On April 1st, Dayton-based Buckeye Vodka began distributing their Ohio-made spirit throughout the state, adding another microdistillery to the growing list in the region. Buckeye Vodka aims to provide a high-quality product at an affordable price point when compared to its national competitors.
We recently spoke to Jim Finke, CEO of Crystal Spirits, the producers of Buckeye Vodka to find out more about this latest entry to the Ohio spirits scene.
Q: First, can you tell us a little bit about your professional background?
A: My background is running a family business in Dayton. The Finke Company is a regional wholesale distribution business established in 1886. Our brother-in-law, Tom Rambasek, owns the Crystal Water Co (est. 1919). We are leveraging my experience in warehousing, distribution and storage and Tom’s expertise in distilling pure water in our vodka business.
Q: How did you come up with the idea of Buckeye Vodka?
A: My brother Chris and I had always talked about going into business together. He moved to Texas after he graduated from the University of Dayton and we went our separate directions professionally, but we always remained best friends. In 2008, Chris had just sold his interest in a venture he was involved with in Austin, which freed up his time. Our businesses in Dayton suffered like many others due to the economic downturn, so the timing was right for us to start looking for a new business to buy. After a few months of searching with no luck, Chris mentioned that he had a friend that was doing really well producing and selling vodka in Texas. We researched the category and found out the following:
- Vodka is the #1 selling spirit; accounting for 33% of all high proof spirits sales.
- Ohio recorded record sales in gallons purchased in the height of the recession, however the dollar sales remained flat. This meant that people were moving down a shelf and sacrificing quality for quantity.
- That even though the spirits market is mature there was a growing trend in micro-distilling.
So our business plan was to take advantage of all of our research and produce an ultra premium vodka and sell it at a price that would appeal to the sensibilities of the Ohio consumer. We structured the company with no debt allowing us to sell Buckeye Vodka well below its market value.
Q: Do you think the trend for locally produced spirits is still growing in Ohio as your research found on a national level?
A: No question about it. In 2003 there were around 70 craft distillers in the nation. Today there are nearly 250, and that number is expected to double in the next four to five years. We believe that the micro-distilling industry will change the high proof spirits market the way craft breweries have changed the beer market. We rely on a small advertising and media budget along with word of mouth advertising. This is in direct contrast to the mass market competitors who often produce a mediocre product and back it with huge marketing campaigns to drive sales.
Q: So what sort of process do you use for creating Buckeye Vodka?
A: We start with the highest quality grains grown on the farms of Ohio and in the Midwest (Buckeye Vodka is gluten-free). There is no place on earth that produces finer grains than those grown right here in the heartland. We distill the grain-neutral spirit in a state-of-the-art 20-foot column still which was custom made for Crystal Spirits. It is distilled 10 times to eliminate the impurities commonly found in lesser vodkas.
80-proof vodka is 60% water, and therefore the purity of the water used to make any vodka is critical to its quality. We will happily match the purity of the water used in Buckeye Vodka against any competitor regardless of the price. Our source, The Crystal Water Co., softens the water four times then processes through activated carbon BEFORE distilling it. This water used in the Buckeye Vodka formula is also used for medical applications and in high tech machines and would typically be too expensive to make vodka, but since Crystal Water is owned by the Crystal Spirits President we get a really good deal.
Once the water is blended with the neutral spirit we filter 4 to 6 times and test during each filtration to make sure we achieve smoothness from start to finish.
Q: How would you classify the taste or flavor profile of Buckeye Vodka?
A: Buckeye Vodka has a traditional smooth taste profile and is extremely clean and ultra pure with a seamless finish.
Q: Do you have plans to launch additional products in the near future?
A: Buckeye Vodka has only been on the shelves since the first of April and is only available in Ohio. We got off to a really great start but we also are extremely busy trying to build the brand. Once we get to the point where we are happy with the Buckeye vodka brand we will think a bit more seriously about what might be next. When we do expand outside the Buckeye Vodka brand I imagine we will step into the flavored arena to some degree.
Q: Where can locals in Central Ohio find your product?
A: Buckeye Vodka is available in approximately half of the 440 liquor stores licensed throughout Ohio that sell high proof spirits. We cover Franklin and Delaware counties pretty extensively. Our website has a “where to buy” page that will locate the store nearest to you. We are also self distributing and are visiting bars and restaurants throughout Ohio to get distribution.
Q: Any upcoming events or tasting that we should mention?
A: We will be promoting Buckeye Vodka in Bars and Restaurants with individual events so those interested in drinking Buckeye Vodka at reduced Happy Hours prices should follow us on facebook and twitter to keep updated on these events.
More information can be found online at www.buckeyevodka.com.