gin is taking a similar path as its vodka. It's winning awards, racking up orders in Michigan and several states, and is on the way to putting the Ferndale craft liquor maker on the world map.
Valentine's latest award, and probably the most significant, came last month when its Liberator Old Tom was named the World's Best Cask Gin by the World Gin Awards in London. Valentine makes a traditional gin, cask gin and whiskey, all released last year. Distribution of its original Valentine Vodka began in 2009.
"We've received many awards, many important ones, but this is a really big one…This came out of London, the home of gin," says founder Rifino Valentine. "I always have high expectations for our products. [We're] not just a local distillery, but this blew us away."
The award is one thing. Keeping up with demand is another. Valentine is in the process of renovating a 15,000-square-foot space in Ferndale into a distillery that will quadruple its output capacity. The new facility is expected to be ready for production in the fall of 2014, says Valentine. At about 5,000 square feet, the current distillery space, which is paired with an often-packed tasting room, will become the pilot distillery, the research and development area, he says.
Research and development is a slow and deliberate process and the reason, Valentine believes, for the success of Valentine Distilling's small-batch spirits.
"We were working on that gin for three or four years," he says. "I never just release stuff to get it out. I want to make sure it's competitive internationally and nationally…That's why it took us years…figuring out the botanicals and figuring out how the taste changed as it aged."
Even before the award, it became clear that Valentine needed to step up capacity.
"My distributors on the East Coast and in Chicago are calling, 'How much can we get and how soon?' "
Michigan is likely to follow suit.
"In Michigan vodka is still really big…The craft cocktail and craft spirit movement is just starting to hit Michigan right now and it's already been going on and is at full steam on the coasts and in cities like Chicago," he says. "So we get a large number of orders in Michigan for our vodka now, but the gin will come.
"The Liberator, we call it a new western gin or an American gin, because the flavor profile strays away from London dry or extra dry. It doesn't just smack you in the face with juniper…It's complex with a beginning, middle and end, with spices like cardamom, coriander and cinnamon."
Valentine, who left a successful career on Wall Street to launch a small-batch liquor company about six years ago, chose Michigan over Miami or other big cities, as a way to help the state by adding a small business to the books. He says the growth and the expansion in space and products was always part of the business plan, but the best part is seeing Michigan's distilleries and craft cocktails take off and make a significant contribution to the local and state economy.
"Looking back on it, it's pretty fun.. Probably five other distilleries have opened or are opening within five miles of us. It's funny to think back to 2008 and actually watch this industry grow. I mean just in the last couple of years alone we've generated a couple million dollars in tax revenue for the state," Valentine says. "It's so neat to see the industry thrive. It's so cool to help the state come back. It's one thing to talk about it, but to actually see it come to fruition is deeply meaningful."
Source: Rifino Valentine, owner, Valentine Distilling
Writer: Kim North Shine