The Alaska distillery which was overwhelmed by media attention when it issued smoked salmon vodka is preparing for another press onslaught when it releases the world's first hemp seed vodka.
The vodka and a hemp seed gin go on sale next month in 19 states, including Washington, although the official launch party is scheduled for - when else? - Apr. 20. Alaska Distillery's chief operating officer Bella Coley says the Wasilla company expects to exceed the sales numbers it achieved with its salmon vodka back in 2010.
"We did $2 million in orders in two months," Coley recalls. "I think hemp seed will eclipse it."
According to Coley, Nectar Ales' annual profits shot up from $1 million to $40 million after the brewery started selling hemp seed beer. "They've grown exponentially, so that's good for us," Coley says.
Flavored vodkas continue to be enormously popular, and not just with the girly drink set that favors the whipped cream and fluffed marshmallow varieties that Smirnoff launched late last year. Distillers are now toying with ingredients that appeal to earthier drinkers who pride themselves on their purist streaks, such as the fireweed that Alaska Distiller's Toby Foster fit into a spirit which debuted last summer.
"Fireweed is not a wildly popular thing because people don't realize what you can do with it," Coley says.
Native Alaskans make jams and jellies from the purple wildflower, a tradition long practiced by Foster's family.
"It tastes like a honeysuckle," Coley says of the fireweed vodka.
Coley describes the hemp seed vodka as smoother than whiskey, but not as sweet as a cordial. She compares the sweet, nutty notes to pecans dipped in brown sugar.
The seeds used in the spirit are among the two percent of ingredients the distillery doesn't source from Alaska, a result of federal rules regulating hemp production. "There's a huge logistical hurdle," Coley says when asked why other distilleries haven't yet attempted hemp vodka. "The whole process takes four years and it's quite expensive."
Although hemp seed vodka may sound like a novelty, Coley says sales of smoked salmon vodka have remained steady
"We were a little worried when bacon vodka came out," Coley admits, adding the spirit only enhanced interest in meat-flavored vodkas.
Interest in hemp is already strong, says Coley, who's been contacted by excited members of the hemp community.
"We've already had pre-orders," she says.