Behind the Bottle: Dima’s Vodka

The remarkable story of the Ukrainian vodka that launched in a pandemic and then rode the wave of Russian invasion, boldly adapting its business model to help raise funds for those back home

Words by Lucy Shaw

dima's vodka

Having just launched a high-end Ukrainian vodka brand during the great ‘pivot’ of a global pandemic, Dima Deinega’s plans changed again overnight on 24 February 2022, when Russia invaded the Ukraine. ‘Business takes a backseat when you’re trying to ensure that people are safe and alive,’ says the Dima’s Vodka founder. For Deinega, that included getting his grandmother safely out of the country.

Since then, Deinega’s fundraising initiatives for his homeland have been numerous, from a bottled cocktail collaboration with The Gibson bar in Shoreditch and Cook for Ukraine events spearheaded by Ukrainian chef Olia Hercules, to auctioning bottles of Dima’s Three Grain Vodka hand-painted by Ukrainian artist Kateryna Kyslitska. Five pounds from every bottle of Dima’s sold goes directly to Ukrainian charities. ‘I’m very fortunate to have a brand that represents Ukraine that can not only drive awareness but raise money directly to help support the country,’ he says.

dima's vodka handpainted bottle
Ukrainian artist Kateryna Kyslitska has hand painted limited-edition bottles of Dima's Vodka with sunflowers, Ukraine's national flower

With production halted due to heavy shelling in Zhytomyr in the west of Kyiv, where the distillery is based, Deinega is down to his final few thousand bottles, which he’s had to ration to maximise their charitable impact. He’s also been keeping a keen eye on rising grain prices since the war broke out. ‘Stock levels in the UK are an issue, but production is set to get going again in September,’ he reveals.

dima's vodka distillery
The Dima's Vodka distillery, a 126-year-old building, sits west of Kyiv

The origins of Dima’s Vodka

Born in Kyiv and raised in the UK, Deinega spent childhood holidays helping out at his father’s Irish pub – the oldest pub in Ukraine – where he learnt the intricacies of Ukrainian drinking traditions. Back in London, having graduated from Cambridge and dabbled in natural resources consultancy for global business advisory firm FTI, Deinega’s thoughts turned to his homeland, how he could capture and bottle the essence of Ukrainian culture and simultaneously help put Ukrainian vodka on the map. ‘I’ve always wanted to do something that linked back to my roots and that showcases Ukraine in a positive light. Despite being one of the world’s largest producers, Ukrainian vodka isn’t well known outside of ex-Soviet countries and is nearly non-existent in its presence in the UK,’ he says.

dima deinaga with glass of vodka
Founder Dima Deinega: 'I’ve always wanted to do something that linked back to my roots'

Starting a drink brand in boom times is challenging enough, but launching a vodka label during a global pandemic, when restaurants and bars around the world are shuttered, is nothing short of madness. This doesn’t seem to have put off the ebullient entrepreneur – if anything, it fuelled his desire to succeed against the odds by growing Dima’s via social media, entering international competitions, and hosting virtual tastings.

When the UK on-trade sprang back to life last summer, Dima’s started popping up on back bars at cutting-edge cocktail venues across London, where it continues to play a starring role in Vodka Martinis and twists on the classic, from Appletinis at La Trompette in Chiswick to Pickletinis at Maison François in St James’s. While floating restaurant London Shell Co. pairs the vodka with caviar, the signature Dima’s serve is with a side of tangy pickles to complement the sweetness of the liquid.

dima's vodka tasting
Not even a global pandemic could get in the way of Dima's Vodka, with virtual tastings and social media at the heart of the brand's initial promotion

What goes into making Dima’s?

Staying true to his roots, Deinega started production in a 126-year-old distillery west of Kyiv. With a clear vision of the vodka he wanted to create, it took Deinega over a year and 38 recipes to perfect the flavour profile, which has a subtle nuttiness, cereal earthiness, notes of bread and biscuit, and vanilla sweetness. Helping Dima’s to stand out from the sea of samey vodkas on the market is its appealing viscosity and creamy texture, making it an ideal sipping vodka to savour rather than swig.

dima's vodka
Dima's is designed to be sipped and savoured, alongside a plate of pickles

Ukraine boasts a third of the world’s nutrient-rich, fertile black soil, known as ‘chernozem’, which lends its grain extra depth of flavour and complexity. Keen to shine a light on the quality of Ukrainian grain, Dima’s is made from three types: wheat, rye and barley. The vodka is triple distilled in 700l column stills, then filtered through sand to remove impurities, and charcoal to soften and enhance the mouthfeel. Before it undergoes column filtration, it’s filtered through sand for a second time then rested for a week to allow the flavours to settle and integrate before bottling. The result is a rich, rounded vodka with crystal-clear clarity and a luxurious velvety smoothness on the palate, a flavour profile that gained the spirit a Gold medal from the IWSC 2022.

How did the design come about?

‘It was important to find a bottle shape that not only represented the character and flavour profile of the liquid inside, but one that was bold and defiant in representing Ukraine,’ says Deinega. He believes the bottle’s rectangular shape gives a strong appearance that’s since taken on an added layer of significance in light of the country’s bravery and resilience during the war.

In dark times, Dima’s has emerged as a symbol of hope and defiance

The bottle features a modern take on the Ukrainian coat of arms – a blue shield with a gold trident, the tryzub insignia is derived from the trident of Vladimir the Great, the first Grand Prince of Kyiv. Here, the prongs are also said to symbolise the three grains that go into the vodka, while the electric blue and gold on the label are a regal take on the colours of the Ukrainian flag.

The gold detailing on the bottle was also inspired by the Kyiv skyline and ‘the golden shimmer of the city’s stunning monasteries and churches.’ A stickler for detail, Deinega added dark blue swirls to the label in homage to the traditional vyshyvanka shirts worn throughout Ukraine, which vary from region to region.

dima's vodka grains
Deinega's vision was for a bold bottle design, but symbolism on the drink's label also helps represent the three grains that go into making Dima's Vodka

What’s next for Dima’s?

While fundraising remains a top priority for Dima’s Vodka, Deinega is keen to grow the brand outside of the UK when the time is right and wants to take the vodka global. ‘I have big ambitions for Dima’s – I want it to be the go-to vodka for those seeking smoothness and depth of flavour,’ says Deinega, who’s hustling hard to expand the brand’s presence in premium bars and restaurants.

In dark times, Dima’s has emerged as a symbol of hope and defiance, representing warmth, hospitality and unity in the face of aggression, hostility and division.