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80-proof product

Jeffersonville, Vermont - December 3, 2010

Inside a storefront and manufacturing space off Route 15 in Jeffersonville, Ron and Jeremy Elliott are hard at work on their new family business. "So far, we've had a wonderful reception," Jeremy said.

The father and son team may just be the perfect pair to grow their vodka brand, Smuggler's Notch Distillery.

"Well, I'm a chemist," Jeremy explained. "So I was looking to create a business where I could use my skill set to make a product."

Jeremy's background in pharmaceutical science helped him perfect the precise blending and handling it takes to produce hard liquor, but to make a 5-year dream a reality it took dad. Ron's long career in corporate management for a major restaurant chain provided the business know-how.

"Although there's a lot of competition out there, we think with a quality product, we'll be able to penetrate that market," Ron said.

The Elliotts ferment winter wheat and corn with pure Vermont spring water, filtering and piping the alcohol through ice before bottling it. "You could call it polishing the spirit," Jeremy said.

Smuggler's Notch Distillery is just one of a small handful of hard liquor producers in Vermont, and it says it's the only one now taking advantage of a new state law allowing sales direct from manufacturing facilities.

"Most people we've talked to have been drinking this straight or with a twist of lime or lemon," Jeremy said.

The vodka is in state liquor outlets and select bars, but the face-to-face sales have helped the men see who their customers are and hear what they want. "Today people look for a lighter drink," Ron said.

The Elliotts say many vodka buyers consider themselves connoisseurs; they want a high-quality drink that they can make their own. And some shrug off the idea of flavored vodkas.

"We're really proud of the taste profile we have with this particular product and we don't want to diminish it with any of those things," Jeremy said. The new laws also allow the chemist to offer very tiny samples which he hopes convince consumers that his is a sippable vodka.

Reporter Jack Thurston: (Tasting vodka) That is sweet.

Jeremy Elliott: Yes, it's very sweet.

Thurston: And just a little tiny bite at the end.

Jeremy Elliott: Yeah, which is unlike a lot of vodkas out there.

Smuggler's Notch Distillery hopes the state's hard liquor sector will follow in the footsteps of "Made in Vermont" beers and wines. Both have seen significant jumps in sales, distribution, and regional or national reputations in recent years.

"I see that it could be a growth business if someone has the same passion and desire as Jeremy and I do on starting a business," Ron said.

This father and son are toasting their new venture, hoping consumers connect with their upstart company.

"It's all made in Vermont!" Ron said.

The company plans to expand into making gin and rum in future years. A bottle of vodka costs $27.

Click here to visit the website of Smuggler's Notch Distillery.

Jack Thurston - WCAX News

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