Distillery friend Felix- Caught in the cracks of the system is a man without a country.

Felix BendlerIf you’ve stopped at the distillery and saw or spoke with a gentleman in a beret and a super-friendly service dog named Alice you’ve met our friend Felix Bendler. Felix has a small leather business in the building next to the distillery. He also has the unusual distinction of being a man without a country. Now, the country he has resided in since infancy and has paid taxes in as an employee and as a business owner, has cut off his social security benefits.
Great Lakes Distillery is hosting a fund raiser for Felix on Sunday June 26th to help defray his legal costs as he continues his fight against the US Government. How did he get in this situation?
Felix, the son of a concentration camp survivor was born in a displaced persons camp after World War Two.  As such he wasn’t a citizen of Germany and when his parents moved to the US they did not issue him US citizenship. As a high school student in Milwaukee in 1967 he got into a bit of trouble for selling $25 worth of marijuana to an undercover officer. Sentenced to four years in prison Felix served two years and was released. Unfortunately because he was now a felon and not a citizen of the US, the federal government issued a deportation order. Fortunately because he had no citizenship in any other country the US has been unable to find a country to deport him to.
Alice the Dog

Service dog Alice is Felix’s constant companion.

Despite a pardon for his crime from two Wisconsin governors the deportation order still stands to this day. As such, Felix’s life has been made difficult. A recent stroke has limited his ability to work full time and the government has canceled his social security payments due to the deportation order. This and his mounting legal costs have severely limited his income.

Felix has been quiet about his story in recent years as he quietly worked behind the scenes trying to solve his problem, but it wasn’t always that way and he feels he no longer has anything more to lose. In the 1970’s his story was made known all over. It had been told by numerous media outlets including the New York Times and by Roger Mudd on the CBS Evening News (news items link here). Unfortunately this did not help his situation and today he finds himself in even greater need of help.
Great Lakes Distillery is hosting a fund raiser for Felix on Sunday June 26th from 2-6PM to help defray his legal costs as he continues his fight against the US Government. A portion of the tasting room sales will be donated and there will be a silent auction and a pot-luck so feel free to bring a dish to share. Alice will be there too.
From Felix- “You can donate to my cause by mailing a check made out to Sarah Blackwell, and mail it to her at: 700 West Virginia Street, Suite 307, Milwaukee, WI 53204. Sarah is my defense lawyer, and she has been working pro bono for years, but my case is going to take a lot more additional research. Sarah will be at the event to address that and explain why my case is uniquely complicated”

Bee’s Knees

Bee's Knees
Print Recipe
A classic prohibition era cocktail.
Servings Prep Time
1 Cocktail 5 Minutes
Servings Prep Time
1 Cocktail 5 Minutes
Bee's Knees
Print Recipe
A classic prohibition era cocktail.
Servings Prep Time
1 Cocktail 5 Minutes
Servings Prep Time
1 Cocktail 5 Minutes
Servings: Cocktail
  1. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
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Tasting Law Update

Unfortunately the 2014 WI Legislative session has come to an end and no vote took place for the proposed tasting law changes. The good news is it got further this year than any year in the past. It seems the legislation was stopped by legislative leadership in committee. Sometimes it’s easier for legislators to ignore a bill than to actually have to commit to one side or the other. In this case the other side was lobbyists representing a big brewery. Small business and a growing industry lost this time, but we will take up the fight again next year. 2014 is an election year so unfortunately there won’t be another legislative session this year.

My thanks to the numerous customers that contacted their legislators in support. In addition thanks to the state representatives who had the courage to tell the opposition that their monopoly on this marketing technique (tasting) was wrong. Also a huge thanks to Wisconsin’s other distilleries that supported and worked to make this change happen. We’ll try again in 2015.


Wisconsin Tasting Laws Need and Update Part 2


Tasting map as of 2012. States that allow in store tasting of spirits are green.

Tasting map as of 2012. States that allow in store tasting of spirits are green.

In my last post I discussed the concept of tasting spirits in stores. In this post I hope to point out a few more details and some of the political aspects of this issue.

First a recap– Spirits producers are looking to change Wisconsin’s tasting laws to allow us to sample spirits in licensed stores. This is a responsible means of marketing our products that both beer and wine producers already enjoy in Wisconsin. Already legal in 38 states including every state surrounding Wisconsin, we hope to modernize Wisconsin’s outdated tasting laws this year.

I’m happy to say a WI Senate bill (SB535) has been created joining an Assembly bill (AB344) to finally level the playing field between spirits producers and beer and wine producers. Bi-partisan support in both the assembly and senate should help get this done but powerful forces are at work behind the scenes to stop it. The tactics include misinformation and out and out lying.

