American Liquor Co. Vodka is the first ever 4-crop vodka blend made from locally-grown winter wheat, light rye, Rio Grande potato, and white corn.
The four ingredients are distilled locally by a select handful of the finest distillers in the Midwest and then artfully blended. The four crops also help the vodka buck the neutral trend in its category, embracing the underlying flavor profiles and textures of its base ingredients.
To bring the vodka to life, American Liquor Co. Vodka turned to renowned industry veteran and vodka expert Chris Montana as Co-Founder and Master Blender.
“This project is near and dear to my heart,” says Montana. “The ultimate goal was to create an exceptional vodka, but in a highly competitive industry we were able to bring together some of the finest Midwest USA makers in the spirit of collaboration and creation, and that’s something special. It was a challenge finding the best distillates for each ingredient, and then finding the optimal combination for our blend, but after lots of research and tasting, we’re incredibly proud of the singular final product and excited to share it with the country.”
A lawyer by trade, Montana founded the country’s first black-owned microdistillery, Du Nord Craft Spirits in Minneapolis, which makes the award-winning L’Etoile Vodka in addition to gin, liqueurs, and whiskey. He also served as President of the American Craft Spirits Association and is currently on the board. When Du Nord was damaged in a fire during the 2020 riots, Montana responded by transforming it into a community donation center, raising nearly $1M for local businesses. No stranger to adversity, he had already closed the distillery to the public a few months earlier due to the pandemic, co-founding All Hands Minnesota and focusing operations on producing and distributing hand sanitizer.
We spoke with Chris Montana to find out more about American Liquor Co. Vodka, vodka trends, and his advice and support for other minority owners.
Bar Business (BB): Why did you choose to blend four crops (wheat, rye, potato, and corn)?
Chris Montana (CM): Partly out of the desire to create something completely new in a saturated space, and partly because it presented a rare opportunity for collaboration in an otherwise highly competitive industry. These are the classic vodka ingredients distilled and blended together to equal something greater than the sum of its parts, which sounds great but would mean nothing if it didn’t actually taste good. Thankfully it turned out incredible due to the quality of the individual vodkas we sourced and the intense R&D we conducted. And as the icing on the cake, we got to bring together some of the top distillers in the Midwest, who were each excited to contribute to something that would proudly express the craftsmanship the region is known for.
BB: Why focus on Midwest ingredients?
CM: I was born in Indiana and raised in Minnesota, so I love the idea of supporting the region. And the Midwest has a reputation for craftsmanship and quality, not to mention some of the most exciting independent distilleries in the country.
BB: Tell our readers more about the taste and how it differs from other vodkas.
CM: This is a vodka with character. That being said, we didn’t want to create something so far out of bounds that no one knows what to do with it. So it’s all a balance. We made it identifiable, so when you make a martini with American Liquor Co. Vodka, you know it.
First you taste the berry notes of the wheat, then the sweetness from the corn, followed by that classic rye peppery note. Finally, the potato rounds things out with a full, grassy earthiness.
BB: Have you observed any recent vodka trends?
CM: I’ve definitely seen the localization of vodka. Everywhere I go I can find one specifically of that place, and that wasn’t always so. When I started Du Nord, there were big national brands and that was pretty much it. Now it’s pretty common to find a number of different vodkas that are locally produced, and that’s a good thing as long as the product is quality. The craft space has been booming and usually the first spirit a new distillery will make is vodka since it’s not aged and can bring in revenue immediately. It’s a natural first step, and some distillers make it as an afterthought, but there are a lot of great makers out there putting in the work to make beautiful spirits.
BB: Can you share a favorite recipe that uses American Liquor Co. Vodka?
CM: I usually drink vodka straight, but if I’m mixing it into a cocktail, it’s going to be a martini. I usually go 3 oz American Liquor Co. Vodka to 1 oz dry vermouth. Add to a shaker with ice, stir and strain into a chilled martini glass, and garnish with olives or a lemon peel.
BB: You also opened the country’s first black-owned microdistillery, Du Nord Craft Spirits, back in 2013. Do you have any advice for other minority owners/leaders in this industry?
CM: Tons of advice, and I’d need pages to fit it all, but most importantly, reach out and remember that you are not alone. A lot of the challenges they’ll face are localized and will have to do with raising capital, but people like myself and other owners can help. We want to see the industry become more diverse and are willing to put in work. So if you’re starting up and you know another black-owned distillery owner, brewery owner, or anyone, just make the call and they’ll be willing to help. I know I certainly will.
BB: Tell our readers more about the Du Nord Foundation and the work it’s doing.
CM: So we started out in the wake of the civil unrest in 2020, looking to raise up underrepresented voices and help rebuild communities that were damaged during the uprising that resulted from racial inequities. We had the Riot Recovery fund that provided financial support to small businesses that were adversely affected, a food relief program that addressed the resulting food shortages, and then we have our BIPOC Wealth Development & Incubator project. With the latter, we’re looking to create innovative business districts for Minnesotans that highlight and support BIPOC owners.
BB: What’s next for you?
CM: American Liquor Co. Vodka is growing and so is Du Nord, and these projects will take a lot of bandwidth to stay consistent. But a lot of my focus goes to the greater purpose of my work, which is to open the door to other businesses and spread the wealth, so to speak. I spend at least as much time trying to build incubators and accelerators as I do working on my own projects.