Most people think of Wasilla, Alaska, as the home of Sarah Palin. Toby Foster wants you to think of it as the home of Permafrost Vodka, which is made with Alaskan potatoes and glacial ice. Seven years ago, Foster, then a professional pilot, survived a plane crash and decided it was time to find new work. A homebrew hobbyist, he discovered there wasn't a single distillery in Alaska.
Foster and his then-11-year-old son, Bryce, built one in their backyard. Over the next 18 months, Foster produced 500 bottles of his vodka, which is made with water from melted icebergs. The vodka sold briskly in local stores. He cashed out his $100,000 retirement savings and got friends to invest another $50,000 to buy equipment and move the business to a 7,000-square-foot hangar.
But in a world awash with bacon-, hazelnut-, and caffeine-infused vodka, will consumers go for the Alaskan version? The business is profitable, and monthly sales are about 15,000 bottles, which sell for $22 to $55. Last year, the Beverage Testing Institute awarded Permafrost its highest rating. And Foster hopes a new smoked salmon-flavored vodka will be a hit. "It sounds disgusting," he says, "but it mixes really well in a bloody mary."