When it comes to spirits, it’s a little harder for a vodka to stand apart from other brands on the market than it may be for a distinctive gin or whisky. Even if a brand claims to have a cleaner taste or uses a unique filtration method or grain mix, to the average person mixing a highball or cocktail, a vodka is a vodka is a vodka. Which isn’t to say that all vodkas are created equally or that the extra pains that a distiller goes through aren’t worth it, just that a fledgling craft vodka distillery needs to find an extra hook. And there’s no better hook than a legitimate celebrity endorsement.
Just as Aviation Gin has Ryan Reynolds and Crystal Head Vodka has Dan Ackroyd, Deuce Vodka, a label run out of Big River Saskatchewan, has country music star Brett Kissel as an owner and spokesman. The product was actually developed by his Kissel’s business partner Matt Doucette, a youthful go-getter who started producing his vodka as soon as he was legally allowed to — he applied for his distilling licence on his 19th birthday, making him the youngest person in Saskatchewan to ever do so.
As a young distilling wizard, Doucette had his formula and process down pat, but four years into the trade he needed to figure out how to get his vodka from his distillery in Big River to bars and restaurants and into home liquor cabinets. Luckily, he had enough bravado to contact one of his favourite country singers via an Instagram DM to try to negotiate a sponsorship deal.
Kissel looked at the small scope of Doucette’s business and thought that it was best to pass, but his wife Cecilia, an online influencer with an eye for diamonds in the rough, encouraged her husband to meet with Doucette and offer some mentorship. Kissel could smell that the COVID-19 pandemic was coming, but he had one last show in Moose Jaw in March of 2020 with Brad Paisley before the world shut down (Kissel estimates that it was the last pre-pandemic live concert in North America since restrictions on large gatherings were enacted in Canada the day before but an exception was made for Paisley’s show), and invited Doucette to meet with him.
Kissel was so impressed with Doucette (whom he calls “an entrepreneur on steroids”) and his vodka that he told him that he didn’t just want a sponsorship, he wanted to go into business with him. In May 2020 (coincidentally, Kissel’s 30th birthday) the two signed the paperwork to start the Deuce Vodka Corp. and launched an expansion into Alberta, with a second production facility at the Rig Hand Distillery in Nisku. With no shows to play for the next year, Kissel threw himself into the vodka biz and set to letting the world know just how good Doucette is with a still.
“It’s been amazing that I’ve been able to focus 24/7 on this launch,” Kissel says. “Everything I’ve done in music has been pretty special, but every time I’ve had a moment to celebrate, I’ve had a drink in my hand. We’re the kind of people who like to stop and smell the roses and acknowledge the moment that we’re in. So, it made perfect sense for me to get into the spirit business — I’ve always wanted to do it, I just thought I’d be doing it later in life.”
Kissel credits Doucette’s skill, Alberta and Saskatchewan’s premium grain and clean cold water for Deuce’s smooth taste and lack of burn on the palate. The use of local ingredients gives Deuce a sense of place that spoke to Kissel and aligned with his brand as a musician. Drawing on what Kissel sees as Western Canadians’ celebratory culture, in addition to its core product, Deuce also makes a pink fruity “Neon” flavour and this summer introduced seasonal summer mixes to the product list.
While the flavoured stuff sells well to particular demographics. Kissel is most proud of the cleanness and crispness of the original vodka, which appeals to his own Eastern European roots, and is filtered to the point that vodka lovers can happily sip it without mix. While Kissel won’t speculate as to whether or not Deuce has any plans to expand to other spirits (or more specifically, if they have anything barreled that will eventually become whisky), he’s happy that his pandemic-born project has been properly launched and that he can naturally promote it now that he’s back to his “real” job of performing in front of audiences.
“If you don’t have a great product you’re dead in the water,” he says. “But also, the only way to get that product out to the market is if you have a great drive and a great commitment and attitude. In music, you need talent, commitment, sacrifice, and attitude. That’s the recipe I believe in. It’s the exact same thing with this spirit business.”