20 Questions with Nathan Riedel

Vodka doesn’t seem to be a particularly big deal in Washington. But when lawmakers are switching from Grey Goose and Ketel One to the new brand created by a political action committee (PAC) fundraiser, it deserves attention — and a taste. The new choice, SurReal Vodka, fresh from Latvia, is hitting the finer restaurants around town, including Citronelle, Sonoma, Lounge 201, Shelly’s Backroom, Johnny’s Half Shell, Brasserie Beck and City Zen. The vodka was also featured in SurReal’s black-tie VIP lounge at Taste of the South. The vodka comes in various flavors, such as regular, Red Berry Crème and Ginger Peach. Meet Nathan Riedel, a former Hill staffer and now a PAC fundraiser for the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America. While excited about the prospects of SurReal Vodka, he plans to keep his day job. For more information, visit www.surrealvodka.com

Why vodka?
Everyone needs a break from politics, and this is a big break.

Can vodka be political?
Yeah, you see it at every political fundraiser.

Would it be helpful if the presidential hopefuls did shots of your vodka?
It would definitely help me, but it wouldn’t help them at all. We’ll stick to the Hollywood types where it’s a little more accepted for them to be our spokespeople.

Do you think we’re in a town of functioning alcoholics?
It’s definitely a city where people socialize and put in long hours and need to relax.

Who are your Hollywood stars?
We just rolled out our advertising campaign this month, but it will be your sophisticated types, unlike what some of our competitors are doing.

What are they doing?
You know, like P. Diddy that attract a certain crowd. Ours is a luxury vodka meant to be served on the rocks.

So Lindsay Lohan?
I was thinking more James Bond.

Old or new?
Any guy who can go by 007, any of them. It’s just that lifestyle, ... tuxedo, good-looking.

Where is your vodka being served?
[In addition to restaurants and bars], at the events we sponsor around town. We were at the GI Film Festival, where Gary Sinise and Robert Duvall were.

Did they try your vodka?
I’m sure they did. We were the direct sponsor.

So it’s not for cheap vodka drinkers.
It’s in the $40 range for one liter, so it’s comparable to Belvedere.

What did you drink before you had your own?
I was a Belvedere and Ketel One fan. I have a couple of congressmen who have switched from Ketel One to SurReal. Tom Reynolds [R-N.Y.] is a fan, as is John Kline [R-Minn.].

Take me through the evolution of this vodka.
A college friend called me up and said, “My father and I are starting a vodka company. We’re going to Europe for three months to find a century-old product to export.” They just asked if I wanted to be part of the venture from the ground floor.

No offense, but why you?
Just to bring in the D.C. crowd. D.C. was where we wanted to launch. It was more out of friendship and business acumen.

What is your political experience?
I did an internship for Sen. John Ensign [R-Nev.]. I worked at the National Republican Campaign Committee in their fundraising department. I work at the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, running their PAC. I don’t do any lobbying on the Hill. I work on campaigns. Contrary to popular belief, those can be separated.

When did SurReal Vodka launch?
About a month ago in D.C. We did our launch party at the Latvian Embassy.

Why there?
The product is from Latvia. We wanted to respect its roots.

Do you think it tastes different from other vodkas?
It’s an all-natural product. There are a lot of vodkas that have a lot of additives. We’ve done blind taste tests with sommeliers, chefs and bartenders.

In every one, we’ve done 10 vodkas and scored in the top three. In two of those we came in first place. A lot of vodkas have saturated the market in recent years and the common thought has been if we throw enough money into marketing a bad product it will succeed. SurReal has taken a grassroots approach to sophisticated drinkers who enjoy vodka straight. We think you don’t have to mix it with a bunch of fruity things to make it taste good.

Will you still do PAC fundraising?
Yes, this is just on the side. Like I said, everyone needs a break from politics. I like politics, but sometimes everyone feels like they need to drink.

To recommend a political personality for 20 Questions, call Betsy Rothstein at (202)628-8516 or e-mail her at betsyr@thehill.com.