‘Handcrafted from beginning to end,’ Buckeye Vodka is an Ohio top-seller

Across the globe among liquor drinkers, vodka continues to top the list in popularity. According to Liquor.com, vodka surpassed whiskey as the best-selling spirit in the U.S. in 1976 and has continued outselling every other spirit since. But vodka also has a reputation of being difficult to drink without a mixer.

Jim Finke of Centerville, set out to change the perception of vodka among local and national drinkers when he and his brother, Chris, brainstormed a new business during the last great recession in 2008.

“My brother asked me ‘what gets better in a down economy?’” Finke said.

Of course, Finke started joking that everyone was “just drinking” away their sorrows but in truth, most people were doing just that. Finke, along with his brother and brother-in-law, Tom Rambasek, and friend Marty Clark, decided to join together to make a unique and better tasting vodka.

“We knew that 80 proof vodka is about 60% water,” Finke said. “And my sister Nancy and her husband Tom made almost medical grade pure water in their business.”

The Rambaseks had owned Crystal Water Company since the mid 1980s and Finke’s family business was Finke Distribution Services, operating since 1896.

“We wanted to make really great vodka at an affordable price point,” Finke said. “Tom and Nancy’s water was perfect.”

In 2009, the group founded Crystal Spirits, LLC and set out to differentiate themselves from the other vodka distilleries across the country. They enlisted the help of a vodka-making expert and took a risk by investing their own money into the business. They all agreed they wanted to be part of the solution to help the Dayton economy thrive once again.

“We were very worried about our investments,” Finke said. “Thankfully the very first batch we made was perfect.”

In 2011, Buckeye Vodka, another Dayton original, hit the shelves at liquor stores. The product is still made in small batches with mineral free water and Finke said the smooth taste is hard to beat.

“There are plenty of vodkas out there,” Finke said. “When we started there were only two other distilleries in Ohio and now there are probably 40 or so. We know we are always going up against the big names.”

And because vodkas like Grey Goose, Ketel One and Absolute had most of the market share, Finke knew they had to do more than make a good vodka. They had to get it into the mouths of restaurant owners and consumers.

“It’s hard to compete with the major players,” Finke said. “It really is a marketing game. But we knew if we could just get people to taste our vodka, they would come back and buy it.”

Finke likes a smooth vodka he can drink straight over ice.

“The harshness people taste is from the impurities,” Finke said. “With ours there is no burn.”

Finke said he continues to taste every batch and compare it against every other major brand.

Today the company has three full-time sales representatives, and they work with a national distributor. The company relies mostly on word of mouth to increase their sales.

“We know people will taste our vodka and like it,” Finke said “But people usually just go right back to their regular vodka out of habit. We just have to keep our vodka out there so people will eventually make ours a habit!”

With the “buy local” mindset increasing in popularity, Finke emphasizes how important it is to support Dayton and its economy. Buckeye Vodka is sold in Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois and several other states through home delivery. The majority of sales continue to come from Ohio.

“We are now the number one selling Ohio vodka,” Finke said. “But we want to continue to grow and become number one everywhere.”

The alcohol industry was one that realized strong sales during the recent global pandemic and subsequent economic downturn and to celebrate Buckeye Vodka’s 10th anniversary this year, a rebate is being offered on all purchases made through the end of June.

“What makes us different from other major brands is that we are handcrafted from beginning to end,” Finke said. “We distill our vodka multiple times to remove impurities and blend it with pure water. We don’t stop filtering until it is the smoothest vodka there is.”

For more information, log on to buckeyevodka.com.

Contact this contributing writer at banspach@ymail.com.

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