Ethanology is striving to reinvigorate a notion from the past, that of a “public house”. We have written in the past on this idea and so in support of this idea recently attempted to organize a candidate meet-and-greet at Ethanology where all of the Elk Rapids Village Council candidates running would be able to come in and speak for 5 minutes about who they were and what they represented, and then stay for an hour of informal questions and mingling with attending members of the public. The event would be free, we would set up, moderate, and provide a PA system, and no purchase would be necessary to attend. This idea came to us after a customer came in the previous week and expressed that he felt like he neither had enough information, nor knew where to get more regarding the candidates. As business owners in the village but not residents proper, we don’t have a vote, so this issue hadn’t been raised in our own minds. We do realize now though, that although we don’t have a vote, we do have a voice, and a platform for other voices.
In the end this event failed due to lack of response on several candidate’s part. We had given a week notice, which we understand is late notice, but certainly enough time to respond to an e-mail with a yes or no. We received responses from the following candidates: James Janisse, Charles Schuler, Barbara Mullaly, and Gerard Knoph. Thank you to these candidates for responding to the event invitation. To us personally, it reflected professionalism and the initiative it takes to be a public service person. We chose not to go through with the event because we had wanted at least five candidates to participate in order for the whole public interest to be better represented.
In closing, we hope that any community readers will do their very best to not just vote, but vote well informed on issues like the environment, education, local business support, sustainable growth, and public wellness. Please take into account the opinion of those who use and support the community, not just those who have homes there.
Nick and Geri
It’s three AM on a Thursday and I am so tired I forgot my dog in the parking lot today. For those of you that know me, this is quite a feat, due to my level of obsession with canines, mine especially. Despite this, my tiny brain simply won’t stop chugging along in its desperate attempt to process the many lessons of these last few weeks.
On paper Ethanology is stronger than ever, coming into the slower seasons in a position of strength. Also, it finally rained so that means there will be whiskey (insert huge sigh of relief). And yet, there has been loss… painful and surprising, rearing its ugly head. The past few weeks have been a healthy reminder of why hospitality is such a dynamic and difficult job, and that unlike most other jobs, the renumeration isn’t guaranteed to be commensurate with the effort.
Hospitality at any level can feel a lot like being the permanent host of a party. Awesome when things are going smoothly… frustrating when things are not (cue person attempting to sneak wine into my establishment multiple times)… and sometimes even disgusting, like a urinal clogged for the 10thtime (dear chewers, this device is meant for your wee only, hence the name). At the end of the day you can often leave feeling like a deflated balloon, especially us ladies in the industry, as we typically experience more harassment and attempted debasement (although this is strictly not tolerated in my establishment). This industry has its rewards, but it can come at a high price of long hours, unpredictable days, and lots of troubleshooting. Some days, like today, this stuff overshadows all of the wonderful things, but only until it is properly mentally sorted, and lessons are learned.
So as I mentioned, the last few weeks though rewarding, have been a bit of a ball buster. This isn’t without positive consequence however. Nick and I have come out the other side feeling more confident in our own ability to pinch hit and that we can rely on each other to pick up any slack in the line. We have learned a lot of good lessons on what we want the future of our company to be like, and who we can count on to share in that dream. All in all, many lessons, with many more to come. And at the end of the day, my day job is still pretty damn cool.
Well, the cat’s out of the bag…
…at least for a few distilleries. I have been wanting to write on this for a very long time, but in the interest of not throwing industry members under the bus and holding on to the hope that they might become more transparent with their marketing, I have held off. Quietly my blood has boiled while I shoveled out 600 lbs of spent grain by hand twice every batch. Silently I fumed when my fermentations died because my cooling system over-heated, or froze, or malfunctioned in some other unique and frustrating way. Many many times, I bit my tongue when customers came in praising other distilleries in Michigan and the great “craft” product they had enjoyed there.
