New distillery good fit for culinary destination

Smack dab in the middle of wine country in the Leelanau Peninsula is a new business that should further add to the diversity of specialty products offered on the peninsula. Northern Latitudes Distillery, which opened in September of this year, is the latest addition of specialty beverage producers to this beautiful peninsula just an hour away from Traverse City.

There are 25 wineries on the peninsula. How, you may ask, will a distillery of spirits fit with all the wineries on the peninsula? Owners Mark and Mandy Moseler are betting it will mix better than a gin and tonic.

"We fit right into what is already going on here," says owner and president, Mark Moseler. "The idea that there is a group of people who go around to tasting rooms already…it's not something we had to cultivate."     

Leelanau Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Director Sally Guzowski is equally optimistic.

"It's going to add another dimension for the Leelanau Peninsula being a culinary destination," she says.

Northern Latitudes Distillery set up shop in the remodeled former Thunderbird Gift Shop located at 112 E. Philip Street in Lake Leelanau on the super busy corridor between Traverse City and the Lake Leelanau Peninsula. This new kid on the block will utilize, as much as possible, crops from local growers including corn, wheat and rye, says Moseler. This will allow the distillery to produce a "full gamut" of products including whiskey, rye, rum, and some specialty liqueurs.

Moseler and his wife and business partner, Mandy, don't have any previous experience distilling spirits, but they do have experience in business—and teaching. They're both former school teachers. After being laid off more than once, they grew weary of the insecurity of the teaching profession and wanted to venture out into something that they hope will offer more job security and a steady income.

Moseler admits there has been quite a learning curve to this new business. He has had to wear different hats, including carpenter, business owner, marketer, and yes, distiller of spirits. However, he has gotten plenty of help right here in Michigan. Moseler credits Michigan State University, particularly Dr. Kris Berglund, for providing the new business owners with a flask-full of knowledge of both distilling spirits and running a business.

"They're phenomenal," says Moseler emphatically. "Dr. Berglund is the most incredible person you would ever want to meet. His knowledge base runs deep, yet he is very down to earth."

Berglund is a former business person and has extensive experience distilling liquor. MSU currently offers classes in distillation and has three stills of its own with one more on the way. Moseler says Berglund was "very instrumental" in getting legislation passed in Michigan to allow businesses like Northern Distillery to distill spirits.

"One of the reasons we can do what we do is because Michigan had the foresight to allow agriculture to take off from wineries to micro distilleries; many states are trying to model what Michigan has for laws for this industry," Moseler says.

The Moselers have 3,500 square feet to work with on the first floor of their renovated building, with another 1,000 square feet in the basement. This should be plenty of room for the still, store front, retail and storage. The still was built by the Carl GbmH company in Germany. It's a 50 gallon, or 180 liter, still. Moseler says it will be sufficient to distill all the booze he needs to keep suppliers and connoisseurs of spirits happy. Plus, Moseler says the smaller size allows him to be "nimble" and do short runs of spirits as local products are in season.

Moseler hopes his location along this busy corridor will help him sell a lot of his product out of his attached store front.

The couple will also distribute their spirits via Up North Distributing, LLC, a company owned by Cherry Capital Foods out of Traverse City. Moseler says the local distributor is receptive to handling small runs of specialty liquor. If the business takes off as expected, he could hire as many as 15 full and part time employees.

The couple's biggest challenge, says the chamber director, will be the winter months.

"I think, probably just like everyone else out here in the Leelanau Peninsula, the winter months will be challenging," says Guzowski.  "They will need to build a good local base of support; others do fine in the summer because people plow through the county like you can't imagine."

Northern Distillery offers one more piece to the puzzle that is becoming a very viable and sustainable food producing model in the Leelanau Peninsula. The peninsula is already known for a strong food-to-table program that allows smaller, local producers into markets that were until recently the domain of big agriculture and mass production. The inclusion of local products for culinary purposes has put the peninsula on the map as a destination for wholesome, tasty foods and beverages.

Neil Moran is a freelance copywriter living in Sault Ste. Marie. Visit his website at www.neilmoran.com.
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