Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 23, 2013

Editorial: Distillers add to Grand Traverse flavor

Our view
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Turns out the Grand Traverse area has become a bit of a hot spot for craft spirits production, with a handful of distillers of whiskey, vodka and other high-octane beverages setting up shop here in recent years.

A couple decades ago regional vintners helped pioneer of Michigan’s now-established and very respectable wine industry, and as for craft beer, well, it seems every other day a new microbrewery bubbles to the surface here.

Northern Michigan clearly has a thirst for such industry, and as liquor distillers join the bevy of local beer and winemakers, it’s apparent the region does vice right.

The region’s love affair with artisan alcoholic beverages dovetails nicely with its evolution as a niche producer of fare for tourists and residents who are willing to pay more for local, handcrafted food and drink. From the burgeoning number of organic food producers — the menu includes everything from grass-fed beef to hot house microgreens to hand-crafted breads and cheeses — regional entrepreneurs are dialing into the unique northern Michigan getaway vibe and are both responding to and fueling that particular consumer demand.

There’s an increasingly high-endish and somewhat exclusionary feel to some of these new businesses, but there’s clearly a growing market for local, top-shelf nosh and sip fare. Bigger markets create more job opportunities in an area that beneath the surface of its beautiful environs, second homes and tourist buzz still struggles with unemployment and opportunity for all.

These new local distillers, therefore, potentially offer far more than pricey whiskeys and fancy liqueurs that many local residents won’t ever try. Many are committed to using local grains and fruits and labor. They bottle and ship and promote, they live here and own or rent production facilities and they own or rent homes and pay taxes. And that’s really just scratching the surface of these businesses’ financial connections to northern Michigan.

There’s a small business domino-effect that’s badly needed and should be nurtured because the big, auto-related manufacturing plants that for so long employed so many here are a thing of the past.

Distillers’ new foothold here won’t singlehandedly solve the region’s lingering unemployment woes, but their presence means more than extended opportunities for a shot of hard stuff to augment local microbrews and wines. It’s about building an employment foundation; every new business that takes root here and helps to further the region’s reputation for positive attributes is a welcome addition, indeed.