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Davis, California

Monday, April 15, 2024

Former UCD student creates organic vodka brand

Few college students turn their love for partying into anything more than a hangover.

Except for Ann Marie Barnett, the owner, creator and distiller of Shadow Spirits Organic Vodka.

“I love how partying brings people together,” said Barnett, a 24 year-old Santa Cruz resident. “That’s why I went into the business of alcohol. People tend to have a good time when they get together and drink.”

Barnett attended the UC Davis Master Brewers program in 2007, while also leading her own independent study in distillery. Before coming to UC Davis, she used her environmental chemistry degree from the Colorado School of Minds as a chemistry lab assistant at Coors Brewery. There, she tested the air emissions in the brewery, as well as the freshness of the beer – in other words, she taste-tested beer for a living.

However the job didn’t give her freedom to fulfill her passion for the art of distilling. So she quit her job and moved to Davis.

“I figured if I was going to be working so hard, I should be working hard doing something I really liked,” she said. “And that all started in Davis.”

The Master Brewers program is part of the UC Davis Extension, a school designed to offer professional training at a university level. This type of university-level training makes the Master Brewer’s program one of only three of its kind in the world, said Emma Finley, editor of the marketing department at the UC Davis Extension.

“There’s nothing else like [the Master Brewer’s program in the country,” Finley said.

Professors Michael Lewis and Charlie Bamforth teach the courses in the intensive program, which lasts 18 weeks. Both have been internationally recognized for their work and research in the brewing industry.

Also during her enrollment in the program, she met Jay Prahl, master brewer at Sudwerk Microbrewery in Davis. Some of her classes were held at Sudwerk so the two bonded over their love of brewing and distilling. Prahl told of his years brewing in places like Peru and Mexico, and Barnett told of her dream to one day operate her own distillery.

Coincidently, Prahl knew a friend who happened to be vacating his distillery in Santa Cruz. The chance to take over the still was an opportunity Barnett could not resist.

“It takes a lot of time and money to get licensing to operate your own still,” Barnett said. “I was able to obtain that at [the distillery in Santa Cruz,] Sarticious Distillery.”

Barnett spent about a year and a half perfecting the recipe for what she envisioned from the start to be artisan-quality, organic and environmentally friendly vodka.

What she ended up with was a unique blend of tapioca and pinot noir wine, which added what she described as a subtle floral taste, much like a nice brandy. She added green aspects to her company, like a 35 percent post-consumer waste bottle and recyclable water practices.

However before the vodka can be bottled, it goes through a lengthy and complex process starting in Idaho, where organic corn and rye are processed at 95 percent alcohol content.

“Having the corn and rye condensed at such a high percentage minimizes our carbon footprint in shipping,” Barnett said. “It would take so much more energy to distill that in California, so we feel like this process really minimizes our carbon footprint.”

Next, Barnett combines the corn, rye, wine and tapioca in their copper, low-emissions still from Germany. After boiling the ingredients the vapor is collected, recondensed and diluted with water.

The outcome of this process, Shadow Vodka – named after her dog, a husky – was born in the summer of 2008. Since then, Barnett has sold approximately 360 bottles of her Vodka to local bars and patrons. She also brings Shadow to work with her every day.

“It’s definitely like watching my baby take off and grow,” Barnett said. “And I love how I can oversee every aspect of this company, from the marketing to the taste.”

Barnett said that the vodka tastes great in a martini, or in what she calls a “Lemon Lifter,” with half a lemon, ice, club soda and of course a shot of Shadow Vodka.

“Like so many products these days, but especially alcohol, there is growing interest in small boutique brands,” Prahl said. “Also, like a lot of trends, they tend to start in California.”

For more information on Shadow Vodka, visit Barnett’s website at shadowvodka.com.


LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.


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