Launching any brand during a recession is a risk. Launching a luxury vodka is surely verging on insanity. Yet that is exactly what Akvinta is doing. Billed as the first Croatian vodka to hit the British market, the brand is unashamedly premium. At £34.99, it’s double the price of current vodka du jour Russian Standard, and with recent off-trade launches at Harrods (the picture to the right is of the brand’s window display at the store) and Selfridges and an on-trade presence at ultra-chic London nightspots such as Zuma and Movida, this is a vodka that clearly has one eye on achieving celebrity status.

Akvinta is also – somewhat surprisingly given the state of the economy – targeting the multiples. But with the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury's slashing branded vodka to below £10 a bottle, how do you sell a £34.99 tipple to the credit-squeezed masses?

Made from organic Italian wheat and Dalmatian spring water, ‘The First Mediterranean Luxury Vodka’ is filtered through charcoal, marble, silver, gold and platinum and comes in an eye-catching wine-style bottle featuring a gold leaf V and a hand-applied seal.

Akvinta (‘ak’ taken from aqua, ‘vin’ echoing the connoisseurship of wine, and ‘quinta’, which refers to its five filtration processes) was first launched in Croatia in 2005 and into the British on-trade in October last year. It is backed by Adriatic Investments – a Zagreb-based group of companies that trades in real estate, as well as food and beverages.

The brand plans to break into the multiples next year, where it will compete against the likes of Belvedere and Smirnoff Black at the premium end of the market. For the moment, however, Akvinta is focused squarely on achieving fame through the on-trade, says UK brand director John Jeffrey.

“There are many elements to the marketing mix and different things appeal to different groups,” he says. “Each brand must differentiate itself from others and bring its different characteristics to the fore, and that’s what we are doing with Akvinta.”

So far the plan has worked. Akvinta recently became the premium pouring vodka for Virgin Upper Class and gained notoriety at the Akvinta GQ Party at the Cannes Film Festival in May, when Lily Allen went on a drunken rampage after reportedly downing 20 shots.

“Her antics certainly gained us publicity, although obviously we don’t encourage that kind of behaviour,” smiles Jeffrey. “But we won the sponsorship rights for the event again next year, so that’s positive.”

Another plus is the backdrop of strong category sales. In the year to July, vodka sales in the off-trade grew 13% to £779m [Nielsen]. Though vodka’s popularity has led to a degree of category congestion, innovative brands such as Akvinta have nothing to fear, says Jeffrey. “The market economy, particularly in brands, is not really driven by need,” he says. “It is driven by curiosity and interest in something new as well as investment from people and businesses in a product they think will appeal to consumers.”

Marketing stunts such as the Harrods window display provided excellent press coverage and significantly raised the brand’s profile both in the UK and abroad, claims Jeffrey. Whether Akvinta can blossom without the patronage of the credit crunch-hit City bankers remains to be seen. But its status as a celebrity favourite seems assured.