Food & Drink » Food & Wine

Artist Vodka for the creative types; Buster’s expands.



There's an old saying, "What rhymes with Friday? Vodka." And, folks, there's a new sheriff in town. Or right outside of town. In Oxford.

Artist Vodka, made by Old Venice restaurateur and Oxford resident Jim Bulian, hit the shelves a year ago and is doing its darndest to make sure that old saying rings true.

Its slogan is "The art is in the party," and it's making the rounds to parties across the continent with its business plan to pair up with artists and act as their vodka-in-residence.

"We promote their work, and they promote our product," Bulian, also an artist, says.

So far, the wheat-based vodka label has paired up with close to a half dozen artists, including painter Jeremy Lipking, novelist Ace Atkins, and jazz musician Ray Angry, and is looking to add more to the Artist Vodka Collective.

"We do pourings and tastings. We just did one at an art gallery in Culver City for Susan Carter Hall," Bulian says.

Bulian also makes his product available to film producers for product placement purposes, an idea that sparked from a run-in with Alison Eastwood, i.e. Clint Eastwood's daughter.

"I bumped into her at a dinner party. Our vodka is organic, and she loves anything organic, so I gave her a taste, and she asked if I would like to do a product placement in her film," Bulian says.

Speaking of organic, the Italian farro wheat that Bulian imports from Europe is USDA certified organic. He uses water from Lake Stevens in the Cascade mountain range in Washington and the old world Russian distillation method in a copper kettle.

"Lake Stevens gets 200 inches of rainfall a year and 200 inches of snowfall, so the water is fresh and perfectly pH balanced, and you get this really clean and soft taste," Bulian says. "We have yet to lose a taste test, and we've gone up against them all. We are 22 and 0."

So far Artist Vodka can be found in 45 restaurants, bars, and stores in Memphis, including Old Venice, of course, Cafe Pontotoc, Bardog, and Spirit Shop.

The website is still in launch-mode but eventually will host its Artist Collective, with bios and links for each artist it represents.

"I went through 75 different profiles to try to get it right. It's beautiful inside, and it's beautiful outside," Bulian says.

Buster's Liquors & Wines is thinking about changing its name. Again.

As the liquor laws or the drinking culture in the state of Tennessee slowly catch up with the rest of the country, or at least the less absurd areas, the 60-plus-year-old retail institution continues to evolve, and so does its name.

First it added the "& Wines" part as wine became more en vogue in the '80s and '90s. Next up is either adding a comma, moving the ampersand, and adding "Beer," or a similar configuration but with the word "More."

That's because Buster's definitely has beer now, and it has lots of more.

The store recently added 6,000 square feet to its existing 10,000, paying particular attention to making sure the beer nerds (cerevisaphiles?) of the Mid-South are properly slaked.

They now carry more than 500 beers stocked behind 14 cooler doors, and they launched Memphis' only Pegas growler system, which uses a pressurized environment and CO2, pumping out oxygen to keep the growler fresh for several weeks.

"It's a state-of-the-art system," Buster's president and co-owner, Josh Hammond, says. "Used to you would have to drink it in a few days. Now it can stay fresh for two months until you decide to open it."

They plan on rotating their eight taps regularly, concentrating on local brews, one-offs, and insider-knowledge beers made outside the state.

Because the Wine in Grocery Stores law, or WIGS, works both ways, Buster's also added edibles to their well-stocked shelves.

They offer Boar's Head sausages and packaged sliced meats, the Good Ham Company hams, 50-plus varieties of specialty cheeses, olive oils, Felicia Willett's Flo's products, Judy Pound Cakes, Shotwell candies, Papi Joe's Bloody Mary mix, plus a nice selection of accessories, from stemware to gift bags.

The expansion also gave the store room to spread out a little, with wider aisles, a more roomy register, and the space for tasting desks, where they plan to hold weekend tastings on a regular basis.

"Our grand opening [in early December] was awesome. I would be waiting on a customer, showing them all the new stuff, and they would be sampling something, then I would look up a couple of hours later, and they were still there," Hammond says. "That's the kind of experience we want to give.

"That's where the industry's headed, and we're definitely raising the bar."

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