To be clear, this anger has nothing to do with competition, anyone who has spoken to me on the topic knows I feel very strongly about need for growth in the industry locally, so we can build a destination like the wine industry has done so well here. The anger comes from a place of perceived integrity. The consumer should be able to purchase products and get basic truthful information from the label (without having to look up obscure definitions in the federal code of regulations). Being anything less than truthful hurts the industry as a whole. This is bad for all of us, even those of us looking to be transparent, because the consumer doesn’t know who they can trust. The anger also comes from a more personal place. Can you imagine if you thought you were buying a local hand-crafted piece of art, only to find out it was actually a mass produced print sold at a big box store that the “artist” affixed their name to? Not only is this super lame, it’s also more than a bit fraudy in my opinion. Can you imagine if you were another artist who spent your time money and energy creating something beautiful, watching this other vendor peddle second rate bullshit? This is how I feel during every shovel of spent grain I muscle out of the mash tun. It’s not the work, it’s the thought that someone else is cheating that makes me seethe. It’s the fact that everywhere, customers are spending their hard earned dime on products that are being knowingly misrepresented. It’s total crap, and I am so glad that everyday, more exposure is being shed on this dishonest practice.
Luckily, there is a mostly full-proof way to determine whether the product you are consuming is actually made by the seller. The easiest way to do this is to completely ignore the large portion of the label because unfortunately words and phrases like “small batch”, “craft”, “handmade”, and other fluff are not well regulated and largely meaningless. The magic phrase you want to find is “distilled by (insert company name here)”. This will usually appear in small print on the back label, and trust me, those of us actually making our product have it on our bottles.
So… what the hell are you drinking if it doesn’t have “distilled by” on the label? Short answer is someone else’s booze. It may say hand-crafted, but not by the hands you think. A huge portion of distilleries in the U.S. are currently engaging in a market practice called sourcing. This means they are buying booze either finished or partially finished (usually known as neutral grain spirits or NGS) and bottling them with their own label. Some distilleries will also mature these products in house in their own barrels (which makes it craft maturation possibly, but not much else). Much of this product comes from a few gigantic facilities usually in Indiana or Kentucky. A more transparent label might read… Hand crafted (sort of), by a giant computer controlled still, somewhere not here. As a rule, if the bottle reads “produced by”, “bottled by”, “made by” or any other phrase other than the magic one listed above, the product was not made, at least in large part by the seller.
The act of sourcing itself is not necessarily a bad thing (unless of course you are a self-proclaimed purist snob like myself). Sourcing allows many distilleries to get on their feet when they first start and offer a matured product to customers while they are waiting for their own, or so they can focus on their specialty. Sourcing will also keep costs much more contained for the consumer, so everyone can partake in imbibing. My issue is not with the act, so much as the dishonest marketing that surrounds it. We can do better, and professional associations like The Michigan Craft Distillers Association and others are working hard to end this practice in the industry. Check out this site for distilleries near you that are making at least 51% of their product. https://www.micraftspirits.com/craft-distillery-members/ If you are local to us check out Iron Fish Distillery south of Traverse City for quality “distilled by” products, or stop in and see us. I can promise that as long as I am distilling, I will never source a single drop of anything distilled anywhere else.
Instantaneous results are a product of the technological advancements in computing technology starting in the 1970s. The advent of the silicone central processing unit (CPU) has empowered and entrenched humanity, while concurrently disseminating unconscionable amounts of information- currently at the tip of your fingers. Our attention span is less than an 8-week old golden retriever, who’s organic, wild caught salmon dog food was app ordered, and drone delivered.
From a business perspective, technology has revolutionized and empowered entrepreneurs to bring products to market quicker, with lower costs, at higher quality and with fewer defects. Fifth graders are designing, engineering, and manufacturing products in their bedrooms, with a smart phone and a 3D printer. And, you can’t find a Fucking job...
Technology does have its limitations. There are things in the world that must be made the old fashioned way- with phalanges, perseverance, passion and a fuckton of hard work. These things will never be considered antiquated or outdated. They are eternal. And there are no shortcuts on the road to eternity.
Whiskey is at the top of this list. Or as Geri would vehemently argue, Brandy. I am not taking about the mass market shit you buy at some party store. I am talking about the good stuff, tucked away in the cellar of a true artisan. I am taking about art. In spirit form.
