HADLEY — Sixteen years ago, Paul Kozub distilled his first batch of vodka in his basement. This spring, his V-One Vodka will be produced in a company-owned distillery in Poland, just a few miles from what he says is the birthplace of vodka. (It’s a claim Poland makes and Russia disputes.)
Kozub on Tuesday announced the multi-million dollar purchase and ongoing expansion of a 133-year-old distillery in Kamień, which will, for the first time, give him complete oversight of the vodka-making process for V-One, better quality control of the craft vodka, and the ability to produce 400 times as much product.
“This is really the next stage of the company,” Kozub said. “We’re doing this so we can really scale up.”
Kozub unveiled the distillery project at his world headquarters — in Hadley — where about 50 friends and neighbors gathered inside what was once St. John’s Catholic Church to enjoy samples of the product and hors d’oeuvres.
The distillery in Poland is located about two hours southeast of Warsaw in a community that he said reminds him of Hadley, with many agricultural fields and the Vistula River flowing through it.
In 2018, V-One produced 10,000 cases of vodka. The new distillery gives him a capacity of 4 million cases. When fully up and running, 24 employees will work at the Poland plant, in addition to the six full-time and six part-time employees based in Hadley who handle sales and other aspects of the business.
The expansion is important, Kozub said, as the contract distiller’s space is limited and the constraint has stymied growth beyond the New England market. Though international sales are part of the future, Kozub said the United States is one of the biggest markets for vodka, with 73 million cases of vodka sold annually.
Kozub explained that he acquired the distillery after taking several trips to Poland — a process he kept largely under wraps, not publicizing it on social media or elsewhere, as he didn’t want to tip off competitors about his location.
He then sold a percentage of the company for financing. Kozub said that his company was not large enough to take on such an ambitious building project without bringing on investors, though he still controls well over 50 percent of V-One.
“I had to build the worth not in my pocket, but in my brand,” Kozub said.
Kozub said he doesn’t plan to sell the business, but notes that he may have to lean on investors to continue to make the company a bigger player. But he expects to remain in Hadley, where he is raising his three children, ages 5, 3, and 1, with his wife, Cassie Kozub, the company’s chief financial officer. He said he may someday explore a new site for headquarters that would have parking and the ability to host tasting events.
Since 2012, V-One has launched six flavors. Kozub’s favorite flavor is hazelnut, which uses maple syrup produced in Hadley. With more control over production, Kozub said he may be able to ship other Hadley grown products to Poland to add to the vodka, such as cucumbers grown in the town’s fields.
In discussing how far his company has come, Kozub gets emotional about how he is honoring his Polish heritage, noting that he created the company in 2005 using a $6,000 inheritance from his grandfather, a Chicopee factory worker who made moonshine vodka during Prohibition. His grandfather provided the seed money; his father, who founded the Janlynn company, a crafts kit and scrapbooking business in Springfield, passed on his entrepreneurial spirit.
“The V-One story is representative of the American dream,” Kozub said.