Dean Phillips

On 100 years of keeping America in good spirits

Are you a three-martini lunch guy?
Dean Phillips: No, I don’t know how people did that.

How did your family get into the liquor business?
DP: My great-great grandfather Ed came from Russia with nothing and founded Phillips Distilling. Now every Minnesota family, in the cabin or tacklebox, seems to have a bottle of something Phillips and a story to go with it.

Probably peppermint schnapps.
DP: In the 1930s, a Phillips sales rep noticed that drinkers were dropping peppermint candies into their poorly aged bourbon to give it more flavor. He thought, “We can do that”—the first American schnapps. We were also the first distiller to make flavored vodkas in the 1950s and the only one, so far, to make a wholly terroir spirit—Prairie organic vodka, made with corn grown by three Minnesota farmers.

What is Gin-Ka, this Mad Men-era spirit you’re bringing back for the anniversary?
DP: Gin-Ka is a gin and vodka blend, a trend that started in the early 1960s when James Bond ordered a gin-vodka martini in Casino Royale. It introduced people to vodka; now we’re reintroducing people to gin.

What’s your favorite drink?
DP: I love a bootleg in the summer: gin or vodka, lemon or lime juice, sugar, minced mint, blended on ice. Best drink you’ll ever have in your life.

Your family tree branches off into advice columnists, right?
DP: My grandmother’s sister, known as Ann Landers, began her column in Chicago and my grandmother helped with it. My grandmother then started Dear Abby. My aunt, Jeanne Phillips, is now “Abby.”

Did your grandmother give you some memorable advice?
DP: Yes: that I shouldn’t give any advice.

See a slideshow of the historic Phillips headquarters at