Before we opened the doors to Ethanology, I was that golden retriever. When you work 100+ hours, week in, and week out, to fill a barrel you won’t taste for 10 long years you begin to have a paradigm shift. You start to think about the long game. Not in years, but decades and centuries. You look at each spirit as an artistical representation of who you are.
Geri and I conceptualized and built every piece of Ethanology. Including the steel I-beam sign out front. On that sign I welded my initials and the date on which I built that sign. One day, when that fucker is falling apart, I hope there is some good stuff in the Ethanolo¿y cellar.
With the recent celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, the concept of a pub was raised once again in my mind. Since the conception of Ethanology, right from the very moment it was brought out of the mind and into the world we wanted to be more than just a bar. A bar is a place where people go to drink, a pub is a place where people go to gather.
The term pub originates from the larger phrase “public house”, which is precisely as it sounds. It is defined primarily, and originally, as a place that serves alcohol for consumption on premises. This is true, but it has also developed into so much more in so many cultures. The U.S. has been a bit slower to catch on to the full concept of the pub, but thanks to the craft brewing movement, and support from citizens whos’ heritage (like the Irish) grasped this concept long ago… we are slowly learning.
In most other cultures a public house is just that, a home-like atmosphere in which the public can meet. Alcohol in these establishments isn’t the glue that holds the establishment together (as compared to an American bar), it’s the relationships. A pub is a place to gather with others in the community and share information, laughter, sorrow, and a sense of belonging (something a divisive America could use more than ever.)
Recently, a few patrons have come in and shared a similar sentiment. They love it here because we “know their name”, “greet them with a big hug”, “make it feel just like I’m at home.” This is the foundation of Ethanology, first a gathering place, second a place to drink great spirits. I am so thankful that the hard work to create this sentiment has started to take root, and deeply satisfied that our patrons are helping to create something so special. Ultimately, the product, marketing, décor, and details mean squat without the people, and I think we are pretty lucky that so many great people have chosen to spend their time filling the building with laughter, chatter, and friendship.
Well, we are halfway through the scary “off-season” and so far we are still doing fine. Insert big sigh here… Thanks in large part to generous locals who have continually been supportive of our mission. (Pleasantly) Surprisingly enough, it has been a very busy couple of weeks and I am proud to report that the bourbon recipe has passed through the development stage and into production, and no one is happier than me. Blue corn has been a challenge, but one worthy of undertaking, as I feel confident that the juice was worth the squeeze in this case. The white whiskey recipe has been more elusive… I try to remind everyone waiting patiently, that I’m no master distiller (yet), and am still learning every day (usually from people that know a lot more than me, shout out to John Mckee at Headframe Spirits).
Given this mind frame, I have been doing a lot of shutting up lately. I have embraced this strategy as a whole for a long time, and so have found that the quieter I can be, the better I can listen, and the more I can learn. Lately I have done my best to just close my mouth and open my ears… and really listen to my customers, mentors, and employees. The unfortunate part about this strategy is there isn’t much of a filter, so you better be good at getting constructive criticism, because people like to give it… especially after a few cocktails. That being said, I rather enjoyed the multitude of helpful feedback given, and a delightful amount of Freudian slips encountered. I like to think of them as subconscious sarcasm, and if you know me at all you know I fucking love sarcasm. I also find them to be the most honest representation of opinion, and therefore (usually) the most helpful, or at the very least, the most entertaining. Big thanks to all who offered up their words of wisdom, honest body language (I’ve seen many bad taste faces), and hugs. Thanks for caring enough to help us be the best version of ourself, and accepting our faults along the way. Skol.
Culture is imperative in guiding everyday life decisions. So important in fact, that behavior secondary to culture becomes almost instinctual. It is the quiet voice in our mind that chooses everything from what we buy to how we treat the person pouring our drinks.
I typically try to avoid politically charged topics like the plague. However, recent events have got my mind buzzing and I realized that avoiding the topics are what creates a culture of complacency in the first place. Complacency is dangerous…as evidenced by… I dunno… the entirety of world history perhaps. The powerful shake-up caused by the recent #metoo movement has given me hope that if we can move to rapidly change our culture from one of blaming the victim to one of addressing the behavior, then there is so much to hope for. So, in this tiny blog, I hope I am doing my own small part to add to a collection of voices that are working to share knowledge, because knowledge can change beliefs and beliefs form culture. Let’s talk about how we (mis)treat public servants.
