local ingredients, which is a bit of an understatement considering the amount of emphasis they put on "going local." More than a marketing or philosophical statement, it is a defining factor in why their vodka tastes the way it does. "Vodka is a message, it is a statement ... it is the body of our cocktails,” says George Racz of Las Vegas Distillery. “And as a body you have to fill it with soul." That is not to say their interests lie solely in garnering regionally grown ingredients. Significant attention is spent ensuring their presence is a positive asset to the surrounding community; that personal successes spread beyond them, working towards the betterment of their towns as well. Beet Spirits, for example, spent precious time building relations with nearby family-owned farms;they now work with 3,000 of them. Flag Hill has put money in neighboring farmland in New Hampshire. Yet the most defining factor could possibly be the most ethereal one. All these distillers did things their own way. They didn't hire consultants, most are self-taught, almost all built their first stills themselves. There was also a confidence of conviction amongst each and every one of them. Starting a distillery is a daunting task, and all did so without hesitation. This is not to say they were wanton; quite the opposite. Diligence was task number one. But they never wavered or second guessed themselves. They did not copy or replicate. And most of them did all the work themselves — from creating the recipe, to designing the bottle shape and label, to marketing and distributing. Corbin goes so far as to grow their own sweet potatoes. A further defining factor is their honesty or, more accurately, the importance they put on being honest. All nine distilleries make it a point to let you know exactly what goes into each bottle. No smoke and mirrors. No abuse or misuse of concepts unfamiliar to the layman. And absolutely no shortcuts. Possibly the most striking part, however, is how different each distiller is from the other. Their ages spread over five decades. One worked as a concert promoter and eventually owned a casino, one was at AT&T for 40 years, one is a scientist, one a farmer, one a spray foam insulation technician. Their reasons for taking the plunge into the world of vodka varies equally as much. A sudden epiphany, a tour of a distillery, a desire to go beyond the beer- and wine-making they already knew, a hunger to make a vodka they could drink neat and unchilled. All of which adds up to one glaring reality: The Vodka Revolution has definitely begun, and whether you choose to participate as a drinker or are inspired to open your own distillery, never forget to forge your own path, build your own opinions. The status quo is obsolete. With vodka today, the possibilities are endless, and thanks to the vanguards already crafting unique product with fierce character, the future is completely unscripted.
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Harry Haller is an independent consultant focused on working with sugarcane-based distilleries. He can be reached at email@example.com or (310) 933-6430.
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