In this episode, we interview Kerstyn Zepeda of Bella Mar Spirits. Kerstyn and her husband, Michael, craft infused vodkas using real fruit, fruit juices, and herbal infusions, which preserve the essence of the ingredient within the vodka. If you’ve listened to our show, you know vodka is not our favorite spirit. Yet, Kerstyn hooked us up with a bottle of their Orange Basil vodka and we had a great time experimenting with it (see a few of the drinks below). While we’re not total vodka-converts, we loved the freshness of Bella Mar Spirits and would recommend it to anyone looking for a flavored vodka that uses real ingredients, rather than synthetic flavors. Hope you enjoy the show.
Orange Thai Basil Moscow Mule
- 2 oz oz vodka (orange and thai basil flavored–the thai basil adds a bitter, anise flavor)
1/2 lime, juiced
1/4 orange, juiced
4 oz of ginger beer (don’t measure, just pour to near the top)
- Orange slice for garnish
An excellent brunch substitute for a Mimosa or Screwdriver.
- 2 oz Orange Basil Vodka
- 3/4 oz coconut water
- 3/4 oz fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 3/4 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice
- Soda water
Bella Mar Orange Thai Basil Cosmo
A few questions we asked Kerstyn on the show
What was your background before starting Bella Mar Spirits?
I was a real estate asset manager and property manager for about 6 years. During that time, I also completed my MBA in Finance from Pepperdine University. My husband (and co-founder) has extensive experience as a sales person and was a bar manager and bartender before he began his career in sales. We have always had a passion for entrepreneurship as Michael has started businesses before and I worked for my father’s company in real estate. We began Bella Mar Spirits because we saw the niche opportunity and really have a passion for our products.
What are some of your favorite cocktails or flavor profiles?
We really began this adventure because of our love of Moscow mules. All three of our vodka products make great Moscow mules which has been really fun to play around with. We also love the juxtaposition of contrasting flavors, which is why we created the Orange Basil Vodka. The fruit and herb flavors really work well together when perfectly combined. We took our time finding the perfect combination to create really unique, deliciously infused vodka.
What got you interested in infused vodka?
We wanted to create the perfect lime infused vodka for a Moscow mule and any cocktail that required the addition of lime. We couldn’t find infused or flavored vodkas with the true essence of lime, or real fruit for that matter. We experimented with different kinds of lime to create the perfect lime flavor that would perfectly accentuate any cocktail. We found that in the sweet lime, which is a citrus fruit that is less acidic than more regularly used limes, and therefor has a flavor profile perfect for vodka cocktails.
Once completing the sweet lime, we sought to continue our journey to make delicious, infused vodkas that anyone could easily make a mixologist-style cocktail. We created the Orange Basil Vodka to encompass the sweet fruit flavor of orange with that of the spicy Thai basil. It’s lovely to sip on its own and versatile enough for a myriad of cocktails.
What makes your product different than those already on the market?
We are very product conscious and choose our ingredients wisely. We infuse our vodkas naturally as well as in a way to make them shelf stable so they do not discolor or lose their flavor. Our focus on GMO-free, gluten-free all natural vodkas is what our consumers are connecting with. We are also introducing flavors that are unique to the market and a new flavor profile for many. People today are more conscious of the products they consume and appreciate a brand story. We are able to go out and introduce our vodka and put a face to a brand that people can recognize. We stand behind our vodkas and promote them proudly.
Craft spirits is where craft beer was twenty years ago. Therefore, we see craft spirits on the rise and we recognize that people are ready for more unique, natural spirits and we are here to provide them.
Bella Mar Vodkas are gluten free, but aren’t all distilled spirits gluten free? Why did you choose to actively promote that aspect?
We speak the truth about our vodkas and advertise accordingly. Our vodka is made from 100% USA corn and therefore is naturally gluten-free. We also have naturally infused vodkas that are also gluten-free. We don’t use chemicals or fillers to create the flavor profiles of our infused vodkas. We choose to be proactive about labeling our products so that the consumers don’t have to inquire further. If they are concerned about gluten or GMO’s, we are able to relay to them that we are free of those.
Do you distill your vodka or is the distillation done at another distillery? If you do not distill your own product, do you have plans to in the future? Why or why not?
We do not distill our vodka currently. We do use our choice of natural cascade mountain spring water as well as a specific multi-filtration process in order to produce pure, smooth vodka. We are looking to raise capital and produce the product in southern California. There is a great distillery community here that we are proud to be a part of.
What has been the hardest part of starting a spirits business?
The hardest part is definitely playing against the big dogs. There are a lot of large established vodka brands out there, but we know that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. So we work hard each day and are so fortunate to be well loved at our tasting events. It’s important for us to keep spreading the word and flavor of Bella Mar Spirits. We continue to gain accounts, have tasting events, donate to local charities and get the word out by doing interviews like this! We appreciate Speaking Easy Podcast and all the guys for giving us another chance to talk about our vodkas and share our brand story.
What have you been drinking recently?
I’ve been experimenting with more herbs lately. I have been creating herbal simple syrups as well as trying our vodkas with Cynar. I’ve been enjoying how the herbs compliment the fruitiness of our Sweet Lime Vodka and Orange Basil Vodka.
If you could only have one cocktail for the rest of your life, which cocktail would you choose?
Dirty Martini, I love how smooth and mild our vodka is and the addition of the salty olive brine makes for a perfect martini for any occasion!
Do you often have toasts when drinking with friends? Do you have a favorite toast?
We’ll always toast to family, health and friendship. And I have used “cheers!” more than I have ever in my life being in this industry! It comes so naturally at our tastings events that I’ll find myself saying it to whoever we meet even outside our events!