The day of lovers fast approaches, and once again the decision must be made: chocolates or flowers?
Let’s face it -- the traditional Valentine’s Day gifts have become a bit passé. And while no female of sound mind would ever reject such presents (1-800-FLOWERS has a fine delivery service and one can just simply never go wrong with Godiva), secretly we desire something a little more…unique. Come on, boys, show us that you actually put some thought into it!
This Valentine’s Day, go ahead and give the chocolate…so long as it is attached to a bottle of locally-produced vodka.
Valentine Vodka, which launched in March 2009, is offering a special Valentine’s Day promotional package that includes their elegant 750mL bottle paired with an individually-wrapped, heart-shaped artisan chocolate made by Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate for only $29.99, available most places Valentine Vodka is sold. The chocolate is filled with raspberry caramel, specially made to complement the flavor of Valentine Vodka.
“I got to Grocer's Daughter because I was looking for the absolute best chocolate,” explains Rifino Valentine, the man behind Valentine Vodka. “We literally looked all over, even some of the bigger chocolate manufacturers. But, as usual, you can find some of the world's best right here in Michigan. Mimi Wheeler, owner of Grocer's Daughter, is a true artisan and takes as much pride in her chocolate as I do in my vodka.”
Rifino spent four years developing his eponymously-named vodka by taking classes, working at other distilleries, and producing hundreds of test batches. “This is a truly hand-crafted product so I eventually thought it fitting that it bears my name,” says Rifino. “Now it actually is a constant reminder that I can only serve the very best. It has my name on it, so it better be good!”
The bottle features the image of a vintage pin-up girl, a playful furtherance of the brand’s romantic motif but also a throwback to Detroit’s history with Prohibition. “I felt a little tired of all the vodka brands out there that started coming out with these stark, contemporary brands,” Rifino states, explaining why he chose the image of a pin-up girl to represent his brand. “When you're drinking vodka, you're having fun. So I wanted to create a fun brand.”
And since the classic pin-up girl is a symbol of the vibrant, bustling ‘20s and ‘30s, she also represents the era of Prohibition -- which, for those of you in need of a good local liquor history lesson, was a time of great power for Detroit, since most of the illicit booze that came into the country came through this city. “I thought it was perfect to hearken back to this time in Detroit's history… while we are producing this legally now, we carry the spirit of the bootleggers in the sense that we are going against the grain in the liquor industry. Rather than being another brand from a major liquor company, we are [a] small, quality producer.”
Rifino takes a tremendous amount of pride in his hand-crafted product, but even moreso he takes pride in the fact that it is a locally-sourced, locally-produced product. “I like to say it's 100% Michigan from grain to glass, as we buy only Michigan-grown grains and use only Michigan suppliers.” Their bottles are decorated in Grand Rapids, their boxes come from a Michigan vendor, and all of their promotional and marketing materials are designed and printed locally.
“By using Michigan grains and then distilling [the vodka] here, we are able to add value to our agricultural products. If only one out of every 10 drinks sold in Michigan were also made in Michigan, nearly $100 million would remain in this state rather than being funneled out of the state to France, Sweden or Russia, for example. Note however, that this doesn't work if your product doesn't stand up to the quality of the imports.”
Not that that this has been an issue for them: Valentine Vodka is one of the first vodka distilleries in the world to utilize a multi-grain recipe in their vodka, using barley, red Michigan wheat, and corn, which gives the vodka tasting notes of vanilla and a natural sweetness. They’ve already taken home a Silver Medal at the World Spirits Competition hosted by the Beverage Tasting Institute.
Rifino believes the exceptional flavor of Valentine Vodka is due to the fact that it is batch-distilled (meaning each fermentation is distilled in limited batches that are monitored and controlled personally by the distillers and their inarguable senses of taste and smell): “This is where the true artisan quality comes… while computers can do a lot, they can't tell you what tastes good,” says Rufino. He adds, “By using high quality ingredients and doing things the way they were meant to be done, you usually end up with a truly premium product.”
Not only does the brand’s imaging hearken back to Detroit’s glory days, but the ethics of the brand itself call for a return to better booze. “I really have a disdain for what I call the 'Walmartization' of America. When cheap, quickly-produced items start to dominate a market, it is the perfect time to re-introduce all the connoisseurs to quality products.”
Currently Valentine Vodka is distilled using Michigan State University’s equipment just outside Lansing, though Rifino hopes to be able to secure their own equipment and move their operations to a facility in Ferndale by summer 2010.
Valentine Vodka has sponsored a number of events over the past year, including Movement 2009, Troy Restaurant Week, and the Traverse City Film Festival. You can also find them Saturday at the Crofoot Ballroom for Women: A Celebration of Arts & Culture.