This topic arises because so many of my customers at the distillery are also part of the “service industry”. These are the fine folks who serve us meals, protect us from crime, heal us when we are sick, pick up our garbage, and drive us places…just to name a few. Public service jobs account for an incredibly large part of the economy and wonderfully enough… they do things that we either can’t or don’t want to. Hooray! Because I would make a terrible kindergarten teacher… The vast majority of these people are good at their jobs, and genuinely care about their service (a lot of them work for tips so service is tied to paying the mortgage). So, at what point did it become culturally acceptable to treat them like something we stepped in.
I stood behind the counter at the distillery on a recent Saturday night and leaned in to a few stories being exchanged by industry members who were for the time being, enjoying being on the other side of the counter. I was instantly incensed by one story in particular, queuing my own personal horrible flashbacks in service and nursing (mentally competent grown man shits on floor wiping it all over, then demands I clean it up while recording me on his phone…. just to name one.) The part that was most disappointing is that her story was only unique in the details, as many others were able to chime in with an account of their own, or a head nodding in understanding. Everyone deserves to be treated with a basal level of dignity, and having a dirty napkin thrust at you by someone commanding you to wipe off their feet (after spilling on their self) is completely unacceptable.
Right here... in this moment… is where the paradigm sticks for the public service worker, something faced by most of them on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day. The choice is clear, preserve some small shred of your self-worth and address the shitty behavior, or bite your tongue. It is a lose-lose situation and the culture nurtured in the service industry is reliant on appropriate behavior by those receiving the service (not exactly a guarantee). This person can stick up for themselves and risk catching heat from their employer while kissing goodbye any chance for being paid for their service with a tip (and yes, getting paid is exactly what it is, but more on this later)… or they can bend down, wipe up the foot, and die a little inside. Unless of course I’m seated next to this table, in which case there is option #3, have the crazy stranger at the next table tell this person what a complete ass they are being while you look on with equal parts horror and pleasure. Let’s face it, you know that a tip wasn’t happening from them at this point anyways… you might as well get out with dignity intact.
Sadly, this was just one of the few stories with the overwhelming theme of treating public servants like a personal whipping post. We hold monetary compensation over their heads like a guillotine. One perceived slight, one wrong move and poof suddenly tipping becomes optional, and hostile behavior becomes acceptable. Let’s have a quick sidebar about tipping and other etiquette, because as I stated before, knowledge has the power to change beliefs a lot more than just my biased opinion on the matter.
I know I have another blog on this subject, but a lot of that was subjective. Let’s talk about some facts first through a little theoretical conversation.
Fact: Many people in the service industry make less than minimum wage… like… way less… the last server I talked to was making just over $3.00 an hour (I mean what the actual fuck… sorry… sometimes you still get a little opinion with your fact) and they quite literally pay their bills with money made from collected tips.
Refute: Well why don’t you just pay them “living wages”?
Fact: Sounds great, how would like to start paying $40 for that $20 steak? Nah? Didn’t think so. Wages are a massive expense for service businesses, most often, the highest expense of all.
Fact: Tipped employees actually pay taxes on their tips.
Refute: Why should I care, they should pay taxes like everyone else.
Fact: That is super, until someone decides not to tip on a $200 dinner bill. Here’s what happens next. Service industry members are required to self-report all the tips they make. Tips are always looked at by the IRS as a percentage of total sales. At some point, usually between the 8-15% of sales, the IRS accepts the reported tip amounts, anywhere below this, and it’s easy to get flagged for auditing as this is suspiciously low to the IRS. Given this, tipped employees will usually claim a minimum amount even if they do not receive any sort of tip on the sale. The outcome? Your server just claimed $20 in tips that they did not actually make, which means they will pay about $6 in taxes. They literally just paid $6 to serve you while you ate your meal. What… the… hell.
