Today is our third anniversary, and I nearly forgot about it until I received a text message from my sister. I am not sure what revelation is more strange to me, the fact that we have made it to a concrete milestone for all new businesses despite incredible odds against us, or the fact that it doesn’t feel all that important at the moment. This is not what I thought it would look like.
Three years ago, I was waiting for this day with a boatload of anticipation and anxiety. Three years was the magic number for me, the date that would mark that this business was going to work, and I probably wasn’t going to lose my house and everything we have built. Now it seems very very small. Now I am met with overwhelming amounts of the polar feelings of gratitude and guilt. I am so thankful we are still here and feeling so many things for those who aren’t. It’s visceral, and I am heartbroken for America right now. Now is not the time to celebrate, we have a lot of work to do.
As part of this milestone, the Ethanolo¿y Family is taking time to evaluate how we can be part of the solution, not the problem. We are promising to take a harder stance on things like racial inequality, environmental justice, and the preservation and promotion of art and science. We have a duty of care to be better, because there are a lot of people and businesses that will never get that chance. Thank you to all of our customers for your generosity and endless amounts of both personal and professional support over these last three years, YOU have made all the difference.
-Geri, Nick and Ethanology Family
What if I told you that you could turn $20 into $1000 and all you had to do was spend it. Sounds like a scam right? It’s not. In fact, it is a simple and extremely important economic principle known as the multiplier effect of money. In times like these, my survival instincts tend to lead me back to the principles I learned in business school, but don’t worry, I’m still making bourbon too. The urgency of spending money locally is more important than ever and I’m going to explain how in a perfect scenario a very small purchase by you in a local business can end up being a massive investment in the community. Let’s assume for a minute we aren’t in a pandemic and business is being conducted as usual (this is solely for ease of explanation, and doesn’t change the principle of the matter at all)
You spend $20 on a bangarang pizza from Chef Charles.
... This money is transferred to payroll and is payed out to an employee, Amy, as wages, and Amy decides she would like to buy dinner and a drink from Cellar 152 for $16 (she tips the server Dan $4), then what the heck, Amy decides to join Dan (whose shift just ended) for a drink at town club. Amy uses an additional $8 of other money to buy 2 drinks. Dan uses the $4 he made plus an addition $4 from other tips to buy two drinks. Together they tip the bartender an additional $4. The next day Dan receives his paycheck from Cellar 152, $16 of the total amount in it were from the money Amy originally spent having dinner there. Dan uses this money to gas up his car at the local gas station who in turn has an account payable to Townline Ciderworks (and so the $16 in gas gets used towards the 100 dollars invoice due for canned cider) The next day Chris uses his $4 from tips plus he collects his paycheck, $16 of which was funded by Dan and Amy buying drinks there. Chris decides he needs to go grocery shopping with $20 at the Village Market, but first he decides he wants to stop for a $5 latte at Planetary Coffee...
... Are you starting to see the significance? From your one-time $20 pizza purchase you just sent a ripple of money throughout the community to the tune of $112 directly and $21 through indirect additional spending… all in less than 24 hours, meaning that over the course of a week your $20 will trigger nearly $1000 commerce. This makes you pretty much a fucking magician.
Now for those of you who are skeptical, I understand… this is a model that assumes 100% of the money is spent locally, and it gets spent instead of saved. This is for conceptual purposes only so calm down asshole, I can’t do a perfectly realistic one because this shit is complicated and my motivation for mathing is at an all time low. The important thing is, your local dollar spent makes a hugely massive difference. It is why both personally and professionally we strive to support local, and why anyone can make a difference. Thank you for your continued support, we are looking forward to serving you all again in the future.
Dear Fellow Quarantiners:
So, COVID-19 is putting a bit of a wrench into a whole lot of systems right now. I think we are only just beginning to see the physical/emotional/economic fallout of this whole thing. Gloom and doom aside, I am so hopeful to see the community banding together to help each other and strangers, it is truly inspiring and beautiful. We have all been forced to make decisions over the last few weeks to try and balance our responsibilities to self and community, and let’s be honest… most everyone is just doing the best they can. Given this, I just want to take a moment an appreciate the distilling industry as a whole, that has stepped up in awesome ways, I am humbled to be part of such a great community.
Originally, Ethanology had a plan, then it changed… then it changed again… about a dozen times. Ultimately, we talked things over with staff and have chosen to close our doors at this time. I have made the choice to isolate in a more serious manner as I have a heart condition that forces me to take this very seriously.
