Square One Organic SpiritsInfused Rye Vodka | 0 Comments
A NOVEL VISION FOR CREATING GREAT COCKTAILS WITH ORGANIC RYE VODKA
You go into the kitchen to whip up something light and refreshing on a warm day. Cucumber, definitely. Mint from the garden, a fresh lime, and something a bit earthier to balance the sweetness. Is it a chopped salad? A chilled soup? Or a culinary cocktail, combining fresh ingredients and organic rye vodka infused with cucumber? In the view of Allison Evanow, founder of Square One Organic Spirits, the same creative impulse lies behind everything culinary, whether it’s served on a plate or in a cocktail glass. That’s why she created America’s first organically grown, organically fermented 100% rye vodka. Her goal was to create great spirits capable of inspiring culinary cocktails. She chose to realize her vision with vodka, because so many vodkas on the market have been stripped of any character by mass production methods. Square One Organic Spirits headed in the opposite direction, and created an artisanal, all-organic vodka with a subtle flavor and noble character that most vodka fans had never experienced.
Square One also left the herd behind with her emphasis on cocktails that are both savory and sweet—not just another fruit-flavored copy of the Cosmopolitan. The inspiration for this novel approach was Evanow’s personal experience, not market research. She was already well versed in the food revolution that had swept out of northern California and across the country. She knew that serious chefs, both in the restaurant and at home, were moving toward essential flavors that come from the garden, not the store shelf, and combining them in unexpected ways. She believed that a vodka with the same approach could open up new territory for great cocktails – and that intrepid mixologists would begin exploring it with Square One Organic Spirits.
When Square One’s first spirit made its debut in 2006, most people did not realize the company was restoring vodka to the status it enjoyed in centuries past. Europe’s top vodkas had always come from the best organic with care from a single grain or tuber, to give them a character of their own. With the rising popularity of vodka in the 1980s, character and flavor quickly became less important than cheap, fast production methods. Hundreds of new vodkas came to market, but they mostly offered the same flavorless neutral grain spirits that everyone else used. In fact, many new brands simply purchased them in bulk. If they added anything beyond a splashy marketing campaign, it was industrial fruit flavoring to soften the rough edges.
Square One sought to make the spirit itself worth sipping. That meant going back to square one – the origin of the company’s name – and sourcing the kind of grain, water and expertise that could be blended into a truly great vodka. The end of the search was the beginning of Square One organic vodka: organically grown rye, one of nature’s densest and most flavorful grains, grown in a way that allowed its natural qualities their full expression. The company also worked with a master distiller for nearly two years to develop a proprietary process for fermenting the rye grain organically – a dramatic departure from the norm. From this foundation in the earth and natural processes, Square One has gone on to create three new spirits that add organic natural essences to the original rye vodka. These include Square One Cucumber, Square One Basil, and the unique and complex concoction known as Square One Botanical.
The company’s vision has come to reality. Square One organic spirits have built a loyal following in benchmark bars and restaurants across the country that seek to offer only the highest quality and most originality for their customers. Chefs and mixologists in these establishments know how to make great cocktails, and they embrace a vodka that contributes more than alcohol to the recipe. They also understand that Square One Cucumber and Square One Basil open up new vistas for savory cocktails that can satisfy the most sophisticated palates, and even pair with food like sommeliers pair food with wine. Taking another cue from the best restaurants, Square One shares recipes from its own kitchens and those of its customers, to help everyone learn how to create and enjoy “culinary cocktails.”
Giving the Drinks Business a Fresh Perspective
Square One Organic Spirits has given the drinks business a fresh new way of looking at vodka. The conventional view is that vodka is a neutral spirit: a blank canvas that brings nothing to a cocktail but alcohol. If it has flavor, it’s because mass-produced vodka needs something to soften its edges – and that “something” was fruit flavorings laded with sugar and carbohydrates. Professional mixologists had to create cocktails from either the blank canvas or the industrial flavorings. Then Square One showed a completely different alternative: vodka that was made to bring out its flavor, not eliminate it, and natural organic essences that enhance the flavor of the vodka rather than masking it.
Square One’s vision of “culinary spirits for culinary cocktails” comes from cooking and gardening, not market research. Just as serious bakers use stone-ground rye flour instead of bleached white flour to give their pastry and crusts more flavor and character, Square One makes organically grown, organically fermented rye vodka that offers its own distinctive flavor and palate presence. When today’s top chefs are designing the evening’s salad course, they’re more likely to go into the restaurant’s organic garden than to a grocery store. Square One Organic Spirits takes the same approach when it creates new products such as Square One Cucumber, Square One Basil, and Square One Botanical. Starting with organic gardens and fine product, the company develops processes for capturing flavor essences, and fine-tunes them to create exceptional flavor partnerships with the rye vodka. The key to these analogies is that the chefs are not thinking about making flour or cucumbers.
