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"We always wanted to be pioneers in our field" - Interview with Vita Dulcis

by Anastasia Hartleib
"Wir wollten immer Vorreiter auf unserem Gebiet sein" - Vita Dulcis im Interview

The market for advent calendars is booming. For years, you can see how the 24-door boxes in supermarkets, toy stores and drugstores are becoming more and more common. But to be honest, the contents are usually somewhat disappointing. Not even that surprising "surprise products", which are usually of poor quality - or simply boring.

Vita Dulcis shows that there is another way. Since 2017, the small team from Teising in Upper Bavaria has been dedicated to creating exciting spirits advent calendars. And with great success: with 14 different Advent calendars and even more tasting sets, Vita Dulcis is no longer just indulging the palates of many spirits fans during the Advent season.

Reason enough for us to talk to founder Dominik Maier about Vita Dulcis and what makes a successful Advent calendar.

Buy the Vita Duclis advent calendar

Want to see the entire product range straight away? Then take a look here: To the Vita Dulcis store

Honest & Rare: Hi Dominik, please introduce yourselves first.

Dominik Maier: We, Vita Dulcis GmbH, are still a fairly young company that was founded in 2017 to sweeten the Advent season for all interested spirits lovers. We are a small but very dedicated team of six people and take care of everything to do with Advent calendars and tasting sets all year round. And we do it mainly by hand.

What was your motivation when you founded Vita Dulcis in 2017?

We always wanted to be pioneers in our field and take the premium spirits advent calendar segment in Germany to a whole new level. And if you look at everything that has happened on the market since 2017, how many new competitors have joined us and what fantastic qualities we can find these days, then I would say that we have succeeded.

What's more, the focus of all our products has always been on enjoyment. That hasn't changed today. That's why we are constantly striving to find new bottlings, put together interesting advent calendars and tasting sets to ensure that as many people as possible have the opportunity to enjoy high-quality spirits.

Where does your personal fascination for spirits actually come from?

Purely by chance! I have a rather unconventional CV and, in a roundabout way, I started an apprenticeship in retail in my mid-twenties at an online store for spirits with an associated stationary specialist store. That was actually my first contact with high-quality spirits and it was love at first sight. I found the whole subject, the variety and the entire industry just incredibly exciting and thrilling. You always had to deal with high-quality products, were able to make cool contacts in the scene very quickly and always experience something new - it's hard to get away from that.

I then did my further training as a commercial specialist and business economist while working and am very lucky to be able to live out my passion for spirits every day.

Bei Vita Dulcis wird überall Wert auf Hochwertigkeit gelegt - auch bei den verwendeten Verpackungsmaterialien.
At Vita Dulcis, emphasis is placed on high quality everywhere - even in the packaging materials used.

We can confirm that - once you're inside, you don't want to leave this dazzling scene so quickly. So how did you come up with the idea of packing spirits in Advent calendars of all things?

I've been in the industry for more than 10 years now and already had the topic of advent calendars on my radar when I was still part of the online retailer. I thought the concept of being able to taste a different high-quality spirit every day was extremely good.

Back then, we simply started with a set of 24 whisky miniatures - i.e. officially purchased from the manufacturer. That worked quite well, but the selection of available miniatures was relatively small. What's more, the effort involved in collecting the stuff during ongoing operations was simply annoying and cumbersome.

The following year, 2015, one year before we launched Vita Dulcis, we received a ready-made whisky advent calendar from a retailer for the first time. We didn't really look at the contents back then and we thought the price was okay. - So we simply added a smaller quantity to the range. In principle, we found the product super exciting and were actually waiting for something exactly like this.

Unfortunately - or from today's perspective, thank goodness - this whisky advent calendar was just absolute garbage! The whiskies it contained were mostly inferior garbage, the calendar was totally garbage in terms of workmanship, the compartment in the calendar that separates the individual miniatures from each other and prevents everything from sliding around was completely inferior and virtually collapsed at the slightest strain, and, and, and. We were so disappointed with this part at the time that we said: There must be a better way! The following year, we launched the first editions of our Vita Dulcis Advent calendars on the market and are now one of the market leaders in Germany and France.

"Winning partners - that was a huge effort at the beginning. But it was worth it."

An Advent calendar with a wide variety of manufacturer brands, uniformly packaged - there were probably a few stumbling blocks in the development process. What were probably the most difficult hurdles you had to overcome before the first calendar was finished?

Yes, there were more than enough stumbling blocks. The whole creation process cost us a lot of gray hair and nerves as well as an insane amount of time. One of the biggest hurdles for us was certainly the whole legal aspect. At the time when we started with our calendars, there weren't really many manufacturers in Germany. So we had to find all the legal details ourselves and had no contacts in the industry. Sampling, i.e. the bottling of registered and protected brands, is also a legal gray area and a lot of things are kind of vague.

Of course, we knew of countless people who were bottling whisky into samples in their garage and then putting together Advent calendars in very small batches. But we also knew of some people who had a lawyer standing on their doorstep because a trademark owner took action against them. That's exactly what we always wanted to avoid and do things differently. That's why we decided to play with open cards right from the start. In other words, we wrote to, called or visited every single brand owner and/or their German importers that we would have liked to have in our calendars, presented our project to a huge number of people in the industry and asked for official permission to do what we were doing.

