FREEPORT, Maine — Maine potatoes like those used to create high-end vodka and gin soon will find their way to tabletops of the needy in a new program launched by Maine Distilleries.
For every bottle of Maine Distilleries’ Cold River vodka and gin that is sold in the first three months of next year in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, the company plans to donate a pound of potatoes to food banks in those states. Consuming about 12 pounds of potatoes for every bottle — which amounts to nearly a million pounds a year — the Freeport-based business has enough spuds to go around, according to Joseph Swanson, the company’s sales and marketing director. That’s because of a business partnership with Green Thumb Farms in Fryeburg, which grows about 20 million pounds of potatoes a year.
“We’ve been trying to figure out a way that we could make a difference and involve the farm a little bit more,” said Swanson. “This seemed like a creative way to do that and we decided we could swing it. We’ll be donating several thousand pounds of potatoes, if all goes well.”
Cold River Vodka hit the market six years ago and since then, Maine Distilleries has begun to offer Cold River Blueberry Flavored Vodka and Cold River Gin. According to Swanson, sales have been increasing since the farm-to-market company was launched. The Cold River brands are sold in 26 states, Canada and England, but Swanson said the bulk of sales are in New England — particularly Maine.
“We’re holding our own in the very crowded world of vodka,” said Swanson. “I don’t think [vodka giant] Ketel One is scared of us yet, but sales have been on a steady increase.”
Cold River is made from scratch from potatoes as opposed to grains, which Swanson said leads to a richer and creamier taste. And with spuds as the base ingredient, the vodka is naturally gluten-free. The blueberry variety, which uses fruit from wild Maine blueberries grown on the Blue Hill Peninsula, contains less than 1/12 the sugar of other varieties while maintaining an 80-proof alcohol content.
Cold River products have been lauded over the past few years. The company was awarded a double gold medal at the 2008 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, a highest five-star rating from renowned spirits guru F. Paul Pacult in 2008, a double gold medal at the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America Convention in 2009, and was named the best vodka in the world by Wine Enthusiast Magazine in 2009. More recently, it was named one of the top 10 vodkas in the world in the October edition of The Tasting Panel.
The potato donations will happen late next summer at harvest time. They will be distributed to the Good Shepherd Food-Bank in Auburn, the New Hampshire Food Bank in Manchester, N.H., and the Greater Boston Food Bank in Boston.
“Our product already makes people feel good,” said Swanson. “This is just another way to do that.”
Maine Distilleries LLC is owned by Mainers Donnie Thibodeau, owner of Green Thumb Farm in Fryeburg; his brother Lee Thibodeau, a neurosurgeon in Portland; Bob Harkins, a former Sunday River ski executive from Paris; and head distiller Chris Dowe of New Gloucester.
According to a press release, Maine Distilleries is the only “ground-to-glass” distiller in the United States.