There have been many people asking about hand sanitizer. First off, big kudos to those in the industry who have been able to step up and fulfill this need. We have been watching the situation closely and now that it is legal for us, we are figuring out how to best contribute. Unfortunately, our small size (limited fermentation capacity) is impairing us from acting in a quick manner. As most of you know, we only produce one batch at a time and do not purchase bulk grain neutral spirits (high proof required to make hand sanitizer). Furthermore, since we have to mash, ferment, and distill vodka first, it will take at least 4-5 weeks before this can become a possibility, as our current bottled spirits are too low in alcohol to be used in the approved FDA recipe.
At this time, we are exploring options to work with a compounding pharmacy that has the glycerin, hydrogen peroxide, and denaturing agents necessary to formulate the FDA approved recipe and allow the sanitizer to be produced in a way accessible to hospitals etc. In the meantime, to try and do something positive we have chosen to pair up with our local soap maker and give away samples at the tasting room (while we were open) and now via mail.
Stay tuned and stay safe out there, and as always thanks so much for your continued support.
Two events this last weekend forced me to think about money in my business, where it comes from, and where it goes. The first was a group of customers (I’ll use that term loosely as they haven’t purchased anything in several visits) leaving the business disgruntled after being firmly told that in order to stay and listen to live music at the business, they would need to make a purchase of at least a soda. The second was an extremely generous customer who openly offered to invest in the business.
The first event got me thinking about social norms, what it means to “support” a business and the value of business offered amenities. The second got me thinking about the value of a dollar and who really is invested in this business. My conclusions were closely interwoven. Conclusion 1: in order to really support a business, you need to spend money at it or offer something value added. After all, businesses need to make money in order to operate in the first place. Conclusion 2: Nick and I are pretty adamant about not wanting investors (despite this being so flattering), but when you really think about it… isn’t every person who spends any money here, in fact an “investor” in our business?
All of this led me down an unexpected (but highly important) rabbit hole. If you have spent a dollar here at Ethanology in the last 3 years, where has that money gone? Conclusion 3: an incomplete list of just the local and Michigan based entities (both for profit and charitable) that your dollar has allowed us to help support.
... and that is just what I can come up with off the top of my head. And I have to say, it feels fucking great to know that doing what feels like the right thing personally has also translated to be the right thing for the business. My gratitude for your support is massive, investing in our business has allowed us to become part of this community and hopefully add value to the people and the other businesses around us. At the end of the day, please stay and buy that soda… it makes a real difference, and at the very least only costs you $0.67 an hour to enjoy live music and support another awesome Michigan company Northwoods Soda.
Chief of Dog Petting
Etiquette Enforcement Officer
The hum of the stillroom fan is almost as prominent as the throb in my (our) entire body(s). Its Sunday of Labor Day weekend. Every single muscle in my (our) body is aching. Even my bones ache. My brain is having trouble firing its synapses. Basic words are not... coming out. I need a beer.
Forbes. Fucking THE Forbes just released an article on Ethanolo¿y. It still hasn’t sunk in. There are these fleeting moments, like Geri and I crying our eyes out in the barrel room. Or when making breakfast this morning when I started sobbing uncontrollably. Tears of joy. Tears that were earned. All of the 100+ hour work weeks. Sleepless nights. Holy fuck, what did we get ourselves into moments. Will our marriage make it? Are we going to go bankrupt? What the fuck we’re we thinking? However, we are too tired to truly appreciate what has happened.
As the staff lethargically arrived this morning, I thanked them from the bottom of our hearts. None of this; Ethanolo¿y is not possible without the amazing family (team) we have. I thanked them for making sure every garnish is on-point, every ice cube place correctly, every glass polished to perfection, every tincture, syrup, cocktail made with passion and uncompromising attention to detail. Every customer experience exemplary. They are the reason we strive for perfection.
Geri and I have almost killed ourselves making sure that every spirit, cocktail and client experience is as good as it can be. Literally. Why? Because everything matters.
Even the cleanliness of the bathrooms.
If anything, this article is nothing more than a solidification of what we already know. Do the best of your ability. Work harder than any motherfucker you have ever met. Stay focused. Stay humble and most importantly, stay true to your mission and values. And damn, we are so fucking proud of what we have done at our little dream in Northern Michigan. This is success. Not letters on paper.
Well, enough pontificating, I have to scrub the toilets. It is my turn.
Sunday 8am, 228 gallons of water from our aquifer are flowing through this hose on its way to the mash tun. Tom Petty is competing with the hum of the mill, where eleven bushels of wheat are grinding their way through, in route to the mash tun, where H20 and local grain coalesce. The morning light coming into the still room accentuates the fine mill dust on my hands from loading each bushel, and the mill room has a fine coating on the surfaces.
