It's definitely not tofu


April 30, 2003|By Sara Engram | Sara Engram,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I'm not quite sure who has been waiting for a soy-based spirit, unless perhaps its Guy Noir, Garrison Keillors Prairie Home Companion private eye, who prefers his martinis with a soybean.

But as demand soars for vodka, especially premium vodka, it's not all that surprising that some enterprising folks have decided to break new ground in the market by distilling soy.

It's not as simple as it sounds, says Brian E. Berish, because soy is a far more complex plant than the usual raw materials for vodka, such as wheat, potatoes or corn. Berish, along with his brother Brett, is managing partner of 3 Vodka Distilling Co., the young company that developed a soy-based vodka and is now introducing it across the country. The company is chaired by their father, Barry Berish, former chairman and chief executive officer of Jim Beam Brands Worldwide Inc.

The threesome thought there must be some way to break out of the copy-cat syndrome that often characterizes the spirits industry and come up with a completely new formula for an ultra-smooth vodka. Because vodka by definition lacks a distinctive taste, smoothness is the standard to strive for.

Instead of turning to experts in the spirits business, the Berishes hired food scientists to test various substances.

After three years of research into the thousands of components that make up soy, the Berishes' research team isolated the attributes that could contribute to a smooth spirit.

Formula in hand, the Berishes then set out to design an eye-catching package, coming up with a bottle and logo you can easily spot on a shelf or at the bar. In fact, you may have already seen the bottle as a display element at Crate and Barrel stores.

And the name? The number three suggests "balance, perfection, completeness," says Brian Berish, like "gold, silver and bronze, or red, white and blue." Moreover, the three Berishes are partners in the project, and the product took three years of research.

So 3 Vodka was introduced to the Maryland market April 1. A 750-milliliter bottle sells for about $25. A 50-milliliter miniature sells for $2.99.

And, yes, it does make a memorably smooth martini -- even without Guy Noir's soybean garnish.

As for new offerings in the flavored-vodka category, my favorite for the summer is an aromatic pineapple vodka from Van Gogh, whose flavored vodkas are intense enough to sip all on their own. If you're looking for a new twist on pina coladas, or just a way to enhance your pineapple juice, give this one a try. It retails for about $30.

3Some Cocktail

Serves 3

4 1/2 ounces 3 Vodka

1 1/2 ounces orange juice

6 ounces guava juice

9 ounces passion fruit nectar

grapes for garnish

Combine ingredients. Shake three times. Serve over ice. Garnish with a grape. Drink with two friends.

-- 3 Vodka Distilling Co.

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