Finch Forever collaboration with Detroit City Distillery sells out within a monthThe story behind Tim Otteman’s latest endeavor

Leave it to Tim Otteman to make yet another connection that strengthens the ties between Central Michigan University (CMU) students and an established organization. Otteman, known as a visionary figure deeply rooted in CMU's Recreation, Parks, and Leisure Services Administration (RPL) program, rarely slows down—not only educating students in his program, but constantly connecting them with real-life experiences.

His most recent project continues that trend, as he’s brought together students, alumni, and Detroit City Distillery for a partnership to create his own custom-branded private collection of bourbon and vodka, under the name: Finch Forever.

Selling these custom-branded spirits is a creative approach to raise funds, as all proceeds support students in the RPL program, helping to underwrite student-specific costs of attending conferences throughout the United States.

The genesis of this partnership traces back six months, sparked by a conversation between Otteman and Alyssa Young, director of operations at Detroit City Distillery and an advisory board member of CMU's RPL internship program.

"It all started during homecoming," Otteman reflects of their conversation.

The Finch Forever Butcher’s Cut Bourbon and Gilded Age Vodka. Photo Credit: Courtesy Tim OttemanWhat followed was a whirlwind. Creativity, efficiency, and a shared passion fueled their partnership. Unlike corporate endeavors marked by red tape and lengthy processes, decisions were made swiftly, guided by a shared commitment to storytelling and innovation.

“Because each of us were controlling our side of the content, it went really fast,” Otteman explains. “I think it's a great set of teachable moments for me to take back to the classroom to say, ‘There's lots of partnerships out there. There's lots of ways to do this. But when you put the right people in the room, you can do things really, really quickly and really efficiently.’ Sometimes I think we get caught up in everybody has to have an opinion. And when you can get down to the brass tacks of decision makers, it can go really fast.”

“We made a couple of conscious decisions on the front-end, and for me, the whole process was driven by the concept of storytelling,” shares Otteman. 

Detroit City Distillery employees and CMU RPL grads Amelia Givens and Alyssa Young sit with Tim Otteman. Photo Credit: Courtesy Tim Otteman
Otteman says the project was a labor of love for both him and the Detroit City Distillery team, but one that was worth all the efforts. Young agrees.

“Tim and I worked together on every aspect of this project from design, to marketing, to being on the product line helping our production team label and hand wax each bottle,” says Young. “We have talked almost every single day since the start of this idea to come up with specific launch dates, social posts, label editing, ordering, etc.”

“It was a very time consuming project because we wanted to make sure it was as close to perfect as possible, and could be something we were both proud of,” she says.

The result? A meticulously crafted lineup of spirits, each bearing a narrative deeply intertwined with Finch Fieldhouse and CMU’s heritage. From founding years to significant milestones, every detail on the labels echo tales of history and connection. 

In fact, every hang tag includes numerical, pricing, and naming nuances related to the university and the program.
Similar to Disney’s “Hidden Mickeys,” on the bourbon and vodka bottles’ hang tags, “Hidden Finchies” share historical connections. “For example, one of the parts of the label, it says from 1892 to 1982 to today, Finch Forever. 1892 was the founding year of CMU and 1982 was our first accreditation,” explains Otteman. Photo Credit: Tim Otteman
Pre-sales for 400 bottles launched on March 17. The Butcher’s Cut Bourbon, Finch Forever Select 50, sold out within four days. And in less than a month, the Gilded Age Vodka, Finch Forever Tri Select sold out as well.

“We bottled two hundred bottles of each spirit, which runs through Detroit City Distillery’s bottling operation,” shares Otteman. “But they are hand labeled, hand numbered, and waxed. So I got to spend eight hours one day on the production line—being intimately involved in not only having the idea and producing this product, but literally producing the product.”

For the production line, Otteman shares he was joined not only by Detroit City Distillery staff, but alumni of his program, too. It’s an aspect he says was a great part of the experience.

“A former CMU intern that no longer works at Detroit City Distillery came back just to work the production line because she wanted to be involved in the process,” he says.

“Everyone has different buckets of time, talents and treasure,” Otteman shares. “At my age and point in my career, I have some time—and think I have some talents—but no treasure. Meaning, I’m not rich, and can’t just write a big check to causes I support. So, this project allowed me to use my time and talents to create treasure (money) to donate back to our incredible students!”

“The main reason I wanted to work on this project is because of Tim,” says Young, who has had over seven RPL students intern for her during her past three years while employed at Detroit City Distillery. “He has been my mentor and friend for the past 12 years. He has been a huge part in my success in my career, and is always there whenever I need advice or just a listening ear. He gives so much to the program and his students, and I am honestly just honored to be able to give back.” 

“This project has exceeded both of our expectations and I just want everyone to know how grateful we are to everyone who has purchased a bottle,” Young concludes.

Looking ahead, this project is just the beginning for Otteman. Otteman shares he has future project plans already in the works, including pre-mixed cocktails inspired by different majors within the RPL program.

When will his next collaboration take place? Well, that’s still to be determined. However, it's almost guaranteed it will again be more than just about spirits—but truly about storytelling, community, and belonging.
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Read more articles by Courtney Jerome.

With 15 years of professional media experience, Courtney Jerome has found a passion for storytelling and showcasing our region in a positive light. She's written stories for television broadcasts, numerous magazines, and digital publications. In addition, she owns a boutique creative marketing agency that focuses on social media, photo, and video storytelling for small businesses across Michigan and the country — Contact Courtney, the managing editor of Epicenter, at