It took a 2007 Las Vegas bachelor party to get Clevelander Tom Rini thinking about the vodka biz. Four years and countless experiments later, Rini has found his niche as the developer of a pure, premium, private-label vodka he calls Crāv.
Rini, a Fairview Park guy with diplomas from St. Ignatius and John Carroll University, comes from an entrepreneurial background: His family founded the Rini grocery store chain and now operates Rini Realty Co. No surprise then that he always yearned for a chance to make his own mark.
Sitting over drinks recently at Pier W — the roll-out restaurant for Crāv-based cocktails — Rini told me he needed something of his own to feel passionate about. "On my 34th birthday I told myself, 'It's now or never.' You only go around once, and I knew it was time to embrace my passions." (That sentiment, "embrace your passions" later became the product's tagline.)
Months of research lead him to Idaho's Distilled Resources, Inc., a custom, small batch-distillery that uses ultra-pure water and winter wheat from its own 300-acre property in Sun Valley. The distillery, known in the biz as DRInc (sound it out) is also certified organic, although Crāv is not an organic vodka. The product is distilled just once, in a four-column continuous still, a process Rini contends promotes a pure flavor. The result is highly specialized (and trademarked) formulation called "Grain-ola."
As for the 80-proof spirit itself, it's smooth, palatable, and light, with a silken mouthfeel and floral and vanilla accents that make it ideal for sipping neat. Used as a base for cocktails like those created by Pier W's mixologist Tom Novak, Crāv provides structure without an afterburn, its own subtle flavor notes playing nicely against fruit and herbal infusions. That's readily apparent in Novak's Craving Ginger Rogers, a martini-style cocktail made with Crāv, prosecco, and a ginger-and-orange-blossom infusion. Same for the Raspberry Lime Crāv Sensation, composed of vodka, freshly made lemonade, raspberry-infused syrup, and Rose's Lime. Both cocktails are priced at $9.00.
Crāv Vodka is already proving itself among its peers. In a blind taste test in Columbus earlier this year, tasters preferred Crāv over Grey Goose, the leading and most expensive brand in vodka. And in a recent San Francisco World Spirits Competition, judges awarded Crāv a gold medal, beating out such industry staples as Finlandia and Smirnoff. "I said to myself, 'All right! We've got something here!'" says Rini.
Besides Pier W, Crāv is also available at Fahrenheit, Barley House, and Bar Cento, among others. Look for it in state liquor stores sometime in June. Prices vary from $31.70 to $33.15 for a liter and $190.20 to $198.90 for a six-bottle case.
Visit cravspirits.com for more information. — Maxwell Hayden