Well, we are open for business. Holy moly, what a crazy, wild, sketchy-ass carnival ride it’s been (the kind that you know is going to be a lot of fun, but you might die on). We made it, all limbs intact, only slightly skinnier and more sarcastic than ever.
Jesus. What a ride. I will tell ya’ I never thought it would be this difficult, mentally and physically. Six years ago, when writing the business plan, and the beginning stages of our branding strategy, I never knew how true our mission statement would prove to be. Most notably the last two sentences.
It has been a long and challenging journey for the Ethanology partnership. For years, we have existed as an island. We wore independence like a badge of honor and proudly and accurately stated “Nobody gave us a damn thing.” I don’t think I have appropriately emphasized what a long journey it has been, perhaps too long for two people to handle on their own. Simply stated, we were running on fumes and needed help.
Bewildering as it is to me, help has come to us mostly where it was least expected. People have showed up on their own precious time for the promise of cheap beer and mediocre pizza to clean, assemble, construct, troubleshoot, educate, and support us. Thank you seems incredibly inadequate, but thank you and free hugs are all we have to give out at the moment. Elk Rapids and the surrounding communities have been so accommodating and kind, I am so grateful to have landed here and I cannot wait to give back.
More good things to come, very soon.
Remember that last entry about my first day and how it was borderline magical? Here was an additional post called "day two" that never actually made it to the page because of the following three week event streak from semi-hell that ensued starting the day after.
Here I am again at the new office, it is nearly 5:00 PM and I am trying to quickly write another entry, under slightly different circumstances. I am still listening to the hum of the CIP machine, but now I am hastily eating cheezits out of a beaker as well, as my morning was rather busy and I missed my lunch.
Since 8:00 AM in addition to normal happenings, I have managed a plumbing leak in the bathroom, manually moved 4 very large tanks (shout out to my hand truck!), fixed my centrifugal pump that air locked twice due to my electrician doing some unintentional meddling, hauled 60 gallons of hot highly acidic solution by hand 2 gallons at a time…twice… due to said air lock… sprayed myself in the face accidentally from a dropped hose 3 times, and tipped over $50 worth of sanitation solution and watched it literally go right down the drain. There was proficient use of the F word, and it wasn’t my most shining moment, however, thanks to safety goggles, rubber gloves, and sheer will power, I arrived at 5:00 intact and almost everything got done. At the end of the day, even a semi-crappy day, it is still better than working for someone else, and I am still smiling.
I should have taken my beaker of half eaten cheezits and got on the next plane to Jamaica… mmm rum.
I feel the need to simply arrange the last two weeks into neat points as to not drag this post on to Greek tragedy lengths.
Today is the very first day that I can legally distill in Michigan. Sadly there is nothing tasty coming off the
parrot just yet, as there is a lot of prep work yet to do. However, the important thing is, I now can, and will be very soon producing delicious imbibery to infuse into the masses (or at least those willing to spend some time at the tasting room). The journey has been a seriously harrowing one these last few years, but now the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel is shining on my face, and I could not be more excited.
It’s the first real day at my office, and I am working to speedily write this entry before the end of my CIP cycle. I could not be more thrilled to be so busy, and I am really looking forward to the next six months, fully knowing that commodities like sleeping and eating will probably be at a shortage for me, a small price to feed my soul. I know in my heart this is what I was meant to do, even though when people ask “how does one become a distiller”, I still can’t give them a straight answer. The journey to this point has been a strange and winding one, and days like today when skills I learned in my previous careers as a
dental receptionist, administrative assistant, a waitress, and a nurse ...seemingly unrelated industries... come in to play, I am not surprised as I believe all of these things (even the bad ones) were meant to prepare me for exactly where I am. My sister told me today to “have fun, scientist”. I suppose that’s
what I am now, and as I listen to the hum of my centrifugal pump and the noise of continued construction on the building in the background I can’t help but smile and think, my first day at the office is a good one.
We are so close. Last week we got our final inspection on the production facility from the MLCC (Michigan Liquor Control Commission). The spirit House is almost complete, and it looks amazing. Approximately 80% of the material in the Spirit House is reclaimed from Northern Michigan. 100% of our grain, fruit, herbs and botanicals are derived from Northern Michigan in our spirits, however we settled for a few new items in the tasting room. Toilets? Yes, they are new.
The corrugated metal on the ceiling is from a 1900s chicken coop in Antrim County, the barn wood on the exterior and interior is from Emmet, Grand Traverse, and Antrim counties. The hand hewn and rough-cut barn beams used for the bar and cocktail tables are also from various barns in Emmet, Grand Traverse and Antrim Counties. It is so cool, and we can’t wait to share it with all of you. The spirit house has so much character and soul. Each piece has a story, and a beautiful setting to tell it- and stories are best told over a glass of Ethanolo¿y.
