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Paul McCann

Paul McCann

Alumnus concocts ‘Cirrusly’ great vodka.

Virginia Commonwealth University alumnus Paul McCann (B.S. ’92/College of Humanities and Sciences) always imagined running his own business but never expected that dream would stem from a night out

In 2004, McCann was out with a friend in Richmond and noticed all the available vodkas were imported. He started doing some research and testing on his own and found he could make a good natural, additive-free, potato-based vodka. The majority of vodkas are made from grains, but McCann says, to him, potatoes make the best and smoothest vodka

From there, McCann grew Parched Group Distillery, best known for its Cirrus brand vodka — a spirit that’s received numerous accolades and awards in the past four years, including earning in 2007 the “Virginia’s Finest” seal from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

“A lot of folks tend to think that to have a quality product you have to have something imported,” McCann says. “I think that the ‘Virginia’s Finest’ designation helps give added recognition to products that are made here in Virginia.

Confident that Cirrus vodka could stand up against the imported brands, McCann started entering it into national competitions in 2005. The label earned its first silver medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition just six months after the distillery opened. A year later, Cirrus vodka took home the gold at the same competition. That’s when McCann decided to distribute the product commercially, beginning in his home state

“We really wanted to enter a couple competitions and see how competitive Cirrus is with other top brands that are well-established,” McCann says. “We got it to where we really wanted it, and once we received the gold, we decided to get it out on the market.

More than 170 Virginia ABC stores carry Cirrus vodka with an equal number of bars, restaurants and hotels serving the brand. McCann has already expanded into the Washington, D.C., and Tennessee markets and is looking to capture additional market share in Maryland, South Carolina and Georgia this year

“When you are working for yourself, you are constantly growing the brand,” McCann says. “You get a lot of satisfaction out of being able to start, build and achieve your goals.”

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