Note: This blog was written pre-covid and has not been edited to reflect the current state of affairs.
I am pretty pumped to say that we are growing and forming a strong solid foundation. The last three years of production (yep, we hit our 3 year production anniversary) have been a hellacious learning curve for us, employees, contractors, growers, and pretty much everyone involved. I’m not going to lie, there were times where things were paper-thin fragile, and it was scary. It feels like it has been a decade. Here’s the thing though, we didn’t do this alone. You probably already know about our stellar employees Troy and Corwin, I could (and probably will) write an entire blog on these two. The help I want to write about now though, is the stuff that is behind the scene, done quietly, frequently, and out of the goodness of their heart without compensation. Here’s a list of some of those unsung heroes, buy them a drink or at least give them a high five next time you see them, they certainly deserve it.
“Yoda of all things Distillery” John Mckee
This guy is my lifeline and one smart fucker. He is owner and operator of Headframe Spirits in Butte MT. I was just lucky enough to have this guy answer a rouge desperate e-mail of mine several years ago, and even luckier for me? He keeps answering them. He has fielded questions on everything from what type of valve to use for greater control on a dephlegmator to how to work with your spouse every day without becoming homicidal. Truly one of the greatest resources in our toolbox and instrumental to any and all of our success.
“House Engineers” Mr. Bill and Stocky Stockhausen
Geeze, where do I even start with these two, they have been so integral to the process from even before day 1 and we were just lucky enough to meet them by chance. To sum it up, they have nearly done it all… fixing pretty much everything mechanical and improving the stuff that just sucked to begin with. This is second only to the moral support they provided and continue to provide. Pure and simple, we could have not opened Ethanology without their support, guidance and 100+hr work weeks prior to our grand opening.
“Contingent Employee and Favorite Doggo Uncle” Logan Thomas
It’s rare to find someone universally dependable. Logan started here as a customer, continues as a contingent (saves our ass when we are short handed) employee, and has become family. He is quite literally always willing to lend a helping hand, whether it be with dishes, barrel mobilization, or showing some love to Ethanology’s hardest working 4-legged members.
“Chief of Muscle” Jarrett Hale
What a stand-up dude we have here. First off, out of the goodness of his heart this guy shows up nearly every single Tuesday mash to help us haul out grain bins, taking time out of his own schedule solely to help us. I can’t begin to explain how generous this is, and how thankful I am. Secondly, he comes packaged with one of my favorite women, Caitlin, who frequently entertains Sofi and Mabel on long days.
“Custom Fab and Maintenance” Kyle Lalone
Kyle has pretty much been helping us with small disasters from the beginning. He has fabricated, re-fabricated and just generally fixed countless things through his welding and carpentry skills. He and his wife (who he met at the distillery) have become lifelong friends and he continues to help us with our never-ending list of 20-minute jobs by providing borrowed tools, time, and expertise.
“Master of Perfect Timing” Andrew Broadus
Andrew has uncanny timing when showing up at the distillery. It’s almost as if he has built-in struggle radar. He has managed to show up probably on a dozen occasions just as we realize we need an extra set of hands for lifting/balancing/stabilizing etc. He has always been willing to help with these tasks, and as a bonus lend his opinion on cocktail development.
“Purveyor of Blood Sugar” Jan Toscano
This delightful woman has routinely showed up with hugs and baked goods for years now. She has kept myself and my staff fed during some of our busiest days. Her cinnamon rolls are the stuff of legend, and so is her kindness.
“Savior of Auto Logistics” Joe Fischer
I feel genuinely bad for everyone out there with a crap neighbor. Mine is truly terrific. This guy has been an integral part of supporting our mission from the beginning. What are the chances that our neighbor happens to be the premier provider of insurance geared specifically for the complex needs of distilleries? I’d say we got lucky, but if you are familiar with the term “God wink”… I’m going to go out on a limb and say luck had nothing to do with it. This guy is also good enough to allow for overflow parking in his lot next door, something which has truly made a difference in the success of our business and the positive experience of our customers.
“Captain of Pyrotechnics”
Dan keeps the fires stoked, literally. Nights at Ethanology can get chilly and this guy keeps us nice and toasty by regularly cutting, splitting, delivering, and stacking wood for our fire places. In addition to this, he brings a fantastic attitude and light heartedness that warms our souls too.
Ethanology has always been greater than the sum of its parts, thanks in large part to those mentioned, as well as countless others who have showed us kindness and generosity along the way. It takes a lot to make a distillery, and more importantly it takes a lot of special people to make it worth having in the first place.
Big big thanks.
To begin, I would just like to say that I am truly sorry for not being a better ally, for not seeking to understand, and for turning my head when things got uncomfortable. For staying silent.
It wasn’t long ago that I found myself firmly rooted in the “all lives matter” camp. I remember when the black lives matter campaign first began, thinking repeatedly to myself… wait, isn’t this just adding to the division? Now, it is my absolute privilege to sit here and write this blog and put it on record just how wrong I was. First, I want to change the word “privilege” to the phrase “I am grateful for” (hopefully this can help us white folk relate a little easier.) I am grateful that I have not just one, but multiple safe spaces to be writing this blog from. I am grateful I know my local police force will protect and aid me in my daily life. I am grateful I have money to buy a computer so I can express my feelings. I am grateful I had a safe and funded public school with a strong English program that taught me to read and write effectively. I am thankful that this education allowed me to get into a college where I could attempt to move up the socioeconomic ladder. I am grateful I had loans available to me (and I had people to guide me to them) to go to college and start this business. Sound familiar? It should if you are a middle to upper class white person.
The thing is, privilege is just the stuff that non-minorities consider normal things to be thankful for in their everyday lives. The truth is, that minorities still don’t have access to these same privileges, because of systemic failures in our economy, our culture, and our laws (and our unwillingness to uphold those laws.) That is why, yes, all lives matter, but right now we need to be talking specifically why black lives matter. We need to start the conversation. The key to solving any problem is to first admit there is one, and second to concentrate on the problem itself (not the periphery). I don’t have all the answers, and as a white person, I can’t even fully understand… maybe ever, and that’s okay, but I, we have to keep trying.
Ethanology has taken a public stance on the black lives matter movement, and frankly, we are disappointed to see that a lot have chosen to stay silent. The banality of evil is something that we all should be considering heavily in our current circumstances. American society has been complicit in the silence for too long. The business woman in me says it isn’t appropriate for a business to be getting involved in politics. The woman in me says fuck that, racism is not political, it is every American’s duty to stand up for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, for everyone. I did not open my own business to behave like a corporate cog in the wheel. Am I scared I might lose patrons? Absolutely. Every business is fragile right now because of COVID-19, but I am certain I would rather lose some customers than die of the shame and guilt of telling my grandchildren I stood by and said nothing, while people were being murdered in the street.
As a business owner who knows real people and businesses hurt by the rioting and looting happening, I don’t condone this behavior. I do think I understand it though. If someone systematically murdered my husband in the street because of his skin color… my rage would have no ceiling. Angry people do bad things sometimes, we are all guilty of this because anger makes us impulsive. More importantly, the riots would not be happening if there wasn’t anything to be angry about in the first place. I think if we all try to meet this with more compassion, we can start to heal. We need to stay focused on the real problem.
Don’t stay silent. Today is an excellent day to be brave, find your voice. This impacts all of America, even Northern Michigan.
-Geri & Nick
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.”
This blog is our journey. Distilled.