Printed on: July 19, 2013

That's the spirit

Grand Teton Vodka has award-filled 1st year

By CHRISTINA LORDS
clords@postregister.com

DRIGGS - John Boczar jokes that he makes ton after ton of mashed potatoes for a living.

But as head distiller at Grand Teton Vodka, he also makes one heck of a stiff drink.

Last July, Boczar was busy swinging a hammer and putting the final touches on the Grand Teton Vodka distillery on state Highway 33.

Just a year later, the distillery distributes its Ririe-grown, potato flake-based product in every liquor store in Idaho, as well as facilities in at least eight other states.

The distillery, owned by Lea and Bill Beckett, won a host of international awards this year, including a prestigious Gold Medal from the Beverage Testing Institute in Chicago.

The vodka was awarded 94 points, signifying it as the top-ranked potato vodka in the world. It also won a 2013 Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

The distillery sold 4,130 750-milliliter bottles of the vodka (commonly referred to as a fifth) in the past year, with an additional 1,985 375-milliliter bottles (or pints) sold during the same time period.

"The velocity is improving, and it's an excellent product," said Jeff Anderson, Idaho State Liquor Division director. "Folks who run the distillery really know what they're doing. We're proud to carry the product."

The good news continued to pour in as the distillery announced earlier this month that it won The Fifty Best Double Gold award for domestic vodka. The Fifty Best is a fine-living guide that ranks beer, restaurants, cigars and other amenities and products.

"Being a small distillery, a lot of people don't even want to talk to you," Boczar said. "But the scores from these competitions has opened so many doors for us."

The testing institute ranks Grand Teton Vodka as a "best buy' at about $18 a bottle, describing it as "fantastically smooth and flavorful vodka."

That flavor is far from happenstance. Its very essence emanates from a place those who work for the company call home, Boczar said.

Even the photo of the Tetons used on the bottle was taken from the Becketts' porch.

Idaho's most famous ingredient, the potato, and the Teton Valley's crystal clear water are what help the distillery's vodka stand out against the rest, Boczar said.

"If you don't have good water, you don't have a good product," he said. "There are no additives, just potatoes. There are no preservatives, no citric acid. This is our product as our product."

Boczar attributes the distillery's quick success to one more thing: a welcoming spirits community.

"Microbrews really paved the way for us to step into this business," he said. "We have residents, we have business from out of town where people step in and say, "What's produced locally here?" -

With Grand Teton Brewing just up the road in Victor, and more microbrewers opening their doors throughout the country, more equipment is available in the brewing and distilling business, Boczar said.

"There's such a brotherhood in the brewing community," he said. "There's a lot of open-door policy, a lot of information sharing."

That information is helpful as the distillery looks to add different flavors or different products into the mix.

"We want to see if we can put a Western spin on moonshine," Boczar said. "A lot of people ask about flavors, and it's not that we're not open to that, but we're very focused on the quality of our base product.

"Some people mix it and enjoy it that way; others drink it straight."

The distillery is looking ahead, Boczar said, by adding more equipment and more floor space to increase output.

"I am absolutely frickin' blown away by this, all of this," Boczar said. "If you would have told me a year ago how far we would have come, I wouldn't have believed it for a second."

Reporter Christina Lords can be reached at 542-6762.

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