Backed by a surge in consumer demand for gluten-free products, brewers and distillers across the country are scrambling to cater to drinkers with dietary restrictions. The first bottle of booze to sport an official "Gluten-Free" Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau label is a Vodka produced in California. The question is whether or not Devotion Vodka is creating a substantively different liquor or just waging a savvy marketing campaign.
"There is no process to make vodka gluten-free," says Devotion Vodka CEO Drew Adelman. But traditional potato and corn vodkas are naturally gluten-free. What Devotion is doing, in short, is producing very pure corn vodka rather than the 97-percent corn, three-percent grain products available in any liquor store in America. Adelman says that though the percentage of grain used in common vodkas isn't large, removing it creates a "demonstrably different product that consumers were demanding." He conceived of the notion in 2009, when the gluten-free trend was gaining traction.
“Adding mixed grains makes the vodka cheaper to produce," explains Adelman. "We essentially created a new category in the spirits market, a gluten-free, sugar-free flavored vodka family," say Adelman, adding that Devotion uses a "proprietary essence" developed with Allen Flavors, the company behind Arizona Ice Tea, to sweeten its products.
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau was a big get for Adelman, who describes it as "a competitive advantage to the company's growth and marketing plans." He's probably right and if Devotion proves successful, he'll certainly be copied by companies like Vikingfjord, which makes pure potato vodka in Norway, that are already producing gluten-free products, but aren't aggressively capitalizing on the trend.
If Adelman's strategy proves extremely successful, it could even provide an incentive for companies like Grey Goose, Ketel One, and Absolut, which make wheat vodkas to try something different or create new vodka varieties. That could potentially mean fuller flavors and prove that a marketing strategy can create an organic demand for a better product.