Turning Water into Vodka

Interview with Patrick Couteaux – Master distiller of SHAKERS brand Vodka.

Patrick Couteaux knows his booze. He is one of only two Americans who have received a graduate degree in Fermentation Sciences from the Technical University in Munich, Germany in the last 60 years. Couteaux co-founded Pete’s Wicked Ale in the mid-1980s and served as their brew master. In 2003, he co-founded California-based Infinite Spirits and became the master distiller of the company’s maiden product, SHAKERS Original American Vodka.

SHAKERS wheat, rye and rose-flavored vodkas were released March 2003 to rave reviews and have received many awards. This past March, SHAKERS Rose Flavored Vodka won Best Flavored Vodka (1st out of 41 flavored vodkas) and a Double Gold Medal at the 2004 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Sales have exceeded expectations — in their first full year, Infinite sold over 30,000 cases of vodka. SHAKERS is available in 14 states, including Massachusetts, and Washington D.C. Infinite has plans for nationwide distribution by next year.

We caught up to Couteaux recently, as he presided over a tasting at Union Station, the Restaurant in Worcester.

Pulse: How did you get into the vodka business?

Courteaux: A group of us from Pete’s Wicked Ale had so much fun when we worked together that we had to find a way to get back together.

P: Why vodka?

C: We looked at other segments of the beverage industry and found that luxury vodka was on fire, but there was no good American vodka in the top tier. For example,

Yankee Spirits has a vodka line that is 65 feet long and six feet high, everything on the top shelf is foreign, except SHAKERS.

P : What kind of vodka does SHAKERS produce?

C : We produce three brands — rye, wheat and rose. We will introduce our first seasonal vodka, SHAKERS Winter, in a limited release this fall. It will be flavored with black raspberry and honey with hints of butter.

P : Tell us a little about vodka.

C: Well, everyone thinks vodka is potato-based, but all vodkas in the U.S. are made with corn, milo or sorghum. In Europe, the finest vodkas are made from wheat because it was more expensive. Rye is also used; potato is principally used in Polish vodka. In fact, we will be releasing a potato vodka next year using American russet red potatoes from Minnesota.

P: Why a rose vodka?

C: All foreign vodkas have a citron product, so we wanted to be different. Rose is not known as a flavor here, but it is in the rest of the world.

P: What is your favorite flavor?

C: It depends on my mood and the circumstance. I love a SHAKERS Wheat Martini shaken 25 times.

P: What’s your favorite flavor besides vodka?

C: I enjoy so many things, but I would have to say butter pecan ice cream.

P: If you’re not drinking Shakers, what do you drink?

C: Beer. I love local micro brews.

P :And your favorite food?

C: You can’t beat lobster.

P: What three people would you like to enjoy a drink with?

C: Ernest Hemingway because he enjoyed drinking, Winston Churchill for the same reason and Jesus Christ because his first miracle was to turn water into wine.