Hedy Steinbart, 92, learned how to make cherry-infused vodka from her parents in Germany in the 1940s.
Today, Steinbart can go to her local liquor store in Lansing, Michigan, and purchase a bottle of her own drink thanks to her 28-year-old grandson, who created Oma’s Cherry Infused Vodka as a passion project to continue his grandmother’s legacy.
“Our whole family was crying when we saw that,” Steinbart’s grandson, Kyle Miller, 28, said of the moment this month that Steinbart first saw her drink for sale on a store shelf. “My goal was nothing more than to carry on Oma’s legacy.”
Miller, one of Steinbart’s four grandsons, has vivid memories from his childhood of watching Steinbart, who goes by Oma, German for grandmother, create her famous drink that was a staple at holidays and family celebrations.
Steinbart, with the help of family, including her two children, would handpick cherries, place them in glass jars with vodka and other secret ingredients, and leave it to infuse for four months, occasionally adding sugar and more alcohol throughout the process.
When Steinbart, who emigrated to the U.S. as a single woman in 1952, had to stop making the drink at age 90, Miller learned the process from her personally.
In 2015, Miller, who works in the insurance industry, decided to make the drink for his family and close friends and had 75 pounds of Michigan cherries shipped to his apartment in Chicago, where the Michigan native moved after college.
"My roommate thought I was crazy," he said.
Miller had a graphic designer make a label that told the history of his grandmother and the family recipe and shipped the bottles off as Christmas gifts.
“My college friends all loved Oma so I sent it to all of them of course,” Miller said. “Once people got it they said, ‘This is awesome. I’ve got a wedding coming up. I want a case. I want more.’”
Miller then embarked on what he calls his “passion project” and partnered with a distiller to make Steinbart’s homemade recipe scale-able for the mass market. The final product, which still uses handpicked Michigan cherries, was approved by Steinbart.
“When we were trying to replicate the recipe, she would taste it and we did a blind taste test,” Miller said. “She’s going to tell you if she likes it or not so when we passed the blind taste test, I knew we were onto something.”
Steinbart said her grandson put “quite an effort” into the yearslong process of bringing the drink from her kitchen to stores.
“I’m a little excited I think and surprised too, but nothing surprises me with Kyle,” she said.
Oma’s Cherry Infused Vodka hit store shelves in Illinois in March and in the family’s home state of Michigan this month. The drink, which ranges in price from $34.95 to $39, is also available online and still features Steinbart's immigration and family story on the label.
"I have the ultimate respect for what she did and the label depicts what she means for our family," said Miller, who is now working with his business partners to raise additional capital to expand the brand to the Northeast.
Steinbart, whose photo is also featured on the bottle, is still adjusting to the fame that came once her drink hit the market. She has been stopped at church and by her doctor, while members of her daughter’s book club who tried to buy the drink locally were stopped because it was sold out.
“I can’t even tell you how amazing it is and what a wonderful tribute it is to my mom and how fun it’s all been,” said Steinbart's daughter, Dory Steinbart, who is also Miller’s mom.
Dory Steinbart said she believes Miller wanted to carry on his grandmother’s legacy because Hedy Steinbart's story is one of “a resilient spirit.”
“They started with nothing and truly lived the American dream by working hard and saving their money,” Dory Steinbart said of her mom and dad, who passed away in 2003. “And they helped put all of four of their grandsons through college because they thought that so was important.”
Hedy Steinbart, who worked as a tailor and is also famous in the family for her homemade applesauce, described her success story more simply.
“It’s hard work and it pays off,” she said.