Who’s in favor of in store sampling? Wisconsin’s 20 distillers (either open or in the process of opening), DISCUS (the distilled spirits council of the US) which represents the majority of distilled spirits producers and marketers in the US. The Wisconsin Grocers association, the Wisconsin Wine and Spirits Institute (representing Wisconsin’s liquor distributors) and Diageo North America.

So, who’s against distillers sampling in stores?  Primarily MillerCoors and the Tavern League of Wisconsin, two very powerful organizations when it comes to Wisconsin politics. Why is the Chicago based brewer against spirits sampling? I’ve heard many reasons, the most plausible is that MillerCoors has lost a significant percentage of their business to spirits over the last decade and they prefer to keep the marketing advantage tasting gives to themselves. Why is the Tavern League against it especially when they previously were supporters of legislation that allowed beer and wine to be sampled? They like to say it’s because people won’t come into their members businesses if they can get free spirits samples in stores, a pretty weak argument considering no one goes into a tavern to order a half ounce taste of anything. Frankly it seems the Tavern League is just falling in line with MillerCoors wishes. MillerCoors is a major sponsor of the organization and both MillerCoors and the Tavern League share the same lobbyist.

We still have a long way to go to get the outdated law changed, below are some significant points regarding spirits tasting;

1. Distillers make expensive products. Consumers are reluctant to spend on something they have never tried before. Through sampling, a consumer can make an informed choice as to whether they want to purchase the product or not.
2. Currently Beer and Wine may be tasted in stores. Spirits cannot. Wisconsin’s distillers would like the same responsible marketing opportunity that brewery’s and winery’s already enjoy.
3. 38 states allow in store tastings. Every state surrounding WI allows in store tasting. States that allow tasting have not reported abuse, social consequences or enforcement problems resulting from tasting spirits.
4. Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa allow in store tasting. When it comes to sampling, our neighbors treat Wisconsin’s 20 small distilleries better than Wisconsin does.
5. The Tavern League of Wisconsin and MillerCoors are against it. The Tavern League feels if people can get samples of spirits in stores that it may hurt sales in the states taverns. In 2001 wine sampling was permitted, in 2007 Beer sampling was permitted. Both of these laws were supported by the Tavern League. There is no indication that this hurt the states taverns. MillerCoors the North American division of SABMiller is against it simply because big beer producers have lost market share to spirits over the last decade.
Alcohol is Alcohol. What matters is how much you drink.

Standard Drinks. Alcohol is Alcohol. What matters is how much you drink.

6. Alcohol is Alcohol. It does not matter if it is from beer, wine or spirits- it’s all the same. What matters is the volume consumed. A typical cocktail will have the same amount of alcohol as a beer or a glass of wine. US Dietary Guidelines define a standard drink as 1.5oz of 80 proof alcohol distilled spirits, 5oz of wine at 12% alcohol and 12 oz of beer at 5% alcohol. Please see Standard Drinks for more info.

7. The Tavern League and Miller released an opposition statement that is blatantly inaccurate.
a. They erroneously state that beer and wine are allowed to be sampled in stores at a maximum of 3- 1oz samples. The fact is they can sample 2- 3oz samples  (you would think one of the worlds largest breweries would be aware of this?).
b. They use this to imply that the amount of alcohol distillers want to sample would be greater than that allowed for beer and wine.
c. They state the only beneficiary of this law would be large foreign owned distilleries completely ignoring the fact that there are 20 distilleries located in Wisconsin. The fact is by not permitting spirits tastings legislators are only helping a large foreign owned brewery.
8. Distillers want to sample 3- 1/2 ounce samples at most.
9. Distillers are not asking for preferential treatment, but simply want to level the marketing playing field with brewers and wineries.
10. Distillers have no desire to give away our product. We simply want people to be able to taste our products so they can make an informed decision.
11. Not one tavern League member that I spoke to indicated their business was hurt by beer and wine sampling. There is no reason to believe spirits tasting would have any negative effect on Wisconsin’s taverns. In fact allowing sampling of spirits will likely help Wisconsin’s taverns. Consumers will be more aware of the brands they sell and if they tried something in store and liked it will likely order it while out at the states taverns.
12. Millers US headquarters moved from Wisconsin to Illinois. Illinois law allows tastings in store. Miller has made no effort to stop these tastings in Illinois. Why are they okay with it in Illinois but not in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin Liquor Tasting Laws Need an Update- Part 1

LiquorsignWisconsin currently allows sampling of beer and wine in licensed retailers. Spirits are not allowed to be sampled in those same licensed stores. Unfortunate because sampling is a responsible method of marketing our products and it helps the consumer make an informed choice. Quality spirits tend to be sold at a higher price point which discourages an impulse buy for consumers. Our best marketing? Getting people to taste our products. Consumers win because they can make an informed decision as to whether they want to spend their dollars on our products or not. In store sampling is currently permitted in 38 states including every state surrounding Wisconsin, so why not us?