Ein Adventskalender, unendlich viele Geschmäcker - Vita Dulcis haben sowohl kleine, unbekanntere Destillerien als auch große Marken in ihren Kalendern & Sets.
One advent calendar, infinite flavors - Vita Dulcis have small, lesser known distilleries as well as big brands in their calendars & sets.

How have the producers and distributors responded to your requests?

For most of them here in Germany, this was completely new territory. At the beginning, many were simply afraid that we wouldn't be able to manage the quality of the refill and that this would cast a bad light on their brands. Others were simply not convinced by the concept of a spirits advent calendar in the premium segment and were of the opinion that something like this would not sell in this country. Winning over partners who wanted to work with us and who trusted us to implement it - that was a huge effort at the beginning.

However, there were two real game changers without whom our project would probably not exist today. These were Haromex and Beam Suntory, who gave us the go-ahead for their entire range with all their own brands. That was around 20-30 brands that we could use in one go. In addition, with Beam Suntory we had gained one of the largest spirits groups in the world as a partner, which of course also had a positive effect on the acquisition of further partners. So that was incredibly helpful for our start and we are still extremely grateful today.

What do you say today: was the effort worth it?

100 percent! For many years now, we have had the opportunity to simply bring extremely cool products onto the market. And we get a lot of positive and inspiring feedback from our customers. That's why we love our job and what we do! For us, there is no greater motivation and no stronger drive than seeing how our products give our customers a fantastic time.

How do you actually decide which whisky, rum or gin to include in the calendar?

As a rule, we decide quite freely. The only more or less rigid requirement when putting together our calendars is to keep to a certain cost. From a commercial point of view, this criterion is simply necessary in order to be able to operate sensibly and sustainably.

Vita Dulcis legen wert auf die Ausgewogenheit ihrer Adventskalender. Hier entscheidet nicht nur der Preis darüber, ob eine Spirituose im Produkt landet.
Vita Dulcis attach great importance to the balance of its Advent calendars. It is not only the price that decides whether a spirit ends up in the product.

It is also important to us that the overall package is coherent. In addition to the pure quality of the different products, other criteria also play a role: is the overall taste profile of the calendar balanced? Do we have a good balance between smaller and rather unknown distilleries on the one hand, and well-known brands on the other? Is the compilation interesting in terms of the different production methods, e.g. do we only have single malt whiskies or also a single grain, blended or blended malt in the calendar? That's what we find most interesting in the compilation.

"A tasting set should be coherent in itself, but also leave room for innovation"

And how do you decide which product goes into one of your premium or deluxe calendars? With whisky or rum, you could just go by age.

No, that's not how it works for us. That would restrict us far too much. And it wouldn't do justice to many products and their excellent quality. We tend to proceed with great care. At first glance, this can be surprising - but at second glance, you realize that the product fits very well into the premium segment. In the Whisky Premium Advent calendar, for example, we have "only" a 10-year-old bottling - that seems strange at first. But if you take a closer look, you can see that it is a cask strength bottling that has been stored in casks, which is rather unusual for this distillery. This makes the product very special for us - and therefore ideal for one of our more upmarket Advent calendars.

Your range consists not only of Advent calendars, but also of tasting sets. What do you pay particular attention to when putting them together?

In our opinion, a tasting set should always be coherent and still leave enough room for innovative and exciting things. So far, we have oriented ourselves towards flavor or origin-specific starting points. For example, whiskies that all have a nice smoky note or that come from Japan. The bottom line is that we simply try to get the best for every taste and every budget.

Buy Vita Dulcis tasting sets

In order to keep putting together new sets, you have to stay on top of all the latest developments. How and where do you discover new spirits?

For me, the most interesting and best way to get to know new spirits is definitely at trade fairs. Especially at the big trade fairs in our industry, such as the BCB, you have an incredible density of absolutely fantastic products that you can taste directly. You also have personal contact with the importers or, in the best case, directly with the manufacturers, where you always get extremely exciting insights and background information. That's where you realize how passionate people are about the product in question and how much passion they have for it.

In addition to trade fairs, we also regularly browse through small and large trade magazines, blogs and newsletters, keep an eye on various influencers and are in regular contact with our suppliers and manufacturers. This means we always have a very good overview of developments in the scene.

Natürlich liegen den Sets & Adventskalendern auch entsprechendes Infomaterial zu den enthaltenen Spirituosen bei.
Of course, the sets and advent calendars also come with information material about the spirits they contain.

Finally, let's take a look ahead: what does the future hold?

Quite a lot! Even after 7 years, we still have a long way to go and are still full of creative ideas. In the coming months, we will be revising the packaging of our tasting sets. In the beginning, we always wanted to focus on the content, but we have noticed that both end customers and retailers are placing more and more emphasis on the appearance. So we are giving some of our sets a little facelift. Next year, it will be the turn of the Advent calendars to get a modern, high-quality design that matches the contents. Of course, we also have more Advent calendars planned. We haven't yet decided which ones we'll be making - but a Tequila & Mezcal and a Whisky Germany Advent calendar are currently high on our list of favorites.

And in the very unlikely event that we still have room for improvement with the projects we have planned so far, our list of potential ideas is still full to bursting. So it certainly won't be boring at Vita Dulcis!


About the autor:

Anastasia Hartleib

Anastasia Hartleib

Katalog & Marketing Managerin

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