By: Nan McCreary
In 2008, just as the craft spirits boom was beginning to take off, Prairie Organic Spirits was founded by Phillips Distilling Company to meet the demand from consumers looking for an elevated cocktail experience. Today, the Minnesota distillery has become the leader in certified organic spirits, guided by a commitment to creating a more sustainable company and industry.
According to Kevin Papacek, Prairie Organic Spirits’ Director of Marketing, their goal is “to handcraft organic, world-class spirits using the fewest natural resources possible.” The distillery bases their vodkas and gins on single-vintage yellow corn grown on family-owned organic farms. The grain is free from harmful chemicals and GMOs and leads to the smooth, award-winning taste of Prairie Organic Spirits.
Producing this grain often means farming “the hard way,” like the original settlers on the prairie. “Farming without the use of herbicides and pesticides requires more time in the field, as farmers must often weed by hand to cultivate the nutrient-rich soil and organic corn,” Papacek told Beverage Master Magazine. “Even before farmers plant a single seed, they spend three seasons carefully preparing their fields. Once the soil is ready, they plant a 25-foot buffer crop to ensure that chemicals from neighboring farms don’t contaminate the corn.” To help control weeds, farmers use flamers, which create old-fashioned “prairie fires.”
Since the farmers don’t use pesticides, they rely on native birds and bats to consume the insects. Wildlife plays a vital role in organic farming and the lifecycle of their corn. Pheasants eat weed seeds such as ragweed, smartweed and foxtails, often scratching through ground litter in farm fields. Farmers help sustain the pheasant population by leaving rows of unharvested corn next to native grasslands used as protection from the elements.
It’s not just organic farming that helps explain the quality of Prairie Organic gins and vodkas, it’s also the production process, where the spirits are distilled to taste rather than a prescribed number of times. Production takes place in Princeton, Minnesota, in a custom-build, small-batch copper still that is used solely for certified organic spirits. “We choose copper stills because they consistently produce the high-quality, great-tasting organic spirits that meet the Prairie Organic standards and that our consumers expect from the brand,” Papacek said. “Our spirits have a distinct and unique taste that our distillers and farmers have worked hard to differentiate. This is partly due to its corn base, lending a subtle sweetness and rich, smooth flavor, and partly due to the work of our Master Distillers.”
Complementing the Master Distillers is an elite, employee-led group called “Guardians of Prairie,” who ensure that each batch of spirits meets exacting standards. “We keep distilling until it tastes just right,” Papacek said.
Prairie Organic produces three spirits, each expressing a unique flavor profile. According to the distillery’s website (www.prairieorganicspirits.com), “Prairie Organic vodka has hints of melon and pear on the nose, is creamy on the palate and bright and smooth at the finish. Prairie Organic Cucumber Flavored Vodka has a mild cucumber note on the nose, is fresh on the palate and crisp at the finish. It’s pure and refreshing until the last sip. Prairie Organic Gin has bursts of herbs, sage, juniper and exotic spices that complement a dry and refreshing taste with a long, delicate finish. It’s smooth from the ground up and easy going down.”
After distillation, Prairie Organic returns the leftover grains to local farmers for use as animal feed—part of the company’s commitment to One Team G.R.E.E.N (Growing Responsibly, Ethically & Environmentally Now), which works to increase corporate sustainability practices such as reducing electrical usage; establishing better water sources; and promoting recycling within its facilities. Prairie Organic is also a partner of the Organic Trade Association, the only trade association exclusively dedicated to helping and protecting organic standards and organic trade.
In recognition of its green initiatives, in 2018 Prairie Organics was named the Best Craft Vodka Distillery in USA Today’s “10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards.” The publication, a trusted source for travel, food and beverage advice, honored not just Prairie Organic’s commitment to organic ingredients and sustainable practices, but also its “unmatched distilling process that leads to Prairie Organic’s award-winning taste.” Other awards include a two-time Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition; Best New Vodka by Food & Wine in 2009; a Gold Medal for its gin in the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and a Gold Medal in the International Prestige (SIPS) competition; and a Platinum Medal for its cucumber vodka in the 2013 SIPS event.
As Prairie Organic looks to the future, the distillery will continue to focus on promoting organics and sustainability. “We are very proud to stand by our partnership with the OTA to support their mission to advance organics,” Papacek said. “It’s important for us to take a more active role in the organic space, and we will continue to ramp up our participation in 2019.”
Papacek told Beverage Master Magazine that Prairie Organic Spirits is always looking for new ways to meet consumer desire for refreshing spirits with unique profiles. Those interested in mixology may want to visit the company’s website, which features an entire page dedicated to cocktail recipes. “When choosing organic, you are choosing a better spirit,” Papacek explained. “In turn, this means a better cocktail, too. Beyond a spirit that is free from herbicides, pesticides, gluten and GMOs, each expression brings a smooth, balanced taste to any cocktail. Some of our favorites include the Grapefruit Negroni made with Prairie Organic Gin, and the Jalapeño Cucumber Mule made with Prairie Organic Cucumber Vodka.”
Ultimately, the mission for Prairie Organic Spirits is the same one stated when the company was founded in 2008: to handcraft organic, world-class spirits using the fewest natural resources possible. “Our strong relationships with family farmers, their commitment to the hard work of growing organic, and our Guardians of Prairie who distill each batch to taste, are all factors that have helped Prairie Organic Spirits become the number one certified organic spirit brand,” Papacek said. “Creating great-tasting vodkas and gin, while continuing our commitment to the organic industry and sustainability, will always be our top priority.”
Prairie Organic Spirits are offered in liquor store retailers nationwide. Find Prairie Organic near you through the locator at www.prairieorganicspirits.com/prairie-finder/