Amanda Kralj

Spirits In Her Suitcase

Q&A with ’08 alumna Amanda Kralj

Whenever Amanda Kralj has the chance to hit the road, she does. And no matter where this intrepid globetrotter lands, she makes a point of sharing a drink with locals to better see the world through their eyes. This simple, universal act—and her love-at-first-sip experience with craft gin while in Johannesburg, South Africa—formed the basis of her new company, Suitcase Spirits, which she recently launched from her home in Hong Kong.

SESP talked with Kralj, a Milwaukee native with a master’s degree in learn- ing and organizational change (MSLOC) from Northwestern, about blending her personal passions with her professional dreams.

What do you love most about traveling?

Connecting with people and learning their stories! Whether I’m discussing cooking in Barcelona with a group of grandmothers over vermouth or learning about French pride at a craft brewery just outside Paris, I’m learning about the people, community, and history from those who know it best. It’s the common thread through all my travels.

How did you become a craft gin maker?

I was toying with a business idea in the craft beer industry and visiting craft brewers around Johannesburg. Then I took a master distilling course and started traveling all over South Africa to meet distillers and learn about their products. I loved the creativity, technical know-how, and entrepreneurial spirit.

Where did the company name come from?

Whenever I came back to my home base, I’d have a suitcase full of spirits from around the world to share with friends, along with my experiences and learnings. I always thought of them as my “suitcase spirits.” Each gave me the sense of a city—the people, the food, the drinks. I want my spirits to capture those unforgettable flavors and feelings. They’re love letters to the great cities they represent.

Is the first Suitcase Spirit out now?

Yes—it’s HKG Gin, which showcases the love and excitement I always feel in Hong Kong. What’s hardest about starting a company? Knowing when to bring people in. I love to learn and will dive in deep on any topic— which is why I loved the MSLOC capstone experience. But that’s both great and terrible. I have to be hyperaware of the best use of my time and the need to rely on others’ expertise to get things done.

What do you see as your strongest suit?

I am a connector. Friends joke that I always “have a guy” for whatever it is they’re looking for. It comes naturally to me. I’m also a good listener and pay attention to details.

How does having a master’s degree help?

There’s one MSLOC tool I come back to over and over: the Burke-Litwin Change Model. It’s always on the wall of my office wherever I am in the world. It seems like it’s been haunting me and a few of my classmates over the years! I do love it. It’s great for visualizing different aspects of an organization and their influence on one another.

Any “suitcase advice” to share?

Explore as much as possible—in life and in your career. Listen, and see what others are doing. When you keep your eyes and ears open, you sometimes find what you didn’t realize you were looking for.