Fact: Not tipping is the same as theft.
Refute: Tipping is optional… I don’t believe in tipping... I don’t tip on “bad” service…
Fact: For some odd reason in this country tipping is still viewed as being customary instead of mandatory. Would you go to the oil express and have your oil changed and then drive away before paying because the attendant was busy and made you wait an extra 5 minutes to fill your tires? No you wouldn’t… because you would have the cops called on you… because it is stealing when you agree to pay for a service and don’t pay…People in the service industry are providing you with a service, and if you don’t recognize the value/ can’t afford this service, then stay home and change your own tires and prepare and serve your own food, because this shit costs money and time, and you don’t work for free, why should someone else have to?
Fact: Service can be good or bad.
Refute: Exactly, and no one should have to pay for bad service.
Refute: You are right, but let’s talk about how the notion of bad service is used inappropriately. What exactly constitutes bad service? Let’s use a restaurant as example. There are a few questions you should be able to ask yourself and deduce if the service is bad due to the fault of the server.
I really hope that someday that the culture of the industry can change, and everyone can be treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve. We can do better. Until that point, at least I will have plenty of blog material.
Where's the Whiskey? This has become a common mantra uttered at Ethanology. The quick and dirty answer? It’s in the ground. We have been lucky enough to contract with local farms (shout out the the Shooks and Boyers on this one!) to grow the raw materials necessary to make alcohol, and we are getting pretty excited about this year’s harvest. We are fortunate to have proprietary access to the only 90 day blue corn in existence (still not sure how we got so lucky on this one). We are expecting to harvest soon, the wet fall has pushed back our expected harvest in early November by several weeks, which at first bummed me out terribly… however was quickly remediated by the delivery of 1000 lbs of lovely white grape skins out of the blue (yes folks… grappa is in the works… and I feel fairly confident that its fucking delicious).
This is where things get confusing for people, so the purpose of this blog is really to hopefully shed a little light on how whiskey/ey is born and why we don’t have one yet (these things take time). Let’s start with a fun fact, the Federal Government actually makes the rules for defining a whiskey, and has it listed in impossibly small print in several difficult to find and vague locations…shocker, I know. So here it is: Spirits distilled from a fermented mash of grain at less than 95% alcohol by volume (190 proof) having the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to whiskey and bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof). That’s a lot of language to describe a few simple things… again, I know this is shocking from the government. Here’s the most important parts:
These are the three things that all whiskey has in common. Beyond this, the government has at least 41 different delineations to specify everything from bourbon to scotch to straight to blended, these go on to be further separated and classified. Some common differing factors include, length of time in a barrel, what type of wood, and geographic location. For instance, contrary to popular belief, a Scotch Whiskey can absolutely be produced in America… we just can’t call it that, so we settle on a label like “single malt” or one of dozens of other designations.
Given all this information, I am now able to more accurately answer the original question, where’s the whiskey? Once our corn is harvested, I will need time to develop a recipe in order to decide at what proof (remember it just has to be somewhere below 190) things taste best… tasting will be rigorous and exhausting I’m sure… Once this recipe is developed I can create something commonly called “white whiskey”, which depending on the source you ask is not even a real designation. It is called white because the spirit is clear instead of brown. Brown color comes from oak exposure, or added synthetic caramel coloring if you cheat... and yes folks, this happens a lot, it doesn’t even have to be stated on the label in some cases. I can say 100%, for sure, this will never occur at our distillery while I am still sucking air. Next our whiskey will enter a brand new charred American oak barrel, an important distinction if we decide to make this product a true bourbon (along with a few other specifications like distillation proof and mash bill make-up), and it will need to take a nap there for at least 6 months most likely. This designation is mandated by the federal government and helps to protect the integrity of the bourbon industry in America. In addition to this minimum 6 month aging, the intention for this product is to be transferred and finished in our barrels previously used for our distilled honey (is your mouth watering yet). It is highly likely that this will be for at least 2 years (I know, this is a big bummer). However, it will ensure a lot of complexity in the product, and also add another possible designation “straight”. Straight is a type of whiskey that must be aged in uncharred or previously used barrels for a minimum of two years. I can’t say with absolute certainty what the final product designation will be, as my goal is to create the best possible product, not necessarily a product that fits nicely in with narrow definitions.
