(Entry no. 4 in the Twelve Beers of Christmas series)
Hang on, that’s not beer. True, and actually I’m not even really much of a vodka drinker. In fact, a bottle of Smirnoff I received as a gift has been sitting in the cupboard unopened for nearly a year. I just thought I’d show my sensitivity to cultural diversity (microbial cultures that is) and devote this post to ethanol.
Shakers vodka is made at the Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company in Benson, Minnesota, a cooperatively-owned alternative fuel plant. Ethanol, more commonly known as grain alcohol, is used both as a fuel as well as an intoxicating liquid. As a fuel, it is fast becoming an alternative to fossil-fuels because it is cleaner burning and can be sourced domestically from renewable resources. Chippewa derives theirs from wheat and rye grown in fields near the plant itself, though other feedstocks such as cellulose waste produce higher yields of energy per acre and are expected to become commercially available soon.
The idea to cross-over from fuel into the spirit-alcohol business came when Chippewa was approached by one of the marketers involved in launching Pete’s Wicked Ales. It was a natural fit and the new top-shelf spirit was launched in 2003. It is now distributed in 18 states.
Chippewa’s two product lines, alternative fuel and premium vodka, are well chosen. Both have experienced explosive growth in recent years. The government now purchases many ethanol-capable “flex-fuel” vehicles and all the major auto-makers are rapidly adding models to their flex-fuel offerings. Chippewa produced about 45 million gallons of fuel ethanol in 2006 and they plan to double that capacity next year, and they shipped 15,000 cases of Shakers. Benson, MN is riding the wave of alt-fuel. A 55 megawatt power plant is opening across the street that will produce electricity from turkey droppings.
Ahem, but back to the drinks. I did finally manage to open that bottle of Smirnoff when one of my sisters visited the other day. We mixed it with some organic sparkling juices from Trader Joes and served it in glasses made from Sol beer bottles. More on that in a future post.