Winter Park native runs vodka company

Enlightened Grain

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  • | 11:51 a.m. May 9, 2012
Photo by: Isaac Babcock - Matt Anderson is adding a chef's taste to his Enlightened Grain vodka, created in Winter Park.
Photo by: Isaac Babcock - Matt Anderson is adding a chef's taste to his Enlightened Grain vodka, created in Winter Park.
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It started in true bootleg style, mixing in bathtubs, sipping and trying again and again, to get the perfect flavor.

Matt Anderson wanted to capture the essence of his skills learned in the kitchen, and translate them into the ideal, cuisine-complementary vodka.

No fancy marketing team imagining flashy designs and trendy pop flavors based on what the partiers in downtown bars wanted to drink — just one man trying to create something truly unique.

“This is somebody with a passion and a vision,” said Ken Anderson, Matt’s father and business partner. “We are unfiltered Americans.”

Unfiltered American, which describes his vodkas and is the tagline for Anderson’s company, Enlightened Grain Spirits, is also a philosophy to living life, he said.

Anderson, a Winter Park native and Rollins College graduate, got a job in finance after graduating, but he said he felt it just wasn’t his calling. He’d always been in the restaurant industry as a bartender and decided to volunteer his time as a student in Chef Vincent Gagliano’s kitchen at Hannibal’s, after already serving as a bartender and manager there.

He learned to appreciate the cultivating of flavors and the hard work that goes behind running a restaurant. Anderson, always an artist, said he knew he needed to follow a creative path, and to live an “unfiltered American” life — a life he loved.

“It came to me kind of in a vision,” he said. “The big thing for me was how do you get out of bed every morning, what motivates you, because it certainly wasn’t money … save the world kind of came to mind, wanting to help and give back … and Enlightened Grain Spirits is that vehicle to do so.”

Anderson hopes to grow his company into one that can use its resources to give back to local charities. He’s already contributed to 150 charities in the last year, through “relevant, tangible community outreach.” That means he isn’t just writing a check to a large nonprofit, he’s actually helping to build a home in the Central Florida community through Habitat for Humanity.

“Enlightened Grain is far more than a vodka company,” he said.

Visit for more information about Enlightened Grain Spirits. Many Park Avenue restaurants serve his vodkas, and you can purchase them at Vines Wine and Spirits in Orlando and online at Matt Anderson’s newest release is Origin, an unfiltered, American vodka, and will be on shelves in a month.

You can find Enlightened Grain Spirits at these locations:

The Ravenous Pig

Park Plaza Gardens

310 Park South

Fleming’s Winter Park

Hot Olives

Hannibal’s Lounge

Jack’s Steakhouse

Fiddler’s Green

Chez Vincent

And that’s something that many local businesses like. A year after mixing up batch after batch of vodkas, infusing it using rosemary and lavender grown in his own backyard, he had his first vodka, called “Inspiration.”

His next was “Windsor,” an Earl Grey tea-and-sage-infused vodka, and both can be found at many Winter Park restaurants. They’re vodkas even a chef can love.

“It’s got its own character,” Chef Gagliano said. “The flavor is completely distinguished — there’s nothing close to it.”

“The liquid renaissance of cocktail creation is kind of what we want to lead,” Anderson said. “We’re bringing that chef-inspired drink program, that mixology-forward bar chef, experimenting with flavors that are going to complement what’s coming out of the kitchen, not just doing their own thing.”

That works for local culinary hot spots such as The Ravenous Pig and Hot Olives. The flavors of his vodkas make for recipes that are creative, savory rather than sweet, and totally new to most palates and the drink-mixing scene, said Larry Floor, bar manager at Ravenous Pig.

“When they came to me with this product, it was actually really refreshing,” Floor said. “I think he’s definitely ahead of the curve for people’s tastes, and I think it’s a good way to introduce them to something different.”

It also helps that Anderson is a hometown success. He said Winter Park as a community has really supported him on his journey so far. Many of the restaurants that sell his vodka feature it in a drink on their specialty drink list. At The Ravenous Pig, one of their best sellers includes Anderson’s Inspiration. It doesn’t take much to get someone on board after they hear their drink originated right here in Winter Park.

“It’s all about telling the story,” said Sean Kimmey, general manager at Hot Olives in Winter Park.

“We promote not only the vodka, but we promote the logistics behind it, the story behind it … they like not only the product, but they like to support the entrepreneur who is taking chances and doing the next thing,” Gagliano said.

Anderson said he hopes that his vodkas are something people can identify themselves with — a person who respects the drink, its sustainable, organic ingredients, and the work that went into making it. He certainly does.

“I live this so it’s every part of me … the story of the vodka is the story of me.”


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