Raleigh, N.C. — Bedlam Vodka hasn't been around very long, but the spirit it distills in Durham is 160 years old.
The Irish vodka recipe was handed down over a few generations of Scott Russ' family, through Prohibition, until it fell out of use once liquor laws were loosened. When a business idea took hold, though, Russ remembered conversations he had with his grandfather about the old family recipe.
"(I thought), 'Let's try to make Irish rice vodka,'" Russ told the 919 Beer Podcast. "Which is probably the weirdest thing that anybody's ever tried to do—Irish rice vodka. It's not done."
The sweet vodka is distilled from rice instead of wheat or potatoes like some other brands. And with the phrase "Vodka need not burn," a promise of its smoothness is printed on each and every bottle.
Paired with slick marketing, the vodka was a quick success: It won awards at the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America expo, garnered industry contacts and earned a spot sponsoring a VIP party at ESPN's annual ESPY Awards show.
"It was a huge experience," Russ said. "It was something that you only get one chance at when you're early (on) like that. So, we decided to go ahead an take it."
For recipes, Bedlam leans on brand director-slash-bartender Jesse Cortez, who mixes the vodka into drinks that are unexpected and delicious, like a shandy made with Bedlam Vodka and beer. Then, with a couple shakes of different bitters and a lemon peel, the clear liquor can also stand up in a twist on an old fashioned.
The uniqueness and versatility of Bedlam is what Cortez says brought him to the team. And in a vodka market that's as crowded as craft beer, the product has to be different.
"There isn't one cocktail for every person, but I can make a cocktail (with Bedlam) for everyone," Cortez said.