CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A poolside conversation with two girlfriends in 2010 prompted South Charleston native LeeAnn Maxwell and the two women to jump into the male-dominated world of vodka production.
At the time, a vodka company had signed a deal with a reality program star to lend his name to a vodka. The assignment rankled Maxwell and her friends Jenny Policky and Carrie King, all of Atlanta. They had each packed a bottle of vodka for their girls' weekend that included the poolside chat.
"We had a conversation about how there wasn't a pure vodka marketed to women. There were flavors, mixes and 'skinny' this and that, but no pure vodka," said Maxwell. "We asked ourselves why the three brands we brought were our favorite vodkas. None of them really spoke to women."
King suggested they start a vodka company and call it Vixen. The word "vixen" paired so well with "vodka," the women were sure the name already existed. Maxwell researched it when she returned home and found the brand "Vixen Vodka" was not taken. She registered the name and waded into the resulting legal paperwork.
When Maxwell's former husband, Charleston native and creative director Eddie Snyder, was told about Vixen Vodka, he offered to design the logo. He suggested they use a woman's legs as the X in "Vixen."
From workout sessions, the women knew a friend with long, shapely legs and asked her to be their model. She agreed. They shot her legs clad in black tights in front of a white sheet; Thompson used them in his logo design.
After registering the name and logo, they looked at each other and said, "I wonder how you make vodka."
None of them had a background in liquor production. They chose a Colorado private label distillery, Mile High Spirits, to make their vodka after a day sipping samples in Denver. Between sips, to clear their heads and palates, they'd breathe in deeply from a bowl of coffee beans.
Because they're all health-conscious, they wanted to make a relatively healthful product. It wouldn't work to simply reduce the calories, because the calories in distilled spirits are determined by alcohol content -- "and what fun is it to reduce that?" Maxwell asked. Instead, they decided to make a gluten-free product that people with celiac disease or who were leading a gluten-free lifestyle could enjoy.