I started out to do a story about the plethora of “infused” spirits that have flooded the market.
I’m a wine guy, not a spirits guy, so when I stumbled into the spirits aisle at my local HyVee by mistake the other day, I was floored by the flavors accompanying vodka, bourbon, whiskey and other spirits.
And, when I went online to do a little research, oh my. You like lemon? No problem. Lime? You bet. Stone cherries? Sure. Coffee, honey, orange, passion fruit, cinnamon, bacon — yes bacon — it’s all there, and much, much more.
I wanted to get a handle of the flood of flavors and how, why and when this all started. So, I contacted our local vodka distiller, Good Spirits Distilling. That, my friends, is where the article changed entirely.
I spent about a half hour on the phone with founder Ron Bailey, and suddenly it was clear I wasn’t going to write about infused spirits. I was going to write about three guys who decided to open an artisanal distillery in Olathe that makes Clear10 Vodka.
“I basically have been drinking vodka since I had a fake ID,” Bailey told me. “We tried to buy a distillery in 2008, but the economic conditions were just horrible, so we thought, ‘Why not start our own?’”
The “We” is Bailey, Chad Fordham, who serves as master distiller, and Todd Bukaty, one of the myriad of Bukatys who populate the Kansas City landscape.
“My background is chemistry and Chad is a farm boy who can build anything,” said Bailey. “We wanted to do vodka because it’s the easiest spirit to produce. There’s no aging. No oak barrels. The most important part is a good, clean source of water, which is why we started it in Olathe, which has an alluvial aquifer.”
I pretended I knew what that meant, and let Bailey continue.
“The key to a really good vodka is filtration and water, so we had the good water and we filter our vodka 10 times. That’s where the name comes from — Clear10,” Bailey said.
Bailey said it’s a slow filtration through carbon. The spirit, which is technically ethanol when it’s first distilled, starts at 100-proof. After it’s finished, it’s 40 percent alcohol, or 80-proof, vodka that Bailey said is one of the best around.
“Made locally, awarded globally, is how we like to talk about Clear10,” Bailey told me.
Clear10 has won many national, and international, awards, but Bailey says the brand’s growth will be regional.
“We want to be popular here in the Midwest, basically a four state region,” Bailey told me. I asked him if the Boulevard Beer model would be a good one for Clear10 and he said definitely. Clear10 made about 1,000 cases of their two vodkas last year and there will be gradual growth this year and beyond.
There are two because Clear10 makes an infused vodka. It’s called Dizzy Three, an espresso-infused spirit made in partnership with The Roasterie.
The Roasterie makes about 40-gallons of fresh espresso, which they pick up and infuse with our vodka for five to seven days. The espresso turns the vodka brown. It even picks up some caffeine along with way.
They like to call Dizzy Three “The Adventurous Spirit,” and it is clearly that. I don’t know much about vodka, and I don’t care for coffee, yet I still really enjoy Dizzy Three, an infused spirit.
And, that brings me full circle back to the topic of infused spirits. Bailey told me that 90-percent of the infused spirit market, maybe more, wasn’t infused at all. It’s just added flavor. “There are flavor houses all over the country which create chemical compounds that represent the various flavors. The spirits producers just buy the liquid compounds and put them in their vodka, or bourbon, or whiskey,” said Bailey. “Infusion takes time and the raw products, which can be pricey. Those spirits are made for the cocktail market.”
Bailey says that kind of vodka isn’t what Clear10 is about as they go after a more sophisticated palette. So, how does Bailey describe Clear10? After pausing for a while, here’s what he came up with.
“Clean. It’s as clean as you’re gonna get. There are no additives, and it’s filtered 10 times. It’s pure vodka,” Bailey said.
Pure vodka. I’ll take that over the infused stuff anytime.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.