With craft distilling booming almost as quickly as the craft beer industry did, there have been some pretty interesting spirits on the market. You may have quaffed grains, fruits and starches roasted and fermented every which way, but vodka from a sugar beet? You BET.
“We loved the idea of coming together through the sharing of a locally crafted drink and beverage. This is an opportunity to do something a little more unique—a way to represent the big agricultural element of our state—and that was the genesis of it,” says Ben Brueshoff, owner of BĒT Vodka (pronounced beet, like the plant it is made from).
BĒT Vodka was born in 2016 when Brueshoff began with a still fashioned out of a beer keg in his old business partner’s garage. (Not strictly legal, but in the name of progress!) Looking around the city, he saw breweries opening every month. Games, music and good conversation flowed in these venues, so he thought, why couldn’t the same thing be done with a spirit?
Brueshoff chose vodka because foremost, it is the number one consumed spirit in the world. From martinis to greyhounds, vodka is everywhere. Often though, it is an alcohol masked in a drink, not something brought to the front flavor-wise. Brueshoff wants to change that.
“Vodka, a lot of the time is perceived as odorless and flavorless and not that nice to taste, which I think is a lot of people’s experience having vodka. Having it go straight to your head. This is something that is totally different and unique in that sense,” Brueshoff says.
But beyond bringing a new player to the vodka market, Brueshoff saw an opportunity to make a Minnesota connection. Inspired by “a little bit of research, a little bit of luck and a little bit of a light bulb moment” and seeing that there was an urban distillery using beet sugar in New York, a spark began to smolder.
While 10,000 lakes, the word “ope” and mosquitoes as big as your face may be Minnesota’s main calling cards, we have a secret dynasty. Minnesota is the largest producer of sugar beets in the country, and nestled up right next to North Dakota is the Red River Coop, the country’s largest sugar beet coop.
It can all be traced back to Henry Oxnard, who started his sugar beet empire around the Midwest, eventually setting up sugar processing plants in Minnesota. As the industry grew, Minnesota’s sugar beet farms eventually coalesced into the American Crystal Sugar company, which makes table sugar from, well, sugar beets. Next time you fill a teaspoon with it for your coffee, know it was probably made right here in Minnesota.
BĒT Vodka wanted to honor this heritage, not only with their name, but with their mascot. Henry, a 1951 Dodge farm truck, is BĒT’s mobile billboard. Named after the founder of the sugar industry, Henry travels around the city to advertise and set up cocktail hours or parties featuring BĒT. Henry is important because BĒT Vodka doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar location yet— news of the product spreads by word-of-mouth, liquor stores and bars. That’s just fine with Brueshoff, who wants to grow slow and focus on his target audience: Minnesota.
“This is a story about Minnesota. When people say, ‘Is there a spirit or a product that represents Minnesota?’ I want it to be BĒT Vodka,” says Brueshoff. “The spirits industry is one that’s not a ‘get rich quick’ scheme by any means—it more has to come through your passion for creating something that is nice, unique and beautiful and that people will appreciate.”
BĒT Vodka is distilled and distributed around the Twin Cities, North Dakota and Wisconsin. Places you can find it around town include Meritage in St. Paul, The Hewing Hotel and the Westin in Minneapolis. BĒT aims at a sophisticated clientele—someone who is going to sit and appreciate a cocktail.
This is apparent in one of its signature cocktails, the BĒT neat, a new twist on the classic martini. To make this cocktail, shake a healthy portion of BĒT Vodka over ice, pour up, add a couple dashes of orange bitters and a lemon twist and voilà—an instant classic.
Brueshoff hopes creating a cocktail menu and doing liquor store tastings will help get the BĒT name out in Minnesota. Right now, the product is in 40 to 50 bars and restaurants, but to break into more, the staff behind the bar must get excited about the product.
“Vodka typically, in the past at least, hasn’t been that exciting for bartenders. Because it doesn’t really do anything, it’s almost something you want to mask. I want bartenders to try it. It has a unique profile and they could really put something together with it. It’s not something that burns your head— it finishes smooth,” Brueshoff says.
As far as the future, Brueshoff says he wants to keep feeding the slow burn in the Twin Cities. He doesn’t want national acclaim or distribution in different countries—he just wants BĒT to become Minnesota’s vodka. He says that today people are working hard not to build giant brands, but to build something they can put their stamp on, that they can call their own. This works well with BĒT’s slogan:
“Share the pioneering spirit. From Henry Oxnard to today, we all want to carve out our own thing and be able to hang our hat on something. What drives you? What are you passionate about? What’s your pioneering spirit?” says Brueshoff.
Whether you are celebrating a birthday or looking for a quiet drink to end the night, BĒT wants to be the reason you sit and connect with someone, even if that someone is yourself. Find your own pioneering spirit at a local liquor store or check out their website.