BENSON - Benson is still celebrating Minnesota Viking Kyle Rudolph's famous "duck, duck, gray duck" touchdown celebration against the Bears in 2017, and hopes to do so for a very long time.
Leading the cheers is former Viking Chad Greenway, who is putting Benson on the map as he helps market Gray Duck vodka. Glacial Grain Spirits, part of the Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company, distills this new and distinctly Minnesota-made vodka.
The vodka is made solely from Minnesota-grown corn.
The famous touchdown celebration inspired its name. Partners Mark Cotter and Jerry Schulz, who own Country Financial insurance agencies with offices together in Burnsville, and Jamie Quesnel developed the vodka. The name play was intentional.
Cotter and Schulz told the West Central Tribune that they wanted to promote a vodka that was all Minnesota. Schulz realized that nothing said Minnesota more than "duck, duck, gray duck." Everywhere else, the childhood game is "duck, duck, goose.''
Quesnel developed the recipe, purposely choosing corn because he wanted a gluten-free ingredient, according to Cotter and Schulz.
Recipe in hand, the partners said they went shopping for a distiller.
They were steered to Glacial Grain Spirits by the owner of Skaalvenn Distillery in Brooklyn Park. They learned that the Benson distiller has been producing high-quality alcohol for 20 years, including organic and kosher, and that it has the capacity to match their market aspirations.
When they also learned that every farmer who is part of the Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company cooperative is raising corn in Minnesota, their goal line was clear.
"We wanted to source this directly from Minnesota as much as we could," Cotter said.
Benson Mayor Terri Collins said she's hoping that the growing interest in the new, Minnesota-made vodka will help put her community's name out there, as well as that of the Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company and Glacial Grain Spirits. She and her husband were guests at a launch party earlier this month for the vodka at Lord Fletcher's Old Lake Lodge on Lake Minnetonka. Collins said it was apparent how much the vodka's founders value the farmers raising the corn and the ties to the rural community of Benson.
The new vodka was introduced in August. Sales took off quickly once Greenway joined as a partner and spokesman for it, the partners said.
"He got us out there. He got us out there quick," Cotter said. "Another nice thing about Chad is his farm background. It's been a real natural for us,'' he added.
The growing success of Gray Duck vodka was among the highlights when the Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company hosted its annual meeting on Jan. 22 in Benson. No pun this: Current margins have many in the ethanol business looking to drown their sorrows.
Yet Glacial Grain Spirits is a financial bright spot for CVEC, thanks to the variety and volume of specialty alcohol products it produces, General Manager Chad Friese reported at the meeting.
Patrons at the annual meeting heard a video message from Greenway thanking them for their role in producing Gray Duck Vodka. Zach Johnson of Lowry, who is known on social media as the Millennial Farmer, also played a video he made of Greenway's visit to his farm.
Johnson raises corn for Glacial Grain Spirits. He and Greenway chatted as Johnson drove the combine last fall. Greenway touted the appeal of a Minnesota-made product.
"They want to drink something they know where it is coming from. They know where they're getting it from. And, it's local,'' Greenway said on the video.
Greenway grew up on a farm near Mount Vernon, South Dakota. He told Johnson that his farm background was a "real advantage" for him when he played football at the University of Iowa. He could concentrate on school and football, and did not have farm chores waiting for him like he did when he was in high school. "I said man, this is easy,'' said Greenway.
Soon after its launch in Minnesota, Gray Duck was introduced in South Dakota and North Dakota. The company is now looking to introduce the vodka with the purple-tinted labels in Iowa as well. Partners Cotter and Schulz said that as of Jan. 1, the vodka has been distributed by Johnson Brothers of Minnesota. The distributor has expanded its presence to more than 300 new retail and 132 bars and restaurants.