Ferndale's award-winning Valentine Vodka to open martini bar

Ferndale's Valentine Vodka has tasted success with its spirits, quadrupling sales from Christmas 2009 to 2010, and now the company is moving from selling bottled vodka to serving drinks at its own martini bar and tasting room.

It's scheduled to open in March in the former home of a pool table manufacturer at 161 Vester, a 5,000-square-foot building within view of Ferndale's main Woodward drag.

When it opens, the distillery will occupy 4,000 square feet in back while the tasting room takes the remaining space out front. The digs aren't fancy and the building will bear no Valentine logo or obvious signage.

"Its back story is prohibition and speakeasies in Detroit, so we're keeping it as the pool building. People will have to know where it is to get here," says company founder Rifino Valentine, a native of Glen Lake, Michigan who worked on Wall Street for 13 years after graduating from Cornell University.

Valentine considered staying in the Big Apple to start a business and considered Miami, but Michigan had a hold on him. March will be the two-year anniversary of the business, which has 850 clients and won a 2010 gold medal from the Beverage Tasting Institute's International Review of Spirits competition in November.

"I thought, why not go back to Michigan," recalls Valentine. "I believe that in Michigan as a state and in our country as a whole, we need to start making things here again."

He extends his attempts to do Michigan justice by using local suppliers as much as possible. The vodka grains are Michigan-grown, as are the boxes, label printers, and more.

The tasting room brings it home as well. It will be a place to drink and a place to learn.

"The whole philosophy behind our vodka is we do things the way they were meant to be done," says Valentine, 40. "The way we make our vodka is not revolutionary except that nobody does it anymore. We make it in small batches with good ingredients, not the large quantities, fast, like other people do."

"What I'm really excited about...is using all fresh ingredients, quality ingredients, no chemical flavorings."

Even the tonic water will be genuine, made on site with barks and grasses, as it's meant to be. Juices will be fresh-squeezed.

"It's going to be fun," he says, "and it's going to be a quality experience."

Source: Rifino Valentine, founder of Valentine Vodka
Writer: Kim North Shine