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Starting Up in Western Michigan


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Hello everyone!

My name is Andrew Henika and I'm the owner of Wild Rover Spirits. A little bit about me personally: I'm a Marine Corps veteran (Sergent, E-5; 2006-2011) who then went to Michigan State University (MSU) where I graduated with a B.S. in chemistry in 2015. Currently, I'm in the 2nd year of my PhD studies at MSU for Analytical Chemistry. I started home brewing while in the Corps, and began distilling at Red Cedar Spirits here in Lansing back in 2014 under the guidance of Dr. Kris Berglund. I remained at RCS for about 2 years and then took a year off to focus on my first year of grad school. After that year I started distilling again, this time at American Fifth Spirits which is a relatively new/small startup distillery in Lansing. Since working at these two distilleries I've learned the entire production process from grain to bottle, including basic paperwork and production tracking, from the perspective of a large business and a small business. I've been thinking of opening my own distillery for several years now and I believe I've gathered the skills necessary to run a distillery from a production standpoint, and I'm doing what I can to learn the business/legal side of operating a distillery. I have a business partner, also called Andrew, (who also has his bachelors degree in chemistry) who has worked in the service industry for 5 years, and has volunteered to manage the tasting room side of the business.

About Wild Rover: At our distillery we plan on applying all of the scientific knowledge and principles we've acquired, as well as my practical experience, to produce the best possible tasting spirits. We see ourselves specializing in whiskey but will also regularly produce brandy and gin, and would like to try producing nearly any kind of spirit we can get ingredients for. I've seen how things work at large (RCS) and small (AFS) distilleries, and have identified exactly what kind of equipment we'll need to run the production schedule with 1 to 2 people without breaking the bank on unnecessary equipment. We plan to buy a 500 gal pot still (steam), 500 gal mash cooker (steam), and 3 to 4 500 gal fermentation tanks from Vendome; and we would like to have a mill/auger system as well. I have a cousin who owns a farm in Augres, MI who is willing to supply the more expensive grains to us for a steep discount. We are currently gathering investors and scouting locations in various towns along the west coast of Michigan south of Traverse City and north of South Haven. By placing our distillery in this corridor we hope to avoid crowding from other established distilleries, and bring craft distilling to an area of Michigan which has had little exposure to it. There are lots of craft breweries and wineries in this area that we hope to partner with for special projects, and given the success of these businesses we realize that the populace seems to accept and enjoy the craft alcohol industry in general. The only substantial drawback to operating in this area that we've identified is the decline in winter tourism and foot traffic in the past several years.

We're seeking some general advice from those of you who operate in Michigan about the process(es) involved in opening a distillery. I've spent the last 6 months reading through the TTB laws and MLCC paperwork, but what I really would like to develop is a solid timeline for when to start specific steps from paperwork to construction to the ordering of equipment and grains. We plan on constructing a (steel) building from scratch so that we can make it exactly what we need it to be, and the cost of renovating/retrofitting existing buildings is approaching the cost of new steel building anyways. We welcome any and all advice from those of you who are willing to give it, and we look forward to contributing to these forums in any way we can. Feel free to contact us anytime here or by email at andrew@wrspirits.com, thank you all for your time! Slainte!

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We (Blue Star Distillery) have a location already planned near the lake shore in southwest Michigan south of Holland, and would be happy to partner with others. We have been looking at setting up for the past 7 years. We already are operating a distillery for 5 years in Illinois. Let's discuss.

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