WASILLA -- There's so much new going on with the Valley-based makers of Permafrost vodka, it's hard to know where to start.
In the past nine months, the company has completely exploded. In March it was offering high-end Permafrost vodka, made from Valley potatoes, in stores for about $45 a bottle. Company co-owner Toby Foster, a former medevac flight pilot, was making the stuff with help from a distiller and Foster's girlfriend, Scotti MacDonald, in a 500-square-foot shed he built in his Trunk Road back yard.
Cut to today: They're in a new production facility, a 7,000-square-foot former airplane hangar near Wasilla. There, Foster and MacDonald work with three full-time employees: two distillers and an account manager.
The company changed its name from Glacier Creek Distillery, named for their Girdwood water source, to Alaska Distillery. Their water now comes from an artesian source in Big Lake, and from glacier ice harvested in Prince William Sound (from calved ice -- Foster and company aren't carving up glaciers).
Their production lines have also expanded. Foster and crew are still making Permafrost, although this month it plans to start selling it in new, frosted black bottles. Also selling is Frostbite vodka, distilled from Delta Junction grain instead of Valley potatoes. Foster said grain is a more efficient distilling agent, allowing the company to produce more vodka for less money. Frostbite retails for $20 to $25 per bottle.
Three flavored Frostbite vodkas -- cranberry, raspberry and blueberry -- are coming soon, the company said, with an Alaskan birch syrup-infused vodka joining the lineup after. Foster said his company partnered with Kahiltna Birchworks to make the limited-run birch syrup-flavored vodka that he plans to offer twice a year.
This month the company plans to roll out something new -- gin. Foster said it's hard to find an Alaska source for juniper berries, the main flavor in gin, so the botanicals are shipped up from Outside. But the liquid is all Alaskan and the flavor, he said, "smokes anything else on the market."
In the spring Alaska Distillery plans to add a variety of berry-flavored liqueurs: cranberry, raspberry, blueberry, cranberry-lavender and cranberry peach. They're also experimenting with smoked salmon-infused vodka, an Alaska take on the bacon-flavored vodka craze.
Foster said the company has grown much faster than he thought. He expected to stay in his backyard distillery for two or three years. But the expansion seems to be keeping pace with demand, he said, and things look good for the future.
A rare "superlative" rating from the Chicago-based Beverage Tasting Institute might help that popularity along. The independent, privately owned corporation has been reviewing spirits since 1994 and conducts monthly tasting sessions. Producers pay a standard fee to enter their product, which the corporation's Web site, www.tastings.com, says covers the overhead costs of tasting in their lab and the cost of distributing tasting results.
Tasters at BTI sampled Permafrost, and other vodkas, in September. Permafrost received a rating of 96 out of 100 points and tasters called it "an exceptionally clean, seamless and delicious vodka. Amazing!" It's one of only four vodkas in the institute's sizable spirits library to receive such a high ranking. Also in that class: Stolichnaya Elit vodka (97); Jean-Marc XO vodka (97) and Vox vodka (96).
Find Rindi White online at adn.com/contact/rwhite or call 352-6709.
By RINDI WHITE