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Maine-made potato vodka a five-star spirit

 Maine Distilleries (Courtesy: Portland Press Herald)
Hundreds and hundreds of vodka brands are sold in the United States.

But one of the very best, say some connoisseurs, is distilled and bottled in an unassuming barn on Route 1 in Freeport.

The company is called Maine Distilleries LLC, and its signature product is Cold River Vodka, a thrice-distilled top-shelf spirit made from Maine potatoes.

In the five years since the company was founded, Maine Distilleries has expanded to 26 states and won numerous awards, achievements insiders attribute to a quality product, strong customer relationships and booming demand for spirits from small distillers.

The spirits are made from Yukon gold, russet and white potatoes harvested at Donnie Thibodeau's Green Thumb Farms in Fryeburg.

A machine grinds the potatoes into one-eighth-inch chunks, which are steamed, cooked in filtered water and pumped into one of three fermentation vessels, where yeast is added.

Next, the "potato wine"undergoes a three-part distillation process, before it is cut to 80 proof with water from the Saco River aquifer.

Most people think vodka is odorless and tasteless, but Dowe said Maine potatoes impart an earthy flavor, and cooking endows hints of caramel.

Cold River won gold medals at the World Spirits Competition and from the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, and Wine Enthusiast named it the No. 1 vodka in the world in 2008.