Why, Yes—Black-Eyed Pea Vodka Is Possible

Rachel Tepper Paley
March 11, 2014

Photo credit: Getty

It’s a funny thing, vodka—nearly anything with starch or sugar can be transformed into the clear, fiery spirit. There’s milk vodka, fig vodka, cactus vodka, and now: black-eyed pea vodka.

"It’s never been done before, that we can find," said Deborah Nickels, who, with her grown son Trey, is the force behind TreyMark Black-Eyed Vodka. By mid-May, the pair hopes to begin production in a historic firehouse south of downtown Fort Worth, Texas. Bottles will sell for around $35, similar to other top-shelf vodkas.

"As far as the taste, it’s very smooth with no burn," Nickels told us in a lush Texan drawl. "Our vodka comes off with a little nut finish at the end. Also some people have said it has a subtle green tea finish." It’s delightful in a dirty martini or spicy Bloody Mary, she said.

But nearly as intriguing as the vodka itself is the story behind it. For decades, Nickels and her family tended fields upon fields of black-eyed peas across three West Texas counties, producing beans for large outfits like Bush Brothers & Company.

It was hard yet rewarding work, Nickels explained. Sometimes Trey, exhausted from driving up to 350 miles a day between fields, would sleep with his crops rather than driving home through the night. But a series of droughts and shrinking water supplies left the family flailing, uncertain what to do next.

Late one evening, drinking beer in a black-eyed pea field, Trey had an idea: Why not make vodka? The Nickels’ enlisted the help of a distilling consultant, Kentuckian Sherman Owens, who developed a way to break down the legumes based on a Chinese method of extracting starch from mung beans.

The elder Nickels is certainly proud of her son’s savvy. “Trey gave me a chance to come along on his dream,” she said, her voice welling. “It’s really a story of a son giving his mom a new chance. At my age, it’s not an easy thing to come by.”

We wish the Nickels lots of luck. The United States is officially a vodka-loving nation, so they shouldn’t have a hard time finding customers; we expect plenty of revelers will be ready to clink glasses and say cheers.

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