Geri is resting, for the moment, and will arrive shorty before we open. This afternoon we will be running gin. I have configured the still, tightened every seal, (safety is paramount) scrubbed the pot, rinsed the fermenters and setup to pump over low wines. I am 2hrs into a 14hr day.
Looking around I am reminded of why Ethanolo¿y works. It works because Geri and I do. We work our asses off, every day to ensure that every detail is executed as perfectly as it can be. I truly believe that value is earned, and if you work your ass off you will be successful. Not financially, that shit comes and goes, and has absolutely no intrinsic value. I am talking about real success! Success that can never be spent, and must be earned.
I could be out on the boat, cracking beers, counting down the hours before I have to put on a suit and tie, working some shitty corporate job that sucks my soul out like a Dementor. However, I have chosen a different path and traded time for purpose.
There a thousand things I should and could be doing, rather than writing this blog. However, I have a choice on how to spend my time. And come Thursday, I’ll have an ice cold G&T in hand, looking forward to seeing your beautiful faces.
Sometimes I look around the distillery and think of all the things that make this business possible and it blows my little mind. It has a roof, walls, and a floor (dear lord grinding concrete is not for the faint of heart), and we sell stuff out of it. That pretty much fits the definition of a brick and mortar business. But there is something more here.
Me and Nick often spend our ride home at night rehashing the day. We talk about what broke, what went well, and what needs to get done tomorrow, but increasingly we talk about something else.
The unquantifiable side of our business, and the thing that we spend so much time in conversation about is our customers. Any place can put up cool décor, play great music, and serve a good product… but ultimately if no one shows up, you don’t have a business. Our customers make this place possible and I have so much gratitude that they are in my life. A lot of these people have become an extension of my family and they are pretty amazing. My customers bring me warm home-made cookies, their family recipe pizza, and vegetables they grew in their garden. They help me move heavy spent grain bins when I can’t on my own. They serve as deputy enforcers of the house rules. They dole out big bear hugs. They spread the word about this place louder and with more gusto than I ever have. I never learned about any of this in business school. No one told me how essential this would be to my own success and the success of this business. I guess it’s true that some things just can’t be taught in a classroom.
For those of you that know me, I am absolutely not a sappy mushy touchy feely type, I am usually Sisu as fuck. However, writing this makes me feel almost overwhelmed with the feels. Ultimately this is supposed to be a thank you, but I am not sure that I can express in two words (or any words for that matter) how happy I am to know, and be part of the cool tribe that has evolved here, but I am going to try.
Thank you for showing up, and brining your authentic, compassionate, and interesting self. You are the thing that makes this business more than a place that just sells shit.
The White Whiskey is nearly back after much delay. In the spirit of celebration, I thought to share a bit of knowledge, so you can impress your friends and learn how to talk about whiskey… and not sound like a moron.
One of my favorite customer experiences to date at the distillery was a man who attempted to engage me in argument the entire hour of a tour I was giving. He was so insistent that bourbon cannot be made outside of Kentucky or Tennessee that he made sure to interrupt me regularly with loud passionate oral discharges during the tour. Thanks for the man-splain.
It is bewildering to me how anyone can hold on to “facts” so tightly, even when presented logical, legal, and experiential evidence to the contrary. However, I recognize, that luckily this breed of asshat is a rare one, and the rest of us tend to respond appropriately to quality information. Given this, I felt compelled to write a bit on what exactly is a whisk(e)y.
To E or not to E? Who cares. This is not important.
How is this different from Bourbon? “Whisky produced in the U.S. at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers.”
In the spirit of whiskey, I’ll leave you with some wisdom from Johnny Carson. “Happiness is having a rare steak, a bottle of whisky, and a dog to eat the rare steak.”
I am afraid for our water. There, I’ve said it. My special snowflake spidey senses are in full tingle-mode about this one; I am absolutely terrified for the future of water. There are a lot of horrible issues in the world right now, but water effects all of us, down to our core. WE are made of water (60% in fact). WE cannot live without it (only about 3 days in fact). WE are polluting and risking the amazing gift we have (while nearly 1 billion don’t have access to clean water). Wtf… and this doesn’t even count salt water, which the almighty google tells me 3.5 billion people depend on for their food.
This shit keeps me up at night. I operate a manufacturing and hospitality facility, two industries that are traditionally heinous offenders when it comes to waste and pollution. We are small and pride ourselves on efficiency, but still… we can do so much better, and it really needs to start today, yesterday preferably.
