Chris Iott grew up on his family’s potato farm in Kalkaska, Iott Seed Farms. Two years ago, he and his wife Amanda made one of their aspirations a reality, and began distilling vodka with potatoes grown from the farm for their brand, North River Vodka.
“We launched in October 2018 at Grand River Brewery in Jackson,” he said. “Essentially they were our tasting room for our vodka for the first period. In October 2019, we worked to get statewide distribution, so now we’re available in any store, restaurant or bar that wants to carry us.”
North River Vodka is distilled using potatoes too big to be used as seed potatoes, and there’s always more than they use. Between Chris and Iott Seed Farms, they’ve come up with a way to donate the surplus spuds to food pantries.
“The first time we distilled any alcohol, we got done and had 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of potatoes left,” said Chris. “We called a place and said, ‘Can you pick these up?’ They picked them up and established a routine at the farm where they regularly have a place come pick up potatoes.”
North River Vodka is Michigan through and through.
“We’re headquartered and launched in Jackson, distilled in Traverse City through a partnership with Grand Traverse Distillery, and the potatoes are grown in Kalkaska,” said Chris.
Even though Amanda didn’t grow up on a farm, Iott Seed Farms is special to her and their plans.
“There’s so much pride and identity still in this very successful farm they grew up on that they saw their dad work so hard for,” said Amanda. “They were so on board with us using the potatoes to try this fun adventure. It was really exciting, not just for Chris and I, but the entire family.”
That connection to family helped influence Chris and Amanda’s vodka vision.
“My dad passed away seven or eight years ago, and two of the most special places on Earth to my dad were the farm and his house on the Manistee River,” he said. “That’s the inspiration for the name North River—our family gathering place on the Manistee River. I take pride in the fact my dad would think this is really cool.”
If you’re in the market to taste something new this holiday season, give this pure Michigan beverage a try.
“It’s craft vodka, it’s 100 percent Michigan-made, Michigan-grown, and there’s such a great story to the vodka,” said Amanda. I want people to give it a try.”
North River Vodka is sold at more than 50 locations and 20 restaurants and bars throughout the state. If your local store isn’t carrying the brand, Chris said the best way to get it stocked is to request it.