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The Voice of Vodka

Do you have your own vodka brand? If not, you probably know someone who does. Even Jimi Hendrix has a vodka brand: Why should vodka ownership be restricted to the mortal?

Love it or hate it, vodka is the 800-pound gorilla in the room and that's not about to change. On average, a new vodka brand is introduced in America each week. That's a lot of shelf space on the back bar. In fact, on average, one million cases are sold each week. Vodka now claims nearly 30% of the entire U.S. spirits market. To say that it dominates every other category doesn't do it justice.

If being presented a new vodka each week were not distressing enough, many of new labels are not new at all; rather, just new names with very familiar spirits inside. However, not all in the vodka game are out to intoxicate us with shiny labels and clever names. More than a handful of producers are crafting vodka from the finest raw materials, using great skill and care to create unique vodkas worthy of our attention.

One of these craft distillers making a notable ripple in the vodka sea is Distilled Resources Inc. (DRinc) of Rigby, ID, the source for a growing list of craft vodka brands. Their portfolio includes Blue Ice Vodka, Square One Organic Rye Vodka, Hendrix Electric Vodka, Zodiac Vodka, 3 Vodka, and others. Their creations have earned their contracted brands a trunkful of medals and the respect of savvy spirits buyers.

One of the most interesting vodka brands is made at the award-winning Buffalo Trace Distillery. Rain Vodka is steadily gaining an audience. It's made from organic white corn sourced from a single 1,500-acre farm, the Fizzle Flats, in Yale, IL. The brand has recently introduced four flavors, also USDA certified organic, designed to evoke memories of a spa.

Tito's Vodka has developed a somewhat cult-like following. This craft brand got off the ground selling 1,000 cases in 1997, and has blossomed to 200,000 cases in 2007. The success of Tito's has been an inspiration to other would-be craft spirits producers.

California has nearly 20 micro-distillers. Two of them, Domaine Charbay and St. George Spirits, with their Hangar One brand, have created national brands with sterling reputations. Hangar One has taken the flavored vodka trend by the horns, creating some of the most contemplative, all-natural flavors available in today's market. Who else is making vodka flavored with “Buddha's Hand” citron?

The Midwest was once filled with breweries and distillers. Founded in 2006, Great Lakes Distillery was the first distillery opened in Wisconsin since the repeal of Prohibition. Unlike many new craft distillers, Great Lakes makes its own spirits from scratch. While many boutique brands purchase bulk neutral spirits to rectify, distill again, and blend with water and/or flavors to achieve the desired final product, Great Lakes starts its spirits from grains and pure water. Rehorst Vodka, named for the distillery's owner, demonstrates the difference in the glass.

Grand Traverse Distillery in Traverse City, MI, handcrafts its vodka from grain to spirit. The rye-based vodka will make you and your customers forget all about the famous premium imports. I've tasted no better.

In the vast desert of vodka gimmickry and homogeny lies an oasis of authenticity from a growing collection of American craft distillers. History has taught us that nearly every category raises its proverbial bar, prizing the specialty producers and their products. Why not get ahead of the vodka curve?

TAGS: Trends Recipes