Famous potatoes make famous vodkas

Andrew Boczar poses with a bottle of Grand Teton Vodka at the Grand Teton Distillery in Driggs on Thursday. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Bottles of Colter’s Run bourbon whiskey, Catamount whiskey, and Born and Bred vodka are seen at the Grand Teton Distillery in Driggs on Thursday. “There’s still tons of growth for the distill craft market.” said Andrew Boczar. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Meghan Boczar looks into a still at the Grand Teton Distillery in Driggs on Thursday. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Meghan Boczar gives a tour to Angelo and Eva Tarantino, visiting from Long Island, N.Y., at the Grand Teton Distillery in Driggs on Thursday. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Andrew Boczar pours glucoamylase enzyme into a mixture of potato flakes at the Grand Teton Distillery in Driggs on Thursday. The enzymes are used to break down the starches from the potatoes to create a mash. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Low wines run off from the still at the Grand Teton Distillery in Driggs on Thursday. Low wines are impure alcohol that needs to continue to be distilled. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

DRIGGS — Walking into the small distillery here, customers are welcomed by a series of faux motivational signs such as “If life hands you lemons, add vodka.”

For several eastern Idaho businesses, however, life has not necessarily handed them lemons, but the liquid counterpart that helped start a thriving business.

Distilleries ranging from locally owned operations to multi-national corporations call Idaho home. The region’s spirits industry has attracted outside investors, multi-national corporations and even Hollywood celebrities.

Setting up shop in a region that provides the perfect ingredients for production of potato and grain vodka has allowed several local distilleries to make their mark on the national level. Grand Teton Distillery’s website says it sources “our raw materials locally, within 25 miles of the plant.”

But while some have hit the big time, production of these products originated in the area and remains here.

Locally operated, with a celebrity catch

In 2011, Andrew Boczar was sitting on the front porch of his parent’s house discussing potential business plans for the family. The Boczars purchased a plot of land in Driggs in 2007 that was originally slated for the development of a hotel.

However, the beginnings of the Great Recession made demand for hotels a risky business at the time and the project never got off the ground.

“We were sitting on this land for three years, and one night we were sitting on the front porch and thought ‘what can we do with this land?’” Boczar said. “We’re surrounded by thousands of acres of potatoes, can we make vodka?”

One year later, the company was selling its products in Idaho and Wyoming. In the following years, Grand Teton Distillery has grown into one of the larger independently owned distilleries in the state, winning numerous national awards.

“I used to have a hammock and sleep here, I was working so long,” Boczar said.

Grand Teton’s products are now sold in 26 states, which is impressive production for a staff of five employees.

Through recent success, Boczar’s business has gained notable fans and clientele, including actor Channing Tatum. Impressed by the quality of Grand Teton’s product, Tatum invested in the company in an effort to collaborate in a new product — Born and Bred.

According to Grand Teton’s website, Born and Bred came about due to Tatum’s “quest to find the best vodka in the USA,” which, led him to Idaho.

“Channing’s trainer told him he couldn’t consume calories, like beer,” Boczar said. “‘If you want to drink, drink vodka.’ After a couple of nights thinking out loud, he thought ‘why are all of these vodkas foreign or imported?’ So he thought it would be cool to find an American vodka company to invest in and make a product with.

“We thought it was fake (when he first called us). But they liked this area and that it was a small, family owned company, and decided to invest at this point.”

The collaboration with Tatum, which started in early 2015, has helped grow Grand Teton’s sales of Born and Bred to 20 states.

“There are definitely growing pains, but we are looking to further expand soon with the hopeful demand for the product,” Boczar said.

National recognition

Bill Henderson, chief marketing officer for Beach Whiskey LLC, has made a name for himself in the liquor industry. An innovator in the vodka business thanks to the highly successful Grey Goose brand he helped bring to the national spotlight, Henderson wanted to find a new product to bring to the mainstream when he moved to a new company in 2015.

And that quest ultimately drew Henderson to American Harvest organic vodka in Rigby.

“We acquired the brand about a year and a half ago from Sidney Frank, who I worked for previously,” Henderson said. “Sidney Frank created the brand, and when it was purchased by Jägermeister all of the brand portfolios were released they had to find new homes. We negotiated with the Frank family to bring the brand on at Beach Whiskey.”

What drew Beach Whiskey to the American Harvest brand was the quality of the product and what it represented.

“For us, the fact that it’s American made, and we know today American products are hotter than ever,” Henderson said. “And you talk about the heart of America in Idaho, I think that resonates with people. They want products that are homegrown.”

American Harvest was first produced in Rigby in 2011. And although Henderson’s New York-based corporation purchased the company, Beach Whiskey is not ready or willing to abandon American Harvest’s Idaho roots.

“We have absolutely no intentions of moving this brand out of state,” Henderson said. “We went to Idaho for a reason. We like to think of ourselves as state-made, so there are no intentions of moving the product out. We feel like we’re in a really good place moving forward.”

The Rigby distillery has about 20 full-time employees.

Since its purchase, the only change Beach Whiskey has made to American Harvest has been its packaging. The company’s focus will remain on regional sales.

“We’re looking to grow the plan organically,” Henderson said. “We don’t have any plans for mass, mass distribution. As far as our growth, we want to be at the right account at the right time.

Henderson believes the future looks bright for Idaho’s spirits market.

“Sales will come to anyone with the right distribution and the right plan,” he said.

Reporter Marc Basham can be reached at 208-542-6763.