Although the fit and finish of the Spirit House is beautiful and unique, it is not what is important to Geri and I. The setting is secondary. The spirit is primary. How it was made and where the grain, fruit or botanical was sourced- this our focus. It is what is inside the bottle. That is Ethanolo¿y.
With a little luck and cattle prodding to our contractors we should be firing up Tilda (our 500L custom 8 plate copper still) next week. It has been a long journey. Yet, a beautiful one. The 14hr days are becoming normal. Yes, I said working 14hrs a day now seems normal. The work is paying off, and our dream to craft an exemplary spirit sourced from local farms is beginning to come to fruition. We now have a working distillery!
We will see you in May!
It’s been a while. I know. However, Geri and I have been working our asses off. The dream is coming along. Slowly. But coming, nonetheless.
Our society glamorizes the attractive facets of entrepreneurship. The success, artistic expression, creative freedom, and the ability to make your own decisions. Decisions that can ultimately lead to your success, or failure. Decisions that will affect the livelihood of your employees. Your livelihood. Your future.
In the beginning, you are passionately driven to build a life around a simple idea. An idea which is now the mission of Ethanolo¿y. Our mission is to create something we are proud of. Something special. Something exclusive. By crafting each small batch by hand, in-house, in limited quantities, we have the ability to be overtly critical of the product we release. We have the control, and latitude, to take the time necessary to make it right. And when its gone, its gone. There will be no more, until we make more.
We live in a world where there are limitless products in everlasting quantities. There is no speciality. No real value. Mass production has tided the way of a truly handcrafted product. However, executing this vision takes far more energy and attention to detail.
So you want to be an entrepreneur? What you don’t see is the arduous work, sleepless nights, tempestuous discussions and countless setbacks. This shit is tough. In the past six months we have learned a tremendous amount. Shit you can’t read, study or hypothesize. Shit you must experience.
Synonyms for entrepreneur: Sign builder, mason, accountant, general contractor, hydrologist, electrician, plumber, general contractor, painter, marketer, botanist, chemist, biologist, graphic designer, engineer, etc. etc. etc.
In the end, our due diligence, passion, hard work and drive will hopefully bring us to the more attractive facets of entrepreneurship. Until then, we will suit up our Carhartts and get to work.
Many thanks for your support and love… See you in May.
My mother might argue that I was born stubborn and opinionated. Although the bane of her existence, I thank God for these traits as well as my husbands unbridled optimism or we would surely never get this business off the ground. I am reasonably certain now that in order to be an entrepreneur you must have just a touch of madness.
Many people ask about the business, and being the all-consumed Stockholm syndrome victim I am, I divulge. I can see it almost immediately, the eyes of most listeners glazing over and the repeated look that clearly proclaims “why on earth would you want to put yourself through all that when you could just work a 9-5”. I will plainly admit that my husband and I have on more than one occasion, stuck awake at 3 in the morning, asked ourselves this very question.
For most of us, building a business from the ground up is nothing short of a miracle. For those of us masochistic enough to be interested in building a distillery let me share a few poignant facts.
There you’ve had it, the ugly (and much abbreviated) truth that is starting a distillery. To be fair, it isn’t all bad and in order to dispense with the doom and gloom I feel obligated to share the most important high points of choosing this way of life.
It occurs to me that many of these points will resonate with all start-ups. As you are losing sleep picking out just the right screw to hold up the frame of the structure that no one will ever see, remember that in your insanity you are the very fiber that promotes capitalism and innovation. Given this, I’ll keep losing sleep, working 70 hour work weeks, and smiling at those giving me the glazed over look when I talk about said screws. I will do this because those of us stricken with entrepreneurship have no choice and also because ultimately it is our purpose in life. So cheers to all you sick bastards brave enough to be entrepreneurs, I hope you find your cure in self-made success.
What does the ¿ have to do with distilling? Simply put, nothing. However, it has a great story behind it, and it helped mold the experimental and always evolving Ethanolo¿y approach to distillation.
Back in 2012 when Geri (she came up with the name) and I decided to embark on this crazy journey we started first with a philosophical foundation. Paramount was creating a product we would be proud of. That consisted of sourcing all of our ingredients locally. Supporting local agriculture was important to us, as is the quality of grain & fruit. Crafting a noteworthy spirit starts with high quality fruit and grain. Luckily, Antrim county and the 45th parallel produce world renowned fruit and grain due to the micro-climate we have in Northern Michigan.
