The Spirits of Idaho

Idaho spirit makers are a rare breed. They are industrious, persistent, perfectionistic — and they are few.

There are only five in the state. Yet Idaho’s liquors are delightfully fresh and adventurous libations, from the zing of Bardenay gin to the silkiness of Blue Ice potato vodka.

Idaho spirits are a small piece of what’s sold here — about 1.9 percent of the state’s nearly $137.6 million liquor sales for fiscal year 2010. But their exposure has grown as the economy has changed, says Bill Applegate, chief deputy for the Idaho State Liquor Division.

“We’ve seen a trade-down happening, as people are moving from more expensive national brands,” Applegate says.

DISTILLED RESOURCES INC.

This company is based in Ketchum but makes its spirits in Rigby in a distillery originally built to make ethanol during the Carter administration’s alternative fuel movement. It’s the oldest existing distillery in Idaho.

The Ottley family and other families bought Silver Creek Distillery in the 1980s and converted it to make beverage-quality spirits. From there, they made their Silver Creek Vodka until 1996. Now they make spirits and develop brands for other companies. They are the largest distillery in the West, Gray Ottley, the company’s owner, says.

DRinc makes 25 different labels from Idaho-grown potatoes and grain, including some organic brands.

DRinc produces 44 North, Square One, Blue Ice, Teton Glacier and several others, such as Zodiac Vodka, which are now available in the state.

KOENIG WINERY AND DISTILLERY

Koenig, in Caldwell, is another family in the distilling business. Brothers Greg and Andrew Koenig started making award-winning and well-respected wines and spirits in the mid-1990s.

They took up their crafts, inspired by their time in Austria in their father’s hometown, where clear fruit brandies and grappas are made. They returned to Idaho and established their business near the homestead in Sunnyslope, where their mother’s family made wine during the Great Depression.

Greg is the winemaker; Andrew is the master distiller, who makes vodka and real fruit brandies from Idaho-grown potatoes and fruit.

BARDENAY

Kevin Settles opened his Bardenay Distillery and Restaurant on Boise’s Basque Block 12 years ago. At the time, it was the first restaurant with an on-premises distillery in the country.

Settles makes gin, rum and vodka. He learned the hard way how to do it all from scratch. Now he makes Bardenay spirits at each of his restaurants in Boise, Eagle and Coeur d’Alene.

He starts with pure cane sugar to create the spirit base for his recipes.

LANTRIX LIQUOR

The Stibal family opened Lantrix Liquor in Idaho Falls three years ago, where they turn Northwest huckleberries into refreshing H Liqueur.

Lantrix is a rectifier or blender. The Stibals buy their sugar cane spirits from a small distillery in the Midwest and turn it into H five gallons at a time, says Susan Stibal, who runs the company with her two sons.

Her sons, Storm Hodge, a Seattle chef, and John William Stibal developed the recipe for H.

Each five-gallon batch makes 48 cases. They make about 200 cases each year.

DISTILLED SPIRITS U.S.A.

The newest Idaho spirit is Revolution Vodka made by Distilled Spirits U.S.A.

Brothers Walter and Ed Kerpa launched their business in a Garden City warehouse in July.

They started with their grandfather’s recipe. He emigrated from Prussia in 1916 and ran a grain mill in Buhl until Prohibition hit, Walter says.

The Kerpas make about 80 percent of their spirit on site and buy an additional 20 percent to keep up with the volume they need, Walter says.

They want to take Revolution nationwide using Walter’s contacts in the music business. The plan is modeled after how larger companies, such as Smirnoff, get their products into music venues through sponsorships.

The Kerpas’ partners include the band Slightly Stoopid, which is helping to give the product exposure.

“We’ve been able to get in Idaho and Southern California. We plan to be in 10 states by summer,” Kerpa says.

They also are taking Koenig Vodka with them through a partnership. “Andy Koenig has been helping us fine tune our recipe and learn the ropes of the industry,” he says.

By DANA OLAND — doland@idahostatesman.com
Dana Oland: 377-6442
The Idaho Statesman Copyright.  All rights reserved.  Printed with permission.

 
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