Friday, February 21st, 2014 | posted by Sabrina
We all have a lot of questions. Sure, you can take a tour and learn about spirit making. You can try some cocktails and talk to locals in the tasting room. But we all want to really know: what’s it like to own a business in the city of Detroit proper? How the hell do you open the first distillery in Detroit since Prohibition anyway? Did your family pat you on the head and certify you crazy when you told them your grand visions? What can go wrong?
Those of us who have our own crazy dreams want to know: where you even start? That’s where this series comes in.
This is the first installment of Behind the Still, and we’ll answer all of those questions eventually. Rotating between the co-founders of Two James, we’ll bring a little fireside chat action to the blog. On any given night, you may be in a seat right next to them in the tasting room, so if you’ve heard these tales before, my apologies.
If you were in that chair next to Peter and asked him about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the distilling business, he’d have a list a mile long. You’d have to be more specific. I decided to inquire about the bad first. As most small business owners know: nothing ever goes according to plan—especially during the beginning stages. You’re literally learning on your feet everyday.
As some of the tour guests know, we give part of our spent grain to Brost Farms for cattle feed and the other portion to Detroit Dirt for composting. This is a dirty story, indeed. “One time, when we were in the beginning stages of composting with Detroit Dirt, we were trying to contain—this very aqueous material. Because of course, you don’t want to just lay it on the ground around the compost heap right? You want to keep it on the pile to let the moisture percolate.”
For those composting novices, Peter’s words ring true. It also should be noted that our whiskey runs are 500 gallons a piece. Sure, we’re taking some of that off and using it in our spirits…but you still have a ton of liquid mixed in with the grain. Anyway, back to Peter.
“So, as you know, or may not—the major Detroit Dirt contributor is the Detroit Zoo. At this point, I was getting stressed out because logistically, it wasn’t going to work. I didn’t have use of the front end loader, and I needed to contain the liquid and the grain so…I had to craft a berm. Of poop. A big wall of it. It wasn’t pretty, I can’t imagine how it looked, but hey—it worked.”
Crafting poo walls probably isn’t what people have in mind when they think of life as a distiller. But, at Two James, we take the whole life cycle of craft distilling pretty seriously (in Peter’s case, quite I would say). We get our grain locally and we donate to local sources to reuse it towards their own efforts when at all possible. He could have given up and said: NEVER, THIS ISN’T GOING TO WORK, but that’s not Peter’s way. He’s not a hero, but no one can say he’s not resourceful, or that he isn’t willing to get down in the mud—or poo for that matter—for his neighbors. So now, Detroit Dirt is also affectionately known as “poop berm” to the Two James staff and to those of you following this blog. Now you know.
Until next week!