Andy King is perched on a barstool with a peeled cocktail shrimp in one hand and a half-full martini glass in the other.
He’s chatting with his Alaska Distillery co-worker Chrissy Grunzke and MJ, head bartender at Klondike Mike’s Saloon in Palmer, Alaska (near Anchorage).
“This is tough work,” King says with just a trace of a smile on his face. “But somebody’s got to do it.”
King, whose roots are in Northern Kentucky, and Chrissy, with plenty of help from MJ, were trying to create a cocktail that could be made with a shrimp-infused vodka that the Alaska Distillery was experimenting with at its plant in nearby Wasilla.
The barroom scene is one slice of one episode of Alaska Proof, a reality series about the distillery that debuted in January on Animal Planet, the cable channel that seems to have an obsession with the 49th state and its inhabitants. Five series have “Alaska” or “Alaskans” in their titles and no network seems to appreciate prowling grizzlies more than Animal Planet.
“The show has been about a three-year process. We did a 15-minute teaser about two and a half years ago and then we did the first episodes last spring,” said King, 42, the general manager of the distillery, a principal crew member in the TV series, and a 1990 graduate of Beechwood High School in Ft. Mitchell who briefly attended Northern Kentucky University.
King didn’t take a direct route to the state or the Alaska Distillery.
After deciding that he wasn’t really interested in college, King said he moved into the Old Seminary Square neighborhood in Covington and began working for construction companies during the day and playing bluegrass at night with the Kenton County Regulators.
Then about 10 years ago King had a talk with an old high school friend, Eric Bricking, who was involved with a dinner theater production called Music of Denali, performed near Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve, which covers some six-million acres around Denali, the tallest peak in North America.
Bricking helped King land a job with Alaska Cabin Night, yet another dinner theater musical that is performed in Denali Village, a tourist magnet near the main entrance to the park.
King said he worked there for five seasons – the show shuts down during the worst winter months – and then did construction work for a couple of years before he went to work for the distillery about three years ago.
Now that they have taped the first eight episodes of the show, King said he and other members of the Alaska Distillery crew are waiting to see if Animal Planet renews the series for a second season.
Besides creating a cocktail for shrimp-infused vodka, Alaska Proof stories have focused on rushing to fill a big order for their primary distributor, experimenting with a caribou antler vodka, acquiring pure water from a glacier for products, and harvesting Sitka spruce tips to flavor another vodka.
The distillery’s premium Permafrost potato vodka ($39.99 for a 750ml bottle) and its Frostbite vodka ($35.99), both of which are unflavored, are two of the mainstay products, said Dorene Lorenz, president of media relations and external affairs for the distillery.
Alaska Distillery’s 11 vodkas, Bristol Bay Gin and its Alaska Outlaw Whiskey all are made with glacier water – the world’s purest, according to Lorenz.
The debut of the TV series last month had a monumental impact on sales.
“We sold out of everything we had – everything on the shelves and we had nothing available. We had two million hits on our website in the first 24 hours and my phone just kept ringing,” Lorenz said.
In recent years, Alaska Distillery products have received some positive reviews. The Wine Enthusiast, for example, summed up its smoked salmon flavored vodka this way: “Sounds gross, tastes great. Enjoy the savory finish.”
Whether Alaska Proof gets renewed for another season won’t have a huge impact on King’s commitment to Alaska. He’s married with a 2-year-old son, Warren, and he and his wife, Amanda, are expecting another child soon.
While he’s waiting for word on the future of the series, King is preparing to do construction work on remote cabins that are accessible only by boat.
“I just like the small-town atmosphere," King said. "It’s a huge state with a small-torn atmosphere. The winters are cold and dark and I love it. There’s a good quality of life here."