepreneur once again pivoted, stepping into what is her current and successful partnership with her new business partners.
The team relaunched Roxx Vodka in April, and the brand has flourished.
“I feel like third time’s a charm. We are getting into some pretty amazing Old Town Scottsdale clubs and restaurants,” Nielsen says.
“We’re where the product needs to be positioning as premium vodka. The only person that will always believe in you is yourself. You just can’t be scared to move forward. Obviously, you have to be smart and cautious about it, but it’s 99% attitude within your head.”
Roxx Vodka will soon hit the shelves of select Bashas’ locations, Nielsen says.
The vodka founder hopes to one day see Roxx Vodka all over the map, she adds, with plans to eventually expand outside of Arizona.
“We want to overtake and control the city and then expand to the county. Then take over Arizona — Tucson, Flagstaff, everywhere in between,” she says. “And then hopefully start branching out strategically to other states and eventually be nationwide.”