They want to create a memorable dish or dining experience. In the same way, mixologists are not thinking about a spirit. They want to create a memorable drink or cocktail experience. That’s the same vision that launched Square One Organic Spirits: great vodka cocktails need great vodka. Creating that great vodka turned out to be a challenging journey that involved learning about agriculture, fermentation and distillation, so that Square One could make the right choices.
Farming for Flavor—Square One makes 100% rye vodka because rye offers richer flavors than the more common grains and potatoes used for most vodka. Rye is one of nature’s most complex and flavorful grains, which is why humans cultivate it. Its dense fiber makes it hard to grind into flour or cook into other edible forms, but it tastes great! When the art of distilling grain mash into spirits was discovered, it was the same: rye tasted better, but it was harder to work with. This is why rye was the base ingredient in the vodka of connoisseurs and aristocrats in centuries past: those who wanted the best were willing to pay for the extra labor required. And that’s why rye is the grain of choice for Square One: a great cocktail should come from the best ingredients, even if that means going a few extra miles.
Organic Farming and Fermentation—The next step was choosing to make Square One spirits organic from beginning to end, so that the rich natural flavor of the rye would not be muted in any way. Finding organically grown rye turned out to be the easy part. The hard part was finding a distiller willing and able to turn the rye into vodka without synthetic chemicals. Conventional vodkas are made with laboratory yeasts and a range of synthetic chemical agents that regulate fermentation of grain into a mash so that it can be distilled into a spirit. All these synthetics have become standard because they ensure uniform, speedy processes. But Square One was still thinking about that great cocktail, so the company worked with a master distiller for nearly two years to develop and refine a proprietary process that is all natural, all the time. The result is that the rye flavors remain vibrant in the vodka, and Square One spirits are much more sustainable for the earth from beginning to end. It’s technically possible to distill out synthetic chemicals, but Square One Organic Spirits cares about the earth and its grain farmers just as much as it cares about its customers.
Exposing the Myth of Distillation—Many vodka brands proudly proclaim that they have been distilled numerous times in copper or copper-plated pot stills. But Square One’s master distiller uses only one short distillation in a four column continuous still. The Square One vodka comes out perfectly clear and full of flavor. So what’s going on with other vodkas? It turns out that distillation doesn’t add anything to vodka – it only takes away impurities. That’s why most vodka has no flavor or character: they’re stripped out during distillation along with residues from fermentation chemicals, pesticides, and fertilizers. Square One never contains those impurities, so it doesn’t have to distill them out.
Focusing on “Culinary Cocktails”—Square One’s vision of a great vodka cocktail isn’t necessarily sweet. It can be savory, or bring a balance of sweet and savory like fine wine (or good Thai food). It can be enjoyed with food, whether that means pairing with tapas at the bar before going dancing or lingering over a cocktail well into the first course at the dinner table. This is the kind of cocktail that company founder Allison Evanow liked to create for herself, and she found that successful mixologists and sophisticated cocktail fans shared her experience. So she founded Square One to create spirits that would make it easier for everyone to create “culinary cocktails” – drinks that take their flavor cues from the garden, not the mixer aisle at the liquor store.
Growing the brand organically—Square One’s focus on the cocktail as the inspiration for the spirit is unconventional, yet it’s been one of the company’s strongest selling points. Instead of raising money for glossy magazine ads and billboards, the company took its story to bars and restaurants where great cocktails are born. Those who added Square One spirits to their line-up did so because they tasted the quality, understood the potential, and believed in a better future for cocktails. The word spread until it reached every state in America and a growing list of countries outside the U.S. What Square One does is not simple, easy or ready for mass production. That’s because the company aims for the same standard as innovative chefs in great restaurants: essential flavors from nature, brought to the table with elegant simplicity or in inspired combinations that seem startlingly new yet immediately welcome. The difference, perhaps, is that anyone can make a great cocktail with Square One spirits!
Changing the Spirits Business One Cocktail at a Time
In 2006, Allison Evanow imagined a world that didn’t yet exist. In her vision, bars would be like restaurant kitchens: creating innovative recipes based on the best ingredients and the most essential flavors. Mixologists would craft their spirits line-ups just like sommeliers put together a wine list: to allow for the most effective combinations and pairings. Spirits fans would enjoy their cocktails sweet, savory, and everything in between. Words such as “organic” and “sustainable” would become mainstream. The best new spirits would come from organic grains and gardens, not mass-produced and mass-marketed by the millions of cases. We live in this world today. A long-time spirits fan who once worked behind the bar, Evanow created Square One Organic Spirits for herself, her family and friends, and the many colleagues she knew were ready for a new approach to spirits and cocktails. And the company has consistently delivered on her vision.
