WASILLA, Alaska — Prepare your palate for carnivorous cocktails.
The Alaska Distillery in Wasilla just recently launched its Smoked Salmon Flavored Vodka, about a year after the Seattle-based Black Rock Spirits introduced a bacon-flavored vodka.
Both savory spirits were intended to complement Bloody Marys, but are finding wider uses among mixologists.
"I think there was some madness and some drunkenness involved, honestly," said Toby Foster, an Alaska Distillery partner and the one charged with coming up with new flavors with Alaska themes.
Foster's intent was to market a local vodka which would stand out among the numerous other bottles on the liquor store shelves.
"I was trying to think of something Alaskan. What's more Alaskan than smoked salmon? It was one of those epiphanies, I suppose," he said.
The idea turned out to be the easy part. Finding the right formula was a little more challenging.
Foster and Scotti MacDonald, another partner, said the current formula took 48 tries, and some of the first 47 attempts were downright disgusting.
"Definitely the first few times we had our heave bucket close by," MacDonald said. "It was pretty bad, and you know, greasy."
"But once we got it down and honed in on where the real secret was in making this, it was fun and games after that," she said.
Vodka is the highest selling spirits category in the country, and in the last five or six years, flavored vodkas have been taking off, said Danielle Eddy, spokeswoman for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.
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Fruit flavors were first, followed by vegetables and herbs — even a Russian garlic vodka.
"In the past few months, Bakon Vodka came out on the market. However, smoked salmon vodka is the most unique that we've heard of," Eddy said by cell phone from Scotland, where she was attending an industry event.
"Bacon does lend a nice umami flavor, it's that richness," she said. "Smoked salmon is going to add that same type of richness, but from a lighter perspective."
The five-year-old Alaska Distillery uses all Alaska products when it can: grain from Delta Junction, potatoes from the Matanuska-Susitna valley, glacier ice from Prince William Sound, and now salmon caught in the Gulf of Alaska.
The key to the newest vodka's flavor is how they smoke the salmon, and that's a trade secret.
Once the fish is smoked, the skin is removed and employees masticate the fillets. The chunks are placed into a large vat, where highly concentrated ethanol is mixed in.
From that stew is pulled the flavor, rich color and essence of the salmon.
"From there, we strain it out, and we take the fluid, which now is very concentrated smoked salmon essence, and we add that to our vodka. We do a cold infusion process, we filter it a couple more times, and out the door it goes," Foster said.
There's growing demand for the smoked salmon vodka beyond Alaska. The first shipment was sent to Texas on June 16, and it's expected to be on the shelves in California within a month. Alaska Distillery also will make a pitch before the Washington State Liquor Control Board, and Foster hopes to have the product available there soon.
For those wanting a meatier drink, Black Rock Spirits partner Sven Liden said Bakon Vodka will be available in Alaska and 19 other states within a month.
"There's definitely an interest, and I think something missing in the market," he said.
Both vodkas have found uses beyond their intended use in a Bloody Mary.
"It's good for all of us because it takes it out of the stage of a novelty, and especially when you see these flavors in cocktail lounges, it's not just something weird to do," Liden said.
The bacon infused vodka has found versatile uses, from being used in cream-based drinks with chocolate to a drink called a Luau, a mixture of vodka, pineapple juice and a dash of butterscotch.
At the Bear Tooth Grill in Anchorage, chefs used the local vodka for a cream sauce served over salmon and pasta.
Besides chipotle Bloody Marys, bartender Ken Ryther has served it straight and one of his fisherman customers had back-to-back martinis with the salmon vodka.
"In Alaska, we eat a lot of salmon, it's part of our diet," Ryther said.
"Either you eat the piece or you drink it. One's going to give you a buzz, one's going to fill your belly."
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