All this being said, an aged whiskey is at least a toddler away. As a brand new company it is impossible to open with a brown product unless it was purchased from another source and re-branded (which isn’t inherently bad, just sort of crappy if the company brands it as their own) or the distillery was in production long before it was open to the public (possible… but not usually financially feasible). Good things take time... cliché yes, but true. I feel hopeful that this product will be worth the wait.
For the ultimate spirit geeks out there, I encourage you to visit https://www.ttb.gov/spirits/bam/chapter4.pdf ...a great read if you would like to promptly fall asleep, or learn more about the products you are spending your hard earned green on.
So…Michigan’s first ever craft spirit festival happened! Even more exciting is that we were in attendance. Our company seemed to be well received, our booth was busy, and we met a lot of really awesome people. All in all this event was a complete success. So why has it taken me so darn long to write about it?! Well, I would like to say it is because I have been busy, but actually the last few weeks have slowed a bit, which has allowed me to do some human things, like eat three meals a day, shower on a regular basis, and sleep… glorious sleep. The truth is, I haven’t written about it because there was something fundamentally disappointing that I have had trouble shaking.
I have always been bull-headed, my mom is a good testament to this, and because of this I have always wanted to do things that perhaps I wasn’t cut out to do, simply because they existed. Sometimes I succeeded, more often I didn’t, but never in my life before has my gender been a factor that determined my fitness.
This industry has had so many challenges for myself and my husband, and in the past I have suspected that perhaps an unreturned phone call, an unanswered e-mail, or a snide remark may have been largely due to the fact that no one took us seriously. I never stopped to think that maybe they just didn’t take me seriously, a women. Even as I type this my face is screwed up in discomfort and the words come with difficulty. This shouldn’t matter, but the sad fact it… it does.
This was the rotten apple of the spirit festival for me, this one small thing. The fact that I was referred to as “your wife” more often than necessary, that distillation and technical questions were so often fielded to Nick… even after I had just answered another question… even after I was introduced as the company’s distiller. The fact that I was judged more on my mood and delivery of the information I was giving then the content was so disappointing.
This was by no means a uniform experience, I also met several intelligent, good-natured, and incredibly respectful people, and for this I am thankful. I made friendships that I hope will last a lifetime. I also suspect I made a few enemies, which is the cost of standing up for what you believe in, and worth it in order to create an industry environment to be proud of. I am thankful for all the other female distillers that have blazed the trail ahead of me, I hope I can keep that trend going and make them proud. I am also thankful for all the men in the industry that I have met that care more about what I put into a bottle, rather than what I’ve got between my legs. All in all, I suspect that this will all work out in my benefit, after all, it’s easy to be surprised by someone you underestimate.
It’s officially bred, born, and bottled, and soon to be enjoyed by the masses, or at least a lucky few in Northern Michigan. I could not be more excited about this product… the vodka is good… the mel is special… but this gin, it is truly great. Ever had a moment where you were like “Oh wow, I wish I could bottle this (insert random moment, scent, feeling, whatever)? This is what Northern Michigan summer in a bottle tastes like. Picture running through the woods fast with your mouth open like a crazy person, and that is what we’ve been lucky enough to capture. Please don’t actually do this for comparison, the woods are full of bugs and pointy objects, just drink the gin instead, it’s the same, I promise.
On another linear note, the release of the gin also means gin martinis, also known as liquid badassery. As a survivor of the rigorous and strenuous process of gin martini development, I feel qualified to share that I’m now nearly James Bond status, but will only bring out my assassin skills if you try to order your martini “shaken, not stirred”. Seriously, cut it out people, part of the magic of gin is its delicate top notes, and you will totally destroy these if you go all earthquake on your martini, unless of course you are drinking shitty gin, in which case you are going to want to up the magnitude.
For all the gin haters (it’s okay, we still love you), I also have great news, now that gin is here that means bourbon is next, and this will be something worth waiting for.
This blog is our journey. Distilled.