Restaurants and bars that insist on pure, natural ingredients with extraordinary flavor and purity are happy to discover a spirits company that shares their values. Square One vodkas offer exceptional palate presence and each new product offers an organic, essential flavor that can be the basis for different, more original cocktails. When creative mixologists taste Square One organic spirits, they often respond with both surprise and relief. At last they’ve got a vodka capable of both expressing their creativity and inspiring it to new heights.
Cocktail fans benefit, too. As spirits drinkers become more sophisticated, they typically move beyond sweet and fruity to more balanced and savory. Square One Cucumber, Basil and Botanical give every cocktail lover a natural bridge to new territory for their palates and their creativity. Not only that, these flavors show that a great cocktail can start in your own kitchen and garden, with flavors you know and love – not in a bottled drink mix from the grocery store.
Another example of Square One leadership is in selling organically instead of spending millions of dollars on advertising and distribution. The company builds relationships with bars and restaurants whose staff and customers demand the best. No amount of marketing muscle can put higher quality in the bottle if it’s not there already, which explains why Square One can win with slow, patient marketing by personal visit and word of mouth. Square One chose this approach because of its values: sustainable growth for a sustainable spirits company.
Square One’s line-up has expanded from one spirit to four, with customers in nearly every state in the U.S. and a growing list of international markets. The company’s original leadership team remains in place, managing the company’s proprietary production methods and creating new flavor essences. As for Evanow, and seeing her vision realized hasn’t changed her. She’s still working as hard as ever. And she’s still motivated by her original drive to change the spirits business—one cocktail at a time.
The Organic Origins of Uniquely Great Taste
The Square One Organic Spirits philosophy can be summed up simply: “from the farm to the bottle”—with as little as possible in between. This is the primary reason that Square One’s approach to spirits remains unique in an industry with so many nearly identical vodkas. Square One really does start on the farm: organic rye farms from in the northwest American plains, to be precise. After harvest, the rye moves only a short distance from farm to distillery. The pure mountain water, too, comes from nearby, because Square One Organic Spirits is determined to minimize the fossil fuels required to produce its organically grown spirits. In contrast, industrially produced vodkas may spend days on trains or trucks before being sold off in bulk to companies that then haul them somewhere else to add factory-made flavors. Many of these vodka “producers” don’t actually produce anything at all—and they don’t get anywhere near a farm.
Certified organic fermentation is another dramatic difference between Square One and other spirit producers. Simply put, it’s hard to ferment rye – a flavorful but tightly fibered and protein-packed grain that doesn’t seem to want to separate into its constituent parts. It’s even harder to do it without the synthetic chemicals that are commonly used in distilleries. And it’s harder still to win and maintain official certification for an organic fermentation process under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (USDA NOP). Yet these are the steps Square One takes to ensure that its vodkas have the flavor and character required for great cocktails. Developing these capabilities wasn’t easy. Square One worked closely with a master distiller to develop the company’s proprietary processes as well as its first product, and the original team continues to exercise close control of the distillation process.
This philosophy extends to the natural essences in Square One Cucumber, Square One Basil and Square One Botanical. There are no bulk flavorings in Square One spirits, just real flavors from organic gardens, harvested carefully and then reduced to their essences much like aromatherapy remedies. As with Square One’s fermentation process, the essences took years of discovery and development to perfect and scale up.
The result is nothing like other vodkas with flavorings added. For one thing, Square One vodkas contain no sugar or carbohydrates. They also remain at 80 proof strength after their natural essences are added. In contrast, many mass-produced flavored vodkas are reduced in strength to save money or to avoid unwanted side effects from industrially-produced flavorings.
There are many other decisions that set Square One Organic Spirits apart from mass-produced spirit companies:
– Square One bottles are designed to be re-used, and are produced without environmentally harmful processes such as acid-dipping and screen printing.
– The high-quality corks can be used for years to keep new contents (such as homemade oils, vinegars or salad dressings) well protected
– Face labels on the bottle are “tree-free” (made from bamboo pulp, sugar cane and cotton) and printed with environmentally friendly soy-based inks.
– Square One shipper cartons are not bleached white with harmful chlorine, and they contain as much post-consumer-waste (recycled) content as possible consistent with “burst strength” standards.
– Square One’s marketing materials are printed by certified green businesses on 100% recycled, 50% post-consumer waste, processed chlorine-free paper.
– Event banners are produced on materials made of recycled plastic and the display stand is made from bamboo.
– The distillery gets more than 25% of its energy from wind power.
– Square One purchases carbon offsets for its business travel.
– Even the Square One hats and t-shirts are eco-responsible, made with organically grown cotton.
Compare these practices with those of other spirits companies and it’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into every aspect of Square One Organic Spirits, “from the farm to the bottle.”