One way we are trying to help is by actively participating in straw-shaming. Just kidding, sort of. We don’t offer straws with drinks anymore, plain and simple (and yes we are looking into alternatives). They aren’t necessary folks, and actually, for most purposes it’s a little weird. I mean, can you imagine drinking wine or beer with a straw? Strange right? So, why do we insist on it with cocktails? It’s not necessary and if you want to impress your friends you can educate them on why drinking cocktails at the interface (where air and liquid meet) is the preferred style if you want to maximize flavor and aroma enjoyment.
I know that this might fuck up your lipstick, or whatever, but it is straight up fact that most people do not need straws to consume their cocktails (and the micro percentage that do are easily accommodated). We are all responsible for ruining the planet with plastic, in the US and UK alone we throw away 550 million straws. Every. Damn. Day. Try to picture that. And that’s just plastic from straws. All this plastic is killing the ocean, and news flash… we need the ocean to live. This is now not simply about killing sea turtles (which should be enough), this is self-preservation people, time to wake up. Commit to doing a little better every day, make better choices, and hold each other accountable.
Ps. We have a back-stock of straws that just throwing away seems really really unhelpful. Can someone please think of something creative/ helpful to do with these. Perhaps someone can make something beautiful from them? Anyone want to buy them off us with 100% of proceeds going to Plastic Oceans International?
FYI: if you are short on time or attention feel free to just skip to the last 2 paragraphs.
Politics in general has always been a topic I have avoided like the plague. I truly believe everyone is entitled to their beliefs (even if they are stupid) so long as they aren’t harming anyone. That was literally my entire political philosophy. I have always wished everyone educated themselves fully on the issues in question but realize that even this is not a reasonable request, one person simply can’t know (or care) about it all, our tiny worldview might implode. One thing I really thought to be common sense and good for all Michiganders (and the world really) was taking care of the environment. Duh’ right?
So, it’s lame duck season. For those of you who don’t fully understand what this entails, lemme break it down. It’s open season on everything for the political and financial gain for special interest groups or people (usually in the form of corporations). Sometimes this works out really awesome… like for instance Senate Bill 0579. This bill (among other things) has given the beverage industry a really nice tax break, but only if it can be certified that they are using at least 40% Michigan grain and fruit. This is a huge win, except for those of course that lose the benefit of the tax revenue. It is my hope that businesses will use this new piece of legislation to strengthen or initiate relationships with Michigan farms, and to build their businesses (and the tax base as a whole). This ultimately would be a win for everyone. This will certainly benefit my distillery (as we use 100% local grain and fruit).
However, I would without hesitation give up all of this, in order to squash another lame duck bill, SB1197, from being passed (along with other sketchy-as-fuck notables like SB1211.) Anyone who is for this bill is absolutely, 100%, not interested in preserving the Great Lakes. It really is that simple. The argument for Unbridle (Line 5 pipeline owner) is painfully weak and riddled with absolute garbage statistics. I can almost always at least “put myself in someone else’s shoes” so to speak… not with this one. This proposed corridor would be fine if not for the petroleum aspect. We are talking about putting one of the worlds greatest resources at risk (whether… or not we possibly get cheaper fuel in the future is moot at this point… how short-sighted). We have literally put a man on the fucking moon, but can’t figure out how to get oil from point A to point B without putting it through the WORLD’s largest surface freshwater system? For real?
A leak would be devastating. Complete devastation, total economic collapse for Michigan. Best yet, this new bill would make it the responsibility of the taxpayers to clean up. We would lose everything: land value, drinking water, wildlife, tourism, industry, jobs, residents (cause who the fuck would want to live next to an oil spill). This company already has had a bad spill in the Kalamazoo River, and we are going to just trust them? Umm, nah. This isn’t just Michigan’s problem. What about the other states connected to this great system of water? Shame they don’t get a vote…although looks like we don’t either. Not even incoming government would be able to help as this legislation is designed to tie their hands as well (no, seriously). This is our home, we must protect it, and the time to act is literally upon us. Call your representatives, call your senators, and call Governor Snyder (he’s very much for the bill).
If you live by me you can call or write to the following officials:
SENATOR Wayne Schmidt :
517-373-2413 or SenWSchmidt@senate.michigan.gov
REPRESENTATIVE Tristan Cole:
517-373-0829 or TristonCole@house.mi.gov
GOVERNOR Rick Snyder:
517-373-3400 or email@example.com
Please help the fight to keep Michigan awesome. I am so damn grateful to be here, and just want it to stay beautiful for many generations.
This blog is our journey. Distilled.