Story first appeared on The Detriot Free Press on Dec 31, 2016.
LANSING – Oma’s isn’t your father’s vodka.
It’s your grandmother’s.
Hedy Steinbart, 91, of Lansing, has been infusing Michigan Montmorency cherries into vodka since she emigrated from Hanover, Germany, in 1952.
Over the years, her crimson-colored vodka recipe has become a staple at family holidays and celebrations. She’s made five gallons a year for decades, giving jars away to friends and family, who refer to her as Oma. In German, it means grandmother.
“It was the hit of all my college buddies,” said Okemos native Kyle Miller, Steinbart’s grandson. “Everyone wanted more. Everyone wanted to meet Oma.”
And now, Oma’s Cherry Infused Vodka is about to become a national brand.
Miller, who grew up in Okemos but now lives in Chicago, learned his grandmother’s recipe in the summer of 2015. He made a large batch back in Chicago, stored the vodka in liquor bottles imported from Italy, and put professionally designed labels on them. When Miller sent them out to friends and family, he received so much positive feedback he was inspired to turn Oma’s Cherry Infused Vodka into its own brand.
He teamed up with Dave Perry, president of Accelerated Brands Corp., a Chicago-based branding agency, to set up the manufacturing and distribution.
“When he brought the product to us, we loved it,” Perry said. “It’s truly a craft product.”
Though there are about 40 artificially flavored vodkas on the market, there aren’t many that are infused, he said.
There is a difference.
Perry said Oma’s Cherry Vodka doesn’t have that intense burn that flavored vodkas have. It goes down smooth.
“It’s got a very lush, rich cherry flavor,” he said.
To achieve the smoothness, Steinbart said she buys 100 proof vodka and soaks cherries in it for four months. She gets the cherries from an orchard near Traverse City. After they soak, she adds sugar and then spikes them with again with more vodka, to counteract the reduction in alcohol content over the months-long process. The finished product ends up to be about 80 proof, or 40% alcohol.
The leftover cherries are sometimes baked into a cake.
Steinbart’s parents taught her the technique in Germany, something the family did because “it was something different.”
Oma’s Cherry Infused Vodka will launch on Jan. 16, and there will be more than five gallons to go around. It will be available online for purchase at ezras.com. Perry said it should be on shelves in Michigan by February. The label depicts Steinbart’s smiling face next to two plump cherries.
The mass production will be handled by Premiere Distillery in Gurnee, Illinois, which will use its Real Russian Vodka as a base. Miller said Michigan cherries will still be used. It will also be 80 proof and come in a 750 milliliter bottle.
“For me, it’s all about Oma and her legacy,” Miller said. “Everyone’s excited about it.”
Steinbart was more measured.
“It’s fine with me,” she said. “At my age, you don’t get too excited.”