When Maryland native Matt Levitt first glimpsed Lake Tahoe during a post-college van tour of the US, he was blown away. What was to be a quick stop along his driving route turned into a 17-year stay, and a new career. “I had no concept of Lake Tahoe before seeing it during our road trip,” said Levitt. “My girlfriend (now wife) and I fell in love with the area, and our last day of our sojourn became the first day of our new life.”
And the new life became the inspiration for a new business venture – Tahoe Blue Vodka. “It was 2011 when I had the ‘a-ha’ moment to create a vodka that captured the essence of Lake Tahoe,” said Levitt. “I saw an analogy with the clear spring lake waters and clear, pure, premium vodka, and I liked the connection – water and lifestyle. When one thinks of Tahoe, one pictures boating, skiing, and happiness. So, for a liquor brand, vodka specifically, I couldn’t think of a better product to offer the consumer than an escape to Tahoe.”
Tahoe Blue Vodka is a natural for Northern California vodka consumers. Regionally focused, gluten free, and made with some of the purest water in the world, the brand is unique in that it takes a cue from winemaking by blending. Tahoe Blue is one of the first blended vodkas which serves to highlight certain characteristics while masking those less desirable. A blend of grape, sugar cane, and corn creates a smoother taste. And, by using corn instead of wheat, the vodka is safer for those with wheat allergies and celiac disease.
“Grapes clean up the finish and makes it taste smooth,” said Levitt. “And sugar cane makes for a more interesting martini because of its viscosity, but those two ingredients would be too sweet if we didn’t add corn or grain for that classic vodka structure without the bite.”
In addition to great taste, Tahoe Blue Vodka is doing great things. For every bottle purchased, the company makes a donation to Lake Tahoe preservation. “We built the donation program into the company’s business plan,” said Levitt. “We didn’t wait until we were successful to start a foundation. It’s part of who we are. What’s good for the brand is good for the lake and good for the environment.”
Since 2011, Tahoe Blue Vodka has grown from 300 cases to 8000 cases sold and is on track for 15-20,000 cases this year. They continually take top honors at spirit competitions including the coveted ‘Ultimate Spirits Challenge’ in New York and have risen in the Nielsen ratings for top consumer products.
The parent company Tahoe Spirits has just the one product, unflavored Tahoe Blue Vodka, distributed independently at Raley’s, Nob Hill, Bel Air, BevMo! and select Safeway stores in Northern California. It also can be found at selected restaurants and bars.
While Levitt is proud of his product’s success, he is most gratified when he sees the Tahoe Spirits name on a donor plaque. “The more we make, the bigger the impact we can have on services at Lake Tahoe and beyond,” he said.