Read the original article in the Oregonian here.
When Chris Joseph, a Beaverton native, graduated from Portland State University in 2012 with a degree in business management and leadership, he didn’t want to work his way slowly up some corporate ladder.
He wanted his own business. And now, two years later, that’s exactly what the 24-year-old has with Wild Roots Vodka, which he built with partner and fellow PSU graduate Daniel Ball. The berry-infused vodka company will soon open up tasting rooms in Beaverton and on Portland’s distillery row.
The Beaverton Leader recently sat down with Joseph to talk about the origin of the business’ name, finding a niche in the liquor market and the production process. Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: When did you taste vodka for the first time?
A: Well if my mom’s listening, 21, but other than that, probably freshman or sophomore year of college. At that time it was pretty much anything that I could get, but as soon as I was able to buy my own, it was really about exploring what was local. My friends brewed beer, and we were really attracted to craft spirits.
Q: How did Wild Roots Vodka come about?
A: It was completely random, in a way. My business partner and I met at PSU, and we both wanted to start our own business. We stayed in contact throughout our years at PSU, and then when we both graduated, it was either work force, graduate school or start our own business. So we decided to start that business.
He sold berries on the weekends at farmers markets, and that’s kind of how the idea started: He came back with a bunch of berries and nothing else to do with them, so we put them in some vodka. We started giving it to friends and family and drinking it, and there was a demand for it, so we decided to commercialize it and go from there.
Q: When did you get it up and running?
A: We’ve been working on it for almost two years, but we launched in July. We started off making about 50 cases a month. Now we’re doing about 200 cases a month.
Q: Why vodka? Why not gin or rum?
A: Well, maybe soon. I like vodka, myself, and it was really just looking for a hole in the market. The liquor industry is probably one of the most oversaturated markets, so we tried finding a product that would stand out on the shelf. It’s not every day you see a colored vodka. It’s a deep purple, kind of like a wine. This attracts another market, too. There’s people who only like wine, but love our stuff.
We don’t use any unnatural flavoring – only berries. There are nearly two pounds of berries in every bottle, which gives it the color, the feel and the smell. So when you open it, it smells like real Oregon berries, which is what we wanted.
Q: How did you come up with the name “Wild Roots Vodka”?
A: It took us months. We really wanted to make a product that ties back to our roots. So we looked at our values and we looked at what we wanted to do with the company. And our roots are from the Northwest. My girlfriend was like, “Just Wild Roots, it makes sense,” and it all kind of clicked.
Q: Walk me through a process of making a bottle of your vodka.
A: We do contract distilling. We’re in the process of one day having our own distillery, but for startup purposes we use facilities in Bend. And that’s where we produce it.
So we take premium base vodka, and we distill it and filter it five times. It’s a very pure and smooth vodka. We filter it through local minerals and lava rock from central Oregon. And we use central Oregon water for the base, too. From there, we actually infuse the berries – we make it into a mash and we infuse the berries in the distillation process.
Q: How does that work?
A: It’s hard to say what I can and can’t say. We do it a little differently because we don’t use any preservatives in our product. We do make it into a mash, and the mixing is what gives it more of the color, because we’re using all the extract from the berries. In the infusion process, you get that extra hint, so the sweetness of the natural berry, too. A lot of people, when they infuse, they infuse flavoring rather than fruit.
Q: What happens next?
A: We bottle it in Bend. And we hand label everything, so it does take quite some time. And from there, we cork it and put on each top seal individually. Then we box it up, and we send it to the OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission).
Q: What has the response been like?
A: Once consumers try it, they’re pretty blown away, because it’s not just any type of vodka – it’s pretty unique. It’s a different experience. And they buy it. Response from consumers has been great. I knew it would be good because I believed in the product, and I’m probably the pickiest drinker out there.
Q: What would you say to people who don’t drink vodka or don’t like sweet alcoholic drinks?
A: Wild Roots is a different kind of vodka. It’s sweet, but tart. If you like berries, you’re going to like Wild Roots.