DAYTON — The Dayton-based Buckeye Vodka that will start hitting liquor-store shelves in the Miami Valley and across Ohio this week is surfing the wave of a national trend of micro-distilleries producing relatively small batches of premium spirits for thirsty enthusiasts.
The new 80-proof vodka is the brainchild of a family-based team that includes Jim Finke, president of The Finke Company in Moraine and co-owner and CEO of Crystal Spirits LLC, the maker of Buckeye Vodka and his brother-in-law Tom Rambasek of Kettering, who owns and operates Crystal Water Company on South Patterson Boulevard in Dayton and who also serves as president of Crystal Spirits. Finke’s brother Chris is chairman of the company.
Finke said he and his brother were looking to launch a business as a family. Throughout the recession and economic crisis of 2008-09, as NCR left Dayton and General Motors closed a truck-assembly plant in Moraine, “We saw our friends and families and their businesses take hits,” Finke said.
But they also noticed Ohioans consuming liquor in record amounts, even as many spent less on each bottle they purchased. Finke — a vodka drinker himself — and his family members came up with an idea.
“We figured that if we could make an ultra-premium vodka at a reasonable price, people would not have to sacrifice quality,” Finke said. Drawing on the expertise of a friend who made vodka in Austin, Texas, and taking full advantage of the supply of high-quality water and equipment of Crystal Water, they started producing test batches of what would become Buckeye Vodka, which will make its debut in 175 outlets across the state sometime this week. The retail price for a standard-sized (750 ml) bottle will be under $20 — $19.20 in Montgomery County, Finke said.
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Finke predicted that micro-distillers such as Crystal Spirits will change the spirits landscape just as craft-beer “micro-brewers” did for the beer industry — and there’s already evidence his prediction is accurate. Buckeye Vodka is part of a rapidly growing trend of entrepreneurs across the country starting their own micro-distilleries to produce relatively small batches of whiskey, rum, gin, vodka, specialty liqueurs and other spirits.
The number of craft distillers has risen from 69 in 2003 to 264 today, according to American Distilling Institute President Bill Owens. The institute, founded in 2003 to promote the craft-distillery movement, has grown quickly to more than 200 members.
In Ohio, there are now 11 licensed distilleries, only two of which existed prior to 2006, according to Matt Mullins, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Commerce Division of Liquor Control.
One of those relatively new distilleries is located in Tipp City.
Buckeye Distillery — no connection to Dayton-based Crystal Spirits or Buckeye Vodka — began production in July 2010 on West Plum Street.
Owner Aaron Lee of Casstown is producing a 50-proof (25 percent alcohol) Buckeye Distillery Cherry Liqueur that is available at multiple spirits outlets in the Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus areas. A raspberry liqueur is on the way in the coming months, Lee said. The cherry liqueur sells for $19.95.
The Dayton-based Buckeye Vodka is available only in Ohio now, “but we’d certainly like to take the brand elsewhere,” Finke said. “We’ve had inquiries from all over. We’ve got room to grow.”
Dayton-area vodka drinkers appear poised to embrace their new homegrown product: Arrow Wine & Spirits’ Far Hills Avenue store has received pre-orders from three customers who each want one case of Buckeye Vodka upon release, and the Kettering retailer will be receiving an initial shipment of 15 to 20 cases this week, according to Arrow co-owner Mif Frank.
“There has been considerable interest in it, because of the local connection,” Frank said.
“We anticipate we’ll be selling a lot of it.”
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2258 or mfisher@DaytonDailyNews.com.