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Liquor titan Phillips Distilling aims top shelf with organic vodka

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But for all its progressive processing and pretty packaging, most Prairie consumers will probably choose it for its taste. I found it just as smooth as other high end vodkas Belvedere, a brand Phillips imported from Clickkeyword[Poland]" >Poland when ultra premium vodka was an emerging market with a lighter mouthfeel and a slightly sweet flavor. To my mind, it's a spirit that showcases our state's pure water and great grains, capable of converting even a non vodka drinker to one who sips it neat.

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If you recognize the name Phillips Distilling, it's probably because you've seen its dusty bottles of schnapps lining the lower shelves of local liquor stores, or its workhorse gins and bourbons that typically rest somewhere below eye level. And if you've ever burned your throat on a basic Phillips 80 proof vodka substance that smells like rubbing alcohol and comes in a plastic bottle probably be as surprised as I was to find the company's newest offering, Prairie Organic Vodka, perched on the top shelf, next to the Grey Goose and Clickkeyword[Ketel+One+Vodka]" >Ketel One.

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the industry leader, Clickkeyword[Diageo+plc]" >Diageo, which owns brands like Smirnoff, Clickkeyword[Johnnie+Walker+Co.]" >Johnnie Walker, and Guinness, Dean says his company's nimble size allows his team to jump on new ideas quickly. To understand why, you have to realize that almost all American made vodka comes from the same place: neutral spirits distilled by large Midwestern grain processors such as Clickkeyword[Archer+Daniels+Midland+Company]" >Archer Daniels Midland. Those neutral sprits, which are nearly pure alcohol, are shipped by tanker truck to producers that filter them, dilute them with water and other ingredients, Prada Double Bag Small and bottle them.

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environmental ethos, the Benson plant is replacing its natural gas inputs with biomass fuel from corncobs and other agricultural leftovers, and hopes those materials will supply 90 percent of its energy by 2009.

As far as its managers know, the Chippewa distillery is the only beverage alcohol co op distillery of its type, and one of just two plants in the country certified for organic alcohol production. Most of the farmers live within 50 miles of the plant, so organic grain makes a short hop to the distillery, then to Phillips's bottling facilities in Princeton, then to a Twin Cities liquor store. Doing a little back of the napkin math, I'd estimate that a bottle of, say, Clickkeyword[Skyy+Vodka]" >Skyy vodka, which is distilled in the Midwest and bottled in Clickkeyword[San+Jose]" >San Jose, California, travels about 20 times farther than a bottle of Prairie to get to a customer in Minneapolis. Adding to its Prada Nylon Backpack Small

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Dean walks me through a little room that looks like a work station in a high school chemistry lab, except for its archive of Phillips liquor bottles. There's everything from Sno Shoe Grog, a mix of brandy and peppermint schnapps, to Rock and Rye, which is made with rye whiskey and rock candy. Clickkeyword[Absolut+Vodka]" >Absolut and Stoli may take credit for the flavored vodka craze that launched in the 1980s, but judging from the aging bottle of Minty Vodka, Phillips was there decades before. Dean pulls down a bottle of Ginka, which is decorated with Jetsons era futuristic graphics. It's described on the label as "a happy mix of gin and vodka," and Dean explains it as "vodka with training wheels" from the days when gin was more popular than vodka. Dean jokes that perhaps they should reintroduce it this time as Vodin? reacquaint vodka drinkers with gin.

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Sitting in his Minneapolis office, Dean opens up a 60 some year old price book and scans the typed list of spirits in Phillips's portfolio rum, schnapps notes that there's no vodka. back then. Dean says the book reminds him how the liquor business can be as fickle as fashion, and that, for a small company like Phillips, innovation is everything.

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While using organic grain has less of an effect on a distilled spirit's flavor profile or nutritional content than it would in, say, wine or beer, there are other reasons Prairie's organic and kosher certifications are important. For one thing, liquor manufacturers aren't obligated to list their products' ingredients. Think about that: Bottled water requires nutritional labeling, while alcoholic beverages do not. And then you find out that some bottlers of spirits add things like glycerin, and you wonder what else they're not telling you. Also, distilling organic grain into a high margin product like vodka creates a bigger, more profitable market for chemical free farming.

The lab's counters are stacked with canisters of beet and cane sugar and bottles of natural flavoring, including acai, lychee, and clementine. Dean says the company doesn't conduct full blown consumer research for new products, and assesses samples mostly within the office. He lets me taste the finalists for a new butterscotch schnapps, and I sip each glass like Goldilocks first is too harsh, the next too floral, the third too flat, but the fourth is as creamy and sweet as a liquid Werther's. While Phillips's annual retail sales are dwarfed by the tens of billions raked in by Prada Cahier Velvet

contrast, Prairie's neutral spirit base comes from the nearly 1,000 member farmer cooperative that owns the Clickkeyword[Chippewa+Valley+Ethanol+Company]" >Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company in Benson, Minnesota, the one that also makes Shakers vodka. Dean says that when Shakers debuted in 2003 he thought the idea of Minnesota made vodka was so good he was a little jealous: "That should have been us," he says. While Shakers launched with a bang, local liquor retailers say the brand has struggled somewhat in recent years, so when Dean approached Chippewa about producing Prairie, they were eager to form a partnership.

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