The basic answer is that no one has asked- until recently. Over the last four years there have been at least three attempts by the spirits industry to get this law changed. A Wisconsin Assembly Bill AB344 would correct this. Unfortunately opponents of allowing spirits tastings like to spread misinformation. Typically they like to paint a picture of people going on drunken rampages in stores, they claim that havoc will break out when people are doing “shots” in the super market aisles. They also like to say that spirits are somehow worse than beer or wine. The fact is the amount we’d like to be able to sample (3 half ounce samples max) has an alcohol content that falls just between what is currently allowed for beer and wine sampling in Wisconsin stores.

 As distillers, we’re not asking for preferential treatment, just a level playing field with beer and wine producers. Wisconsin currently has 15 beverage distilleries open or in the works. Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, and Iowa let us sample in their states, it’s a shame we can’t in our own home state.

Next Post: Why would anyone be against sampling?


Gluten in Distilled Spirits

wheat and still

It is generally believed distillation separates the gluten from the final spirit.

We frequently get customers asking us about the gluten content of our spirits. Several organizations that provide guidance on gluten free diets say that distillation separates gluten from the final spirit even when the source grain includes gluten (a good post highlighting these reports here). The US government claims they have not seen an adequate test to determine whether a spirit made with wheat, barley, or rye is truly gluten free. Therefore, a distillery cannot label a product made from the distillation of those grains as gluten free.

If you have a sensitivity to gluten, an abundance of experts say you shouldn’t have any problem resulting from the consumption of any distilled spirits. If you’re not convinced that distillation results in a gluten free spirit and you want to play it safe, drink our Rehorst Gin. Rehorst Citrus & Honey Vodka, Roaring Dan’s Rum, Amerique 1912 Absinthe, or our Artisan Series Fruit Brandies. There is no possibility of gluten in these products since none of the raw ingredients contain any gluten before distillation. Our straight Rehorst Vodka, our Pumpkin Spirit, and Kinnickinnic Whiskey are the only products we make with grains that have gluten.

Update 11/18/2013- Fred Minnick writes in Scientific American about Gluten in distilled spirits and that the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is close to finalizing standards for what spirits can be called Gluten free. Read it here.


Kinnickinnic Whiskey wins “Best American Blended Whisky”

kkThe World Whisky Awards took place March 21st 2013 in London, UK.  More than 300 Whiskies from around the world were sampled in three rounds of blind tastings. According to Whisky Magazine, Judges were drawn from the best drinks journalists and retailers around the world, with industry representatives made up of master blenders, distillers and brand ambassadors in the final round.
This isn’t the first accolade our Blend has won. In 2012 we won a Gold Medal at both the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the Denver International Spirits Competition.

Many american blended whiskies contain Neutral Grain Spirit- this is essentially vodka. In fact the government allows as little as 20% whiskey and as much as 80% NGS to produce a blended whiskey.
Doug nosing a glass of Whiskey.

Distiller Doug nosing a glass of Whiskey.

Kinnickinnic Whiskey is different. It has NO neutral grain spirits and is a blend of three distinct whiskies including a Bourbon, Malt and Rye Whiskey. Master Distiller Doug MacKenzie painstakingly blends the product to taste in small batches of approximately 1000 bottles each.

Named for a Native American word translating to “what is mixed”, Kinnickinnic Whiskey is currently available in 23 states. It might be hard to find, but it’s out there- and we think it’s well worth the hunt!



Absinthism in the 21st Century

As a producer of absinthe we spend a lot of our time explaining the myths and facts that surround absinthe. The short hand version is that basically everything anyone has told you about it being a hallucinogen is a lie. It will not drive you insane nor will it put you into seizures. Absinthism is what people were said to be afflicted with if they had any number of frightening symptoms and it was a total lie. Excepting the fact that absinthe is generally higher in alcohol content, It is in fact no more harmful than any other spirit.

In 2007 the US government lifted their ban on products containing Grande Wormwood and since, a number of absinthe’s have now been imported and produced here in the US. Which makes this “authoritative” medical information website’s reliance on 150 year old scientific studies a complete joke. According to the article;

Prolonged drinking of absinthe causes convulsions, blindness, hallucinations, and mental deterioration. Absinthe has been banned but something of its taste of absinthe is still available in such drinks as ouzo in Greece and in France, pastis,…”

From the way it reads you may think it was written by the French wine industry in the late 1800’s but the best part is that under the article it says “Last Editorial Review: 3/19/2012″. I can’t wait to see what they say about the current state of Blood Letting….!