By Mike Spieker
Beet sugar is used many products across the country every single day. One particular use that probably does not come to mind right away would be the adult beverage industry. Ben Brueshoff is trying to change that mindset, however, with his brand new vodka brand, BĒT Vodka. With the title carrying the phonetic reading of “beet”, this vodka proudly displays where its roots are from; sugarbeets.
“This is the only 100% sugarbeet vodka in the Midwest and one of the only a couple in the entire U.S.,” said Brueshoff, the pioneer of BĒT Vodka. “We are taking things to the next level by really driving the sugarbeet message and being proud of the sugarbeet story.”
BĒT Vodka was born in January of 2016 with the intent of bringing people together to share a drink.
“This took inspiration, at the origin, from the craft beer scene that we saw happening nationwide. We were inspired by that social dynamic of coming together and sharing an experience and having a drink.”
In 2014, the idea was sparked from the opportunity of a new category in craft spirits, which stems off the craft beer model.
“Through some research, and probably a little bit of dumb luck, we realized you can create a really nice tasting vodka with sugarbeets.”
Being based in Minneapolis, Brueshoff quickly saw a connection between this new vodka and his home state’s agricultural background.
“Minnesota is the largest sugarbeet producing state in the nation. That’s what really got this started. It became this confluence… From a science level, knowing that you need to have a sugar in order to create an alcohol and from a heritage standpoint, realizing that sugarbeets in Minnesota have a huge part in the agricultural landscape.”
THE SUGARBEET MESSAGE:
It’s no secret the sugarbeet industry, and agriculture in general, is under attack for many of its common practices that promote sustainability. The folks at BĒT Vodka are supporters of the sugarbeet growers, however, and understand what the industry means to their families and the impact it has on local economies in surrounding areas.
“Ultimately, we are a big proponent of sugarbeets and the growers that produce them. Even from an economical standpoint and what the industry means to all of the families here in southern Minnesota and up into the Red River Valley, it is a very important crop. We are very proud to take this crop, which people really don’t know much about – people are usually confused and think it’s a red beet you would put on a salad – this is more a elevated and compelling way to share the sugarbeet story by creating it in into a premium pour vodka.”
In a sense, Brueshoff is a pioneer of his industry in creating the only sugarbeet vodka west of the Mississippi. Being proudly rooted in sugarbeets, BĒT Vodka’s message shares the story of another pioneer of the sugar industry, Henry Oxnard. The 19th century frenchman moved to the U.S. during his childhood before he founded the American Beet Sugar Company in 1899, which was later renamed American Crystal Sugar Company.
“On our label we tell the story of Oxnard, who was basically the original sugarbeet connoisseur, who came from New York to help start this industry in America’s Midwest. It has an interesting agricultural history to it, going back well over 100 years now. I think it’s something we should be proud about, especially in this part of the country.”
The Process & the Packaging: Entrenched in the Midwest
The process of distilling the product varies a bit compared to other brands and types of vodka.
"We use a direct sugar source from the sugarbeet, convert it into granulated beet sugar, then ferment it for about two weeks. Then we distill it no less than three times.”
Since the process does not include a corn or grain-based product, the production method can be simplified slightly.
“Usually what you’re doing is taking a starch compound, converting it into a sugar, and then converting that into an alcohol. But we are able to go straight from a sugar to an alcohol, so it’s a real direct source and a real clean process. It’s almost to the point where it’s too clean so we have to add yeast to help aid with the fermentation process.”
“This product is very much a Midwestern story.”
The vodka is made with sugarbeets from Minnesota and North Dakota, it’s distilled across the border in New Richmond, Wisconsin and the bottle is hand-painted in Iowa.
The packaging has a lot of little design nuances that reference a sugarbeet. The bottle top has the cross section of a sugarbeet engraved into it and the paper wrap over the top of the bottle made to emulate the leafy top of a sugarbeet. The overall packaging doesn’t have a gimmicky flare to attract your attention or catch your eye. It’s simple, neat, and has a down-to-earth sense about it, just like the growers who helped create it.
TRIAL AND ERROR:
“In our initial testing stages, we were up in the Red River Valley and took four 50 gallon drums of actual sugarbeets from the co-op. They were deep freezed and we brought them back to the distillery, washed them, chopped them, and threw them in the fermenter tanks. It was really messy process and it created a ton of off flavors and off tones. Being that the beet is a living organism and it can and does spoil quickly. It created a very inconsistent product. We knew then from a quality standpoint, it wasn’t going to be as cool as the story was. Using raw beets just wasn’t going to be good for the consumer as far as actually enjoying the product.”
“Because of the crop we use, you will notice a very untraditional vodka flavor. This is something that you can absolutely sip. It has no burn to your head, it’s a good warmth down the front of your throat with velvety body to it and a peppered finish. People are very surprised when they sip it, in a good way. With most vodka, you don’t necessarily want to taste it. This is kind of the opposite in some ways. So we are pretty proud to feature it in its natural state.”
Nowadays the vodka sector is full of trendy brands with off-the-wall flavors and crazy packaging. BĒT gets back to the basics with a more simplified and sincere product.
“That’s the cool thing about BĒT, we are able to get people to experience vodka in a different way.”
BĒT gets their sugar from a supplier of American Crystal Sugar Company in the Red River Valley. They take in anywhere from 500-1000 pounds of granulated sugar per run at the distillery, which lasts about a month on average.
How to get it:
BĒT is available in more the 250 bars and liquor stores in Minnesota and North Dakota. It is also available nationwide via online order at betvodka.com.
Editor & General Manager of The Sugarbeet Grower