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Summer Love Vodka founder reflects on ‘basement hobby gone viral’

By SILVIA PIKAL

Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel, courtesy Mike Stanfield.

Mike Stanfield showed up at the Where Calgary office on a cold and gloomy Thursday afternoon in January with a guitar case full of vodka.
That’s a typical day “in the office” for Mike (not for Where Calgary, despite what you see about writers on TV. We swear. Just don’t look in the bottom drawer of our file cabinets).

Four years ago, Stanfield quit his corporate recruiting gig to stay home with his kids and think about what he wanted to do next. For years, Stanfield had been experimenting with tasty vodka in his basement, and when Alberta’s liquor regulations started to ease up for small-scale craft distillers, he pondered turning his labour of love into something more.

After a lot of trial and error, (and testing out the product on lucky friends at parties), Mike perfected the recipes to his liking. Unable to afford the start-up capital for building a distillery, and finding it difficult to partner with Alberta distilleries due to the volume of product he wanted to produce, he found a Wisconsin distillery to work with and Starr Distilling was born.

His company has seen great success with their first release Summer Love raspberry vodka. It won Best Spirit product under $50 at both the 2017 Calgary and Edmonton Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festivals.

“This was a basement hobby that’s gone viral,” Stanfield says.

What asked what he wants our readers to know about the product, he’s succinct: “It’s good.”

Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel, courtesy Mike Stanfield.

The brand celebrates Canadian summer, and the colourful artwork on the bottle brings you right back to sunny days by the lake, thanks to Calgary illustrator Dean Stanton (one of his most iconic works is the Sunalta Elementary School mural).

Summer Love is all natural, with more than a pound of B.C. raspberries in every bottle. We can attest it’s great chilled over ice, or mixed with lemonade or club soda. Make sure to take ‘er easy, though—it’s not juice.

Stanfield says his favourite part is coming up with recipes in his basement lab and carrying his guitar case around, while the business side can be humbling.

“You’re against some very big brands that are very good at what they do from a sales and marketing perspective. It’s humbling to walk into a store and beg for some shelf space and hope somebody will come in and buy it. The hobby part of it, the labels and doing your own thing is fabulous.”

Some retailers that carry Summer Love raspberry vodka, and the second product, spiced pear, include Co-op Wine Spirits Beer, Crowfoot Wine and Spirits signature location, Kensington Wine Market, Vine Arts Wine and Spirits, Willow Park Wines and Spirits and Wine and Beyond.

Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel, courtesy Mike Stanfield.

Check out a recipe for a Raspberry Mule with the Summer Love raspberry vodka! 

  • 1.5 oz Summer Love Raspberry vodka
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • 2 or 3 oz ginger beer
  • Sprig of mint
  1. Muddle mint in a glass with the vodka, add lime and ginger beer and stir. Serve over ice if desired.

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