, the award-winning spirit that's hand-crafted in Ferndale and sold in 1,500-plus stores in Michigan, Illinois and Tennessee, is now distilling gin, a long and carefully-developed spirit that company founder and head-crafter Rifino Valentine describes "as something I'm so proud of."
Liberator Gin, so named in keeping with the company's support of Detroit (in this case, the city's role in turning out B-24 Liberators), was released last week. It'll land on shelves in Illinois in about a week, Valentine says.
The newest liquor in the lineup can be had in the Valentine Vodka tasting room at 161 Vester St. in Ferndale, or bought in stores. It'll give metro Detroit a ride on the gin wagon that's been moving across the country.
"Gin is kind of a niche product, at least in Michigan right now. On the coasts, New York, San Francisco, and now Chicago, gin is really making a big resurgence. There are gin bars and they're a big deal," says Valentine.
Developing a gin as special as the vodka was a year-plus-long process. Research and development consisted of blind tastings against every sort of store-bought gin, with the tasters being friends and family. Those findings sent Valentine and his colleagues back and forth to the distillery and manufacturing facility in Ferndale, where they fine-tuned the tastes and aromas by tweaking the process over and over until they hit on a profile that set theirs apart.
For the flavor, "What I tried to do with this thing was change that taste that people say is like chewing on pine trees," he says. "The main ingredient in gin is juniper berries, so I wanted a gin that doesn't just smack you in the face with juniper…It has a soft juniper nose and then it just doesn't stop at juniper…It picks up coriander and cardamom, and the real unique thing about this gin…is the nice soft cinnamon finish."
At the tasting room connected to the facility, the gin is already a hit, and it's dispelling some myths -- and bad memories -- about the liquor.
"A lot of people in our tasting room are like, 'No, no, no, I don't like gin'. They they taste it, and they're like, 'Oh my god, I can't believe it,' " Valentine says. "Everybody's got their story about gin, why they don't like it. But there's a big difference between bottom-tier and top-tier gins."
Though the tasting room, which is attached to the manufacturing facility, is packed on weekends, Valentine has no plans to expand. He has to save any extra room to make the liquor, and he's adding new equipment to do that.
Make you want some?
With expectations that the Liberator gin will take off as the five-year-old Valentine Vodka has, Valentine is planning to add another manufacturing facility.
Rifino recently hired a full-time distilling apprentice, and more hires will come within months.
"We're at one of those stages where we're growing so fast I'm trying to be real conscious of managing our growth…At some point relatively soon we're going to expand to another facility that's just dedicated to manufacturing. At that point, for sure, there will be hiring, relatively soon, in the next year or two."
Writer: Kim North Shine
Rifino Valentine, founder, Valentine Vodka and Liberator Gin