I digress. Back to the original story. One beautiful Sunday afternoon in 2014 we took the Chevelle (Geri has a 1967 Chevelle that she received as a gift the day she committed to endure me and my idiosyncrasies for a lifetime) wine tasting on Old Mission Peninsula. Although enjoyable, we had hit enough wineries and decided to venture down a dirt road following the "Antique" signs. As we arrived, the classic gray 1900s old barn was covered in vintage signs, and disseminated throughout the front yard were various agriculture and vintage pieces. This was our type of place. We love antiquing. Vintage items have soul, and character. Plus, they all have a story.
Of course, immediately I gravitate to a glass case holding the flasks. One in particular catches my eye. It is a vintage clear glass flask with unique embossing & a sterling silver cap. I respectfully bargain with the lady (because that is what you do when antiquing) for a few dollars off and we come to a mutual agreement, as Geri is off looking at various other oddities- while rolling her eyes at my negotiation tactics.
With my flask in tow, I venture downstairs of this old barn converted to an antique maze. Items stacked floor to ceiling, wall to wall. Then, a unique shelving unit catches my eye. As I approach it looks like a giant thimble rack. About 3'x3' with various sections like a tackle box filled with giant letter press blocks. They were the biggest I had ever seen. Approximately 1.5"x 1" and almost 1" thick. They were so cool and full of character. Each block had this industrious and robust vibe. They immediately brought me back to a time when shit was made by hand (books/newspaper in this case) when people truly crafted products. A time when items were built to last. The quality was evident; each block felt like it weighed a pound.
My mind started racing. First I grab the "E","T", and then the "h" and "a" sorting for upper case, although there were none. As I lay out the first four letters I could see the brand forming- I immediately starting digging for the "N", & two "Os" and then the quirky and backwards "L" which brought a smile to my face. Then... I was stuck. Not one "G" in the entire box- there had to be 200-300 print blocks in this bin and not one fucking "G."
So I quit looking and just grabbed the "Y"- a fleeting thought ran through my head "had I had just wasted 5 minutes of my life that I will never get back." Well, if any of you know me, I am not one to quit. So, I started digging. Thinking there has to be one "G" in this box. Somewhere. In with other letters (as they were somewhat sorted). No luck. Now, I have invested too much time trying to find a "G" that my stubborn self is determined to figure out a way to complete this. Numerous letters and symbols later I come across the ?. Not a "G" dammit, however if you turn it upside down it is!
I scurry upstairs to haggle with the lady over the cost of the blocks. She firmly states $10 each. Jesus, I proclaim. For a piece of lead? She shrugs and walks away. I almost brought them back downstairs for $10 each. Thankfully, I worked out a package deal with the lady, and Ethanolo¿y was born.
*Fun Fact: When developing our logo we actually took our print blocks to Deep Wood Press (www.deepwoodpress.com) in Antrim County to use a 1900s antique press (one of only a few places on earth that still make books by hand). This organic process allowed us to actually capture the nuances in each block, giving us a truly authentic logo. Look closely at the top of the "a" and bottom of the "N" as they are most pronounced.
Glacial Water is the foundation & defining character in all of our spirits. And today, we got our soul!
The distillery sits less than a 1/4 mile from Elk Lake (you can boat or Kayak to have a cocktail), which is the last lake in Antrim County's chain of lakes. Over 90 million gallons of glacial water enters into Lake Michigan every day through this amazing watershed. And the quality is unparalleled. If you look at the clarity of both Elk Lake & Torch Lake you will see why we choose to craft our spirits here. Well, and its home sweet home. Oh, and did I mention the world class fruit and grain grown on the 45th parallel. Yep. Enough said.
Back to the water. Steve bacon has been drilling wells in Antrim County since before I was born. He knows the geology in this area, and at what depths you will find differentiating characteristics within the water tables. Our goal was to drill through two aquifers and source water from the top of the third at 110’, due to the low iron content and filtration through clay and sand between the previous aquifers. We are looking to have water that will represent our area, and the character within it. We are looking for water with soul. And today, we found it!
Please, comment below with your thoughts and follow us over the next 6 months as we renovate, construct, install, mill, mash, and distill our way to opening in the spring of 2017. We are thrilled to be a part of this community and the amazing people that encompass this area. I will throw in some interesting insights about our ethos & how it came to be, our community centric farming philosophy and some quirky tidbits along the way. And maybe I can get the mad scientist (wife/business partner/head distiller/Geri) to write one or two along the way.
This blog is our journey. Distilled.