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Minnesota wheat field.

Shakers uses Minnesota-grown wheat, which is infused with University expertise. The U has released more than 35 types of wheat, including McVey, a scab-tolerant variety.

Premium vodka from the heartland

Shakers takes its place beside top-shelf vodkas from around the world

By Rick Moore

From M, summer 2004

Seldom has anything this smooth been associated with Minnesota, much less the town of Benson. But if you're looking for an adult beverage that's super smooth--we're talking Sinatra-in-silk-pajamas smooth, here--ask for a martini made with Shakers vodka. If it doesn't soar sweetly on your palate, it'll at least roll off your tongue a lot easier than "Stolichnaya"--that run-of-the-mill Russian brand. Shakers is the new, high-end American vodka taking its place beside top-shelf vodkas from Poland, Russia, and Scandinavia. It's produced from "steel-cut," Minnesota wheat, .3 degrees north of the 45th parallel, no less. (The back of the bottle, adorned with a penguin and designed to look like an art deco martini shaker, provides the coordinates.) After studying the best vodkas from around the world, the Shakers founders, including University grad and master distiller Pat Couteaux, determined that America should produce the next world-class vodka and that Minnesota wheat--with its soft and mild character--was the perfect ingredient. Going with the grain, they picked Benson as home for their maiden product, and produce Shakers in a state-of-the-art facility owned by a cooperative of more than 800 farmers. "Produce" might be an understatement. In an effort to chase away impurities like chaff in a prairie wind, Shakers is distilled six times before being charcoal-filtered and shipped to Princeton, Minnesota, for bottling. The early success of Shakers has even surprised Couteaux, who received a master's degree in fermentation science from the Technical University of Munich in Germany. "It's just been absolutely overwhelming," he says. "We never planned that it would be this successful. We're struggling to keep up." While keeping up, Shakers is pushing ahead with two new products, Shakers Rye and Shakers Rose--the latter a unique rose-flavored vodka that made its limited-quantity debut around Valentine's Day. "We wanted to do something unexpected and interesting... and yummy," says Couteaux. Couteaux, most recently the master brewer at Leinenkugel, points out that the beer market in America is actually declining, which makes it a good time to shake things up with a premier vodka. "People are moving towards spirits and especially clear spirits," he says. "This is definitely the right place to be at the right time." Shakers is now available in about 15 states and at dozens of liquor stores in Minnesota. It even flies off the shelves in Benson, a town not previously known for its martini drinkers.

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