Interviews

L’Orbe - Shehrazade Schneider

We discuss one of Pernod Ricard's most premium spirits.

Premium gets banded around the world of spirits, yet few deserve the moniker. Thankfully, L'Orbe is an exception.

Taking over five years of R&D, entire new infusion processes needing to be created, unusual, expensive ingredients and a package to suit - it's been an uncompromising journey to get to the perfect end product.

We talk to Shehrazade Schneider, the mastermind behind the Vodka, how it came about and what she has planned next...

You were involved in food and the culinary world before life at Pernod Ricard – what inspired you to change path?

Well, my father is a champagne producer, so I’ve always been attracted to wine & spirits. I was also excited to learn everything about the spirits industry, to work alongside Michelin starred chefs, mixologists and other food and beverage experts. That was a whole new adventure, and that’s exactly why I decided to jump in it. 

Today you are now the head of L’Orbe the Breakthrough Innovation Group at Pernod Ricard – what does that involve and what’s it like?

I have both the freedom and the responsibility to create a whole new tasting experience. I oversee every step of the value chain, from ideation to sales. It starts with a rare ingredient I bring to the lab, and I ask the R&D team to infuse it in a spirit. We have many early tastings, and once we find the right pairing, I challenge it with mixologists to make sure it is a unique tasting experience. 

Then, I secure the whole production process, prepare the launch & manage sales. 

The product development for L’Orbe took a long time - we remember some early chatter in 2018 of something being trialled with bartenders and it’s changed look since those sneak previews. How long was that development and when did you launch L’Orbe Vodka?

It was a long journey from 2013 to 2019. It took 5 years of R&D to create a technology to enable the infusion of the caviar into the vodka. I was then hired in 2018 to create a brand using this technology. 

It took me a year to find the perfect pairing with the right caviar and the right vodka, test the prototype, and optimize it, design and create all the molds enabling this otherwise impossible infusion, design the bottle and the whole brand, before launching it officially in 2019 in UK & France.

What was the best piece of advice you’ve received around starting a brand and building something new?

 “Think outside the box ” and “never take no for an answer”. I faced so many challenges while creating this brand, but I never gave up. For instance, I wanted a unique bottle, that didn’t look like any other bottle. 

First, it was technically impossible to achieve  what I had pictured in my head, but at last we made it happen, and everyone is happy with the result. 

The way the infusion is done is fascinating - the caviar is encapsulated within pearl technology, then sealed in a bespoke glass vial. Is that right and could you explain a little more about what that involves and why you did it that way?

Caviar is a very precious, delicate and fragile ingredient. If you put caviar in vodka, you will just get a black fishy soup. We had to find a way to enable a pure and natural infusion of the caviar into the vodka, without any detriment or unwanted flavouring. 

We created a vial made with algae - the ‘orb’ is its scientific name - which surrounds the caviar, and protects it like a second skin would, while enabling its infusion into the vodka. 

Going from writing a Master’s thesis on food waste to a Super Premium caviar infused vodka means you have quite a broad perspective on food and drink and what people want. What do you wish drinkers paid more attention to when it comes to their cocktails?

I am convinced people want to indulge, buy more and more wisely. I wish they were more sensitive to HOW everything is made: the origin, the ingredients, the process. 

Understanding their drinks and knowing what makes them unique would totally enhance their tasting experience in my opinion. 

We think that L’Orbe makes for a cracking pre dinner Martini. What’s your top recommendation for nibble or food pairings to serve alongside it to create the perfect aperitif moment?

For special occasions, I would have L’Orbe with oysters, just because it’s the perfect combination of all my favorite sensations. After work or after a beach day, I would have L’Orbe with a slice of fresh ginger, blinis, creamy burrata & my favorite smoked salmon.

We’d love to get some opinions about the idea of Luxury from you if possible – 

Today’s luxury consumers want it all: inclusivity, cultural relevance, transparency, a point of view, online presence. There’s so much to tackle! How did you decide where do you even start building awareness around L’Orbe Vodka and what did you feel was critical to get right when you first began?

From the very beginning, I have decided to build this brand, not alone, but in collaboration with      experts, mixologists & starred chefs, to make sure my value proposition meets their standards and expectations. I started by positioning L’Orbe in the best mixology bars, to create a unique tasting experience. 

I have always worked hand in hand with all my clients, to create a signature cocktail or a special food pairing, and thus guarantee that L’Orbe would always be enjoyed at its best. It took a lot of effort and time, but it was worth it. 

We are moving into a new era of luxury which has been re-shaped by the pandemic in the past year. There is also an ongoing response to changing consumer needs – from price points to mindset, and a cult status of ‘having’ shifting to experiential and ‘being’. Where do you see L’Orbe fit into those trends? 

I think L’Orbe fits in the latter: experiential and ‘being’ type of consumption: L’Orbe is one of a kind in terms of tasting experience. It’s not just vodka, it’s not a gimmick. From the first sip of your martini to the last, it’s a whole journey, where all caviar flavours appear and evolve. You can have it in different ways; pure, on the rocks or with few ingredients, but it will always surprise you somehow. 

One of the major accelerations has been in the “at home” sector, as drinkers aim to replicate luxury experiences in their own homes. Have you seen this with L’Orbe Vodka over the past year and how has it manifested itself?

Absolutely. L’Orbe is more and more brought to at-home-dinners as an alternative to wines or champagne, as an innovative and versatile drink. You don’t need caviar to enjoy it, but it will bring your party to the next level, as you will always have this feeling of tasting caviar with all your dishes. 

So what’s next for you… There was talk an ‘earth’ infusion a while ago and event some experiments with pata negra pearls, are you looking to add to the range or are you focussed on a singular expression?

I can’t wait to launch our second infusion! It’s a mineral mezcal infused with the best pata negra you will ever taste. Fun fact: we usually test our recipes at 9 am in the lab, to make sure our palate gets the most of it, and we always use a crachoir. But each time we tasted this new infusion, we always drank all our glasses, and never left a single drop of it, just because it is a smoked, fat and salty addictive treat. 

Spirits Kiosk
L'Orbe Caviar Vodka
L'Orbe Caviar Vodka
50cl40%FR
£107.94

By Olivier Ward

21 March 2021