The growth and change happening for homegrown
- its motto is "Surprisingly smooth vodka from a city known for grit - is almost intoxicating for owner and founder Rifino Valentine.
From a new patio that now features a Bloody Mary Sunday Brunch to a product expansion that's taken Valentine vodka into establishments across the state, into Illinois and most recently to Tennessee, there are big plans to get bigger and better.
Big news for the craft vodka maker came this week when Tasting Panel, a respected industry publication, gave Valentine Vodka a 94 point rating. Grey Goose, by comparison, came in at 89. It follows a gold medal win at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in April.
"All this stuff it's tremendously exciting. I couldn't ask for things to go any better," says Valentine, who left Wall Street with the mission of helping an ailing Michigan economic climate. "It's validating. Our goal was to help change the economic structure of this state and the city."
He feels the three-and-a-half-year-old business is on the path to doing that, hiring three full-time employees plus himself and five part-timers and using ingredients from Michigan farmers and Michigan companies.
He says the accolades and the growth that has Valentine becoming a regular name on restaurant and bar menus bodes well for Michigan.
"The goal was to put out a product that can compete and beat the big fancy imported brands," says Rifino, whose distilling philosophy involves small batch production. The process can be seen at the tasting room/cocktail lounge that's inside a former billiards manufacturer at 161 Vester in Ferndale. The bar uses all natural ingredients in its cocktails, making some of them right the bar.
A new custom-made still arrived earlier this year from Germany, where it was made not only to help Valentine Vodka keep up with demand but to carry it into new products, including whiskey and gin, Valentine says.
The business, which has also received Best of honors from local publications such as Metro Times, has added its first flavored vodka to the lineup: elder flower. But there will be no rush to add more flavors.
"My whole philosophy is to do a few things and do them well."
The next big change that could come is a new or different location.
"We're busting at the seams," he says. "We'll have to evaluate our next move in about a year."
Source: Rifino Valentine, owner and founder, Valentine Vodka
Writer: Kim North Shine