Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

June 12, 2014

Distillers organize for advocacy

TRAVERSE CITY – There are more than 2,000 hard alcohols available for sale in the state of Michigan, but less than 0.5 percent of them come from Michigan distilleries.

Distillers throughout the state want to change that. Michigan distillers said this week they’ve organized to create the Michigan Craft Distillers Association to market and advocate for state distilleries.

“We need to, as a group, collectively speak with a more singular voice,” said Kent Rabish, owner of Grand Traverse Distillery and vice president of the new association.

“We’re the newbies on the block when you look at the beer, wine and spirits industry in Michigan,” Rabish said.

Don Coe of Black Star Farms said distribution rules require distillers to ship to state-owned warehouses to be sold to retailers, rather than deal directly with retailers. State distilleries are too small to get much attention from those large warehouses.

“Its been very difficult for any individual distiller to break into the market in any significant way,” Coe said.

“It makes a lot of sense for us to work together in a cooperative promotion and marketing organization, as well as working together within the legislative arena to see if we can improve consumer access to Michigan products,” Coe said.

Working together would help small businesses like Northern Latitudes Distillery in Leelanau County get their opinions to the legislature. Mark Moseler and his wife, Mandy, opened the distillery a year and a half ago and have little time to think about state legislation.

But state legislation affects them. State excise taxes on hard liquors are high compared to beer and wine, and distillers were almost left out of a recent “farm to glass” bill that proposes tax credits to companies manufacturing and selling beverages with Michigan-grown ingredients.

Coe said the distillers association wants to see a “Michigan Products” section in the state’s list of distilled liquors and loosened regulations that would allow retailers to buy directly from Michigan distilleries.

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