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Small vodka firm squeezing in next to the big boys PDF Print E-mail
Written by MITCH MAERSCH   
Wednesday, 14 February 2018 16:17

Van Drastic Vodka is now in 86 stores, but the owner of the Town of Holland company says distribution has been quite a challenge

It took years for Grant Van Driest to learn how to distill vodka that’s good enough to sell.
Distributing the spirit since releasing Van Drastic Vodka in 2015 has become a whole different animal.
Van Driest makes his concoction at his Town of Holland distillery. He is basically a one-man show who gets help from his wife and faces a formidable challenge in trying to squeeze his bottles on shelves with the big players in the industry.
Van Drastic s1020918363 4C“In the four years I have realized how difficult it really is to get in a place. I mean, I am in 86 stores now in Wisconsin and a handful of bars, but that was more work than anyone could imagine,” he said. “I am happy to finally have more stores but really need more places that go through vodka, though.”
Location of the bottles in stores is important as well, he said, and price is another factor. Van Driest said his product sells the best at stores that mark up his bottles by $4 or $5.
Restaurants and bars can be boons to sales, but getting into those is even harder than stores, he said. Many get scared away by a one-page credit application Van Driest’s distributor requires to prevent people from not paying for orders.
Van Driest said he has found success at one local establishment.
“Juice’s Ghost Town in Grafton is a great fit because they serve crab legs and other great foods like the Norb steak that pair well with a quality vodka,” he said. “They serve the kind of people who have worked hard in their 20s and 30s and want to have a great drink where they can have fun but wake up the next morning feeling good too.”
As challenging as it has been to expand his reach, Van Driest has things moving in the right direction. As of this week, he has his first distributor in Illinois. It’s not in stores there yet, but residents can have his vodka delivered to their homes.
“I am going to stick with Wisconsin and Illinois for right now and try to really build those two states. My third target will be the Twin Cities in maybe a year,” Van Driest said.
Some successful marketing has been done much closer to home. Last year, Van Driest had his distillery open on the first Saturday of the month from June through November.
“I served different drinks for a great price and sold cases of six (bottles) for a crazy good price and cases of 12 for even a more crazy price,” he said.
Through his own research, Van Driest found that many distilleries charge a higher price than found in stores in order to keep their distributors happy.
“Right now I need to make my product known, though, because it really does beat the most expensive or popular vodkas in blind taste tests. But I can’t afford to spend thousands on advertising,” he said.
People who buy six or 12-packs often give bottles away as gifts or bring them to parties.
“This is why for another year or so I intend to allow these great prices because it is good for getting my product out to more people,” he said.
The only caveat is that the law requires vodka be picked up at the distillery. Van Driest suggests customers email him to arrange for pickup. He said he sold 22 cases that way in December.
Visually, Van Drastic vodka stands out with artwork on each bottle. Van Driest offers a new design each year, and 2018 is no different. This year’s art is a painting by his wife Sally called “Spinning My Wheels,” and those decorated bottles will be in stores soon.
“It is brightly colored and abstract, but we all have to-do lists that we just can’t seem to finish or we cross off things but more seem to continue to introduce themselves, so it seems never ending,” Van Driest said of the piece.
Van Driest got into the beverage business after teaching sixth grade in Sheboygan for 13 years. His wife teaches art and helps with T-shirts, signage and tastings. The couple have two children, ages 8 and 2.
Van Driest said he would consider going back into education if it returns to how it was from 1999 to 2008, but he doesn’t miss it.
He chose vodka after realizing making wine takes too long. He preferred the one-week turnaround to wine’s minimum of six months. He distills his vodka three times and filters it 10 times.
Van Driest said he is considering adding a flavored vodka, or expanding into whiskey or rum.
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