Duck, Duck, Gray Duck Vodka

If you are standing in the spirits section at the liquor store and faced with the multitude of choices on the vodka shelf, why not pick out one of the newest local options available? Gray Duck even makes itself easy to identify as a local product with a little purple state of Minnesota on the front of the label. (The purple, of course, is a nod to the “purple pride” of the Minnesota Vikings as the name itself was inspired by a player celebration.)

Kyle Rudolph’s touchdown and subsequent end zone celebration started a national debate in October 2017. As he and other Vikings teammates played a quick game of Duck, Duck, Gray Duck in silly celebration, people from other states were evidently thinking that game is called “Duck, Duck, Goose” not “Gray Duck.” Turns out, it seems, it is widely understood that the rest of the country plays Duck, Duck, Goose while the state of Minnesota plays Duck, Duck, Gray Duck.

So how does that translate into a vodka brand? One of the founding partners, Jerry Schulz, was looking up information on Rudolph’s charitable foundation and kept coming across stories about the end zone celebration and debate about the duck versus goose name of the childhood game. Schulz describes this as a “happy accident” for the inspiration, and then he and fellow founding partner Mark Cotter jumped into the unknown.

With no background in distilling they learned everything they could about the business. Originally from Illinois but Minnesota residents now, Schultz and Cotter office in the same building in Burnsville and have worked together for many years, with each owning a separate Country Financial insurance agency. The new venture was very educational for them along with partner Jamie Quesnel.

“Everything that we have had to do, we have had to learn to make the best decisions,” says Cotter. After arming themselves with the knowledge to get into the vodka business, they got the trademark for Gray Duck at the end of January 2018 and launched the brand in August this year.

While vodkas are often made with wheat or rye, Gray Duck is made from 100 percent corn so it’s gluten-free. “Our product has a slight sweet taste to it from the corn and finishes smooth. We have been told our vodka has a lot of character to it,” says Cotter. Tito’s, a popular brand made in Texas, is also made from corn. “We wanted to make something that’s local but reach a mainstream level similar to Tito’s, he says. “But why buy from Texas—or France—when you can buy local?”

The entire process of producing Gray Duck is local. The Minnesota-grown corn is distilled at Chippewa Valley in Benson, and then Skaalvenn Distillery in Brooklyn Park proofs the product down, filters it and packages it for Gray Duck, says Cotter.

While Rudolph’s end zone celebration was the inspiration for the idea, as an active NFL player he is not involved with the brand, so former Vikings player Chad Greenway stepped in to become the face of spirit. Greenway and Cotter connected through one of Cotter’s childhood friends and college football teammates. Now, Greenway is onboard in marketing and day-to-day company activities. “In the near future we plan to work with both Kyle and Chad’s foundations,” says Cotter.

Gray Duck Vodka has increased production since its launch—after all, 15,000 of liters (based on total volume) were sold in the first six weeks. “Our original plan was to launch in the Twin Cities and see how it went, but we had demand immediately from all over the state,” says Cotter.

Gray Duck just launched in Greenway’s home state of South Dakota October 25 and in North Dakota November 8 with hopes to launch in Iowa in the next few months. “For the time being we will stick with Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Iowa and see where demand takes us,” says Cotter.

“We are extremely happy with all the support and are very pleasantly surprised,” says Cotter. Adds Schultz, “It’s been quite a ride.”

As a very mixable spirit, Gray Duck has developed some signature cocktails to help you raise a glass to the spirit of Minnesota. It also might pair well mixed with your favorite pop (also known as “soda” in other states) or alongside a comforting hot dish (also known as “casserole” elsewhere). And, of course, while watching a Vikings game.


Duck Duck Slide

Gray Duck Vodka
Bailey’s Irish Cream

Add equal parts of all ingredients to a lowball glass filled with ice and stir. (Drink pictured above.)


Duck Duck Mule

1.5 ounces Gray Duck Vodka
4 ounces Cock n Bull Ginger Beer
splash Grand Marnier
orange slice, for garnish

Add all ingredients to a copper mug filled with ice and stir. Garnish with an orange slice.


Tailgate Bloody Duck

1.5 ounces Gray Duck Vodka
Zing Zang Bloody Mary Mix, to top
pickle spear, beef stick, banana pepper, and olives, for garnish

Rim a pint glass with celery salt. Filled with Ice and add vodka and bloody mary mix. Garnish with pickle spear, beef stick, banana pepper, and olives. Skol!



1.5 ounces Gray Duck Vodka
club soda, to top
lime slice, for garnish

Fill a lowball glass with ice. Add vodka and top with club soda. Garnish with a lime slice.

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Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her school-age son, who used to eat beets and Indian food, will one day again think of real food as more than a means to a treat—and later share this with his younger brother.