Valley man vending vodka for vets
The Aspen Times
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Aspen Times in December.
ASPEN, Colorado ” If you’ve tried to buy vodka in the Roaring Fork Valley, you might have noticed a local newcomer on the top shelf, between the Gray Goose and the Ketel One.
The black-and-gray bottle of Jöka vodka comes looped with dog tags featuring the soldiers’ creed ” and a label that touts it as the “Spirit of Aspen.”
“It’s selling,” said Roger Carlson, manager of the Grog Shop. He explained that Jöka is even more likely to sell when people realize the proceeds support veterans.
“It seems word is getting around that there’s a crazy guy out there that knocks on doors … and tries to sell vodka for the benefit of veterans,” said Joe Nedlin, the energetic Aspenite behind the new vodka. Of late, Nedlin has been searching for a product to raise money for veterans in the same way Paul Newman’s salad dressings have garnered millions for charities.
He’s tried golf clubs, golf accessories and beauty products ” all sold under the label Aspen Black Diamond. But he said even though the golf clubs are featured at places like the Aspen Club, he’s found they’re hard to sell. Ditto for beauty products. His vodka, on the other hand, appears to be taking off.
The vodka, said Nedlin, is made by Bend Distillers, in Bend, Ore., using a recipe he helped design. For sweetness, it’s made only from corn. And it’s filtered five times through charcoal and crushed lava. The name comes from his own nickname when Nedlin was in the Army Reserves ” “The Joker.”
Nedlin said the slogan “Spirit of Aspen,” is both a pun on the word “spirit” and a nod to Aspen’s passion for philanthropy.
“People of Aspen have such a spirit about them,” he said. “How can you beat people like this?”
Jöka vodka sells for between $25 and $28 a bottle, a price Nedlin said puts it at the low end of top-shelf vodkas. In the first month, he’s sold 720 bottles to local restaurants and bars ” including the St. Regis Hotel in Aspen and Sneaky’s Tavern in Snowmass ” and nearly every liquor store in the valley. According to Nedlin, $3 of every sale goes to veterans, meaning he’s raised over $2,000 in the first month of the project.
“I’m not asking you to give money, to make a donation,” he said. “I’m saying [that] I’ve got a great vodka and if you’re so inclined to buy vodka, buy Jöka.”
Though Nedlin has created his own 501(c)3 nonprofit, Charity Assistance Advisors, he won’t be distributing the money himself. Instead, the money will be distributed by the Grand Junction chapter of Blue Star Mothers, an organization of women with children serving in the military.
Chapter president Wendy Hoffman affirmed the needs of veterans by noting that nationwide, one in three homeless people are veterans. In Grand Junction, she said, that number is even higher.
According to Hoffman, the money from the vodka sales will be distributed both to individual veterans and to organizations that serve veterans.
Right now, Nedlin ” the sole sales man for the vodka ” is keeping both sales and donations in Colorado.
“That’s all my car will travel,” he jokes.
But both he and Hoffman say that some day, it would be nice to take the brand and the partnership with the Blue Star mothers nationwide.
But Hoffman cautions that it might take some effort to convince other chapters that it’s a good partnership. Even in Grand Junction, she said, a few women have raised concerns about supporting veterans through the sale of vodka.
“With 7,000 members out there, a lot more will be concerned about the fact that it’s vodka,” Hoffman said.
Nedlin acknowledged the concern, but said for him, everything is out weighed by the great need among U.S. veterans.
“I wouldn’t sell anything if people would put their hands in their pockets and just donate,” Nedlin said. In the meantime, he’s going to keep selling vodka for veterans.
“I’m 67 years old, how many more years do I have?” he said. “I have to make every day mean something.”
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