Printed on: April 30, 2013

SHOPTALK

Distiller to share tricks of the trade

Jeff Robinson
Post Register

Lea Beckett is goal-driven.

How else would you explain her four college degrees or her ability to take her vodka distillery business from concept to world's best in less than a year?

Beckett and her husband, Bill, own Grand Teton Vodka in Driggs.

In October, the Beverage Testing Institute in Chicago awarded Grand Teton Vodka a Gold Medal and 94 points, categorizing it as the top-ranked potato vodka in the world. Only five distillers had vodkas that scored higher and none was a potato vodka. The high score of 97 went to Stolichnaya Elit Vodka, which sells for $65 a bottle.

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

Quite an accomplishment for a distillery that opened just three months before the prestigious competition.

"The MBA model for starting a distillery is 18 to 36 months," Beckett said. "Of course we didn't know it at the time."

Beckett, who holds both an MBA and doctorate, plans to share the secrets -- at least some of them -- to that success at a four-day "Distillery College" in June.

For $1,095 attendees can learn how to avoid the pitfalls and potential regulatory setbacks that can derail start-up distillers.

The college will feature lectures from experts, including a master distiller, an MBA business expert and industry suppliers. They'll also get hands-on distilling experience.

Beckett's guidance could be the key to success in a business that is exploding much the way micro-breweries and wineries did before it.

"As recently as 2004 there were 69 distilleries in the Unites States," Beckett said. "There are 320 now. If you look at a growth chart, the line goes straight up. Experts expect there to be between 500 and 1,000 by 2020."

Why would Beckett set out to teach potential competitors?

"They're going to learn anyway," she said. "We don't see micro-distillers as our competition."

Rather, Grand Teton Vodka has its sights set on the likes of Absolut, Smirnoff, Stolichnaya and Grey Goose.

If the company's meteoric start is any indication of what's to come, those big dogs better watch out. The business started with two paid (and two unpaid) employees. It now has 15 and is only running one shift per day. It has the equipment capacity to double its production.

Last month, the distillery received a Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The honor only can be achieved if all judges unanimously rank the spirit as "Gold."

Another ranking website, Proof66, which does a meta-analysis combining all rankings into one and ranks spirits worldwide, lists Grand Teton as world's eighth-best vodka overall and the No. 1 potato vodka.

The rankings have helped Grand Teton crack the tough regulatory shell of interstate spirits sales. It currently is available in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon and Arkansas -- Beckett's home state. She's also in talks with Total Wine & Spirits -- the "Walmart of beer and spirits" -- which has stores in 15 states. She is negotiating for distribution in the retailer's 23 West Coast stores.

This summer, according to an Idaho Department of Commerce news release, Grand Teton plans to introduce a white whiskey, called Mountain Man Moonshine, in plain, huckleberry and apple pie flavors. The whiskey will be packaged in a glass jug with a finger hold, similar to the old moonshine jugs, the release said.

For information about Grand Teton Vodka products or Distillery College, go to www.tetonvodka.com.

Tea Cup Café opens new shop in Challis

Debbie James has opened Tea Cup Cafe & Bakery at 200 Main Ave. in Challis

The café is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Its menu includes soups, salads, sandwiches, quiche and fresh-brewed pots of loose tea served in china cups and saucers.

High tea will be served Saturdays by reservation.

The business also features an espresso bar that is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It will serve coffee, bakery, pastries and breads; there's a frozen yogurt machine and a "grab-n-go" food section with sandwiches and salads.

James and her husband, Christopher, have owned and operated Living Waters Ranch, a Christian retreat center, for 20 years. They are continuing with that venture.

James said the café has 15 employees and big plans. Those plans include adding a patio and gazebo for outside seating and special events. She also will consider staying open for dinners and the possibility of opening for regular Sunday brunches. The café will be open for Mother's Day brunch on May 12 as a test run for future Sunday brunches.

For information, call (208) 879-5050.

Hotels partner with Cancer Society

Idaho Falls-area hotels -- LeRitz Hotel and Suites, Guest House Inn and Suites, Hampton Inn Airport and LaQuinta Inn -- have joined the American Cancer Society's Patient Lodging Program.

The program is a cooperative effort with participating hotels to provide short-term, overnight accommodations to cancer patients who must travel for outpatient treatment but cannot afford a place to stay.

The program has several criteria that patients seeking the assistance must meet.

For information, call the American Cancer Society Cancer Resource Center in the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center Cancer Center at 227-2732 or visit cancer.org.

Credit union changes name

Potelco United Credit Union announced April 19 that it will merge with a Boise-area credit union of similar size.

Following the June 1 merger, the business will continue serving members as Connections Credit Union.

Potelco United Credit Union is open to residents of Bannock, Bingham and Bonneville counties with branches in Pocatello, Idaho Falls, Firth and Inkom.

Potelco began operations more than 75 years ago as the Pocatello Telephone Company Credit Union.

Its Idaho Falls branch is at 2001 S. Woodruff Ave., Suite 1. For information, call 529-0444.

Paper's 'Best of' balloting underway

Online voting for the Post Register's annual "Best of" business survey is underway.

Readers can vote for their favorite businesses in 63 categories ranging from auto mechanics to frozen yogurt shops.

Voters who complete the form will be entered to win a $25 gift card to the Frosty Gator.

To vote go to tinyurl.com/PostRegister-best-of.

Building permits approved in I.F.

Idaho Falls building officials recently approved permits for the following projects:

Construction of a 9,000-square-foot Stinker Station with a valuation of $800,000 located at 496 First St.

Construction of a 1,676-square-foot home with a valuation of $83,730.30 located at 637 Bradford Lane.