Cheers to home-grown spirits

Posted on Dec 1, 2016 :: Editor’s Insights
Margaret LeBrun
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

IN RECENT YEARS, WE’VE LIFTED a glass to craft beers and boutique wineries — small businesses that have continued to stir interest everywhere. 

And now, ‘tis the season for spirits.

What gives? Well, a loosening of regulations that were, shall we say, old-fashioned. The red tape dating back to Prohibition finally gave way in 2009, when Wisconsin relieved distillers from restrictions such as a ban on tasting rooms or brewing spirits at wineries and breweries. Now, more than 20 distilleries dot the state, including five in Northeast Wisconsin.

The Hendricks family of Eureka (Winnebago County), featured in our cover story by Sean Johnson this month, shares the story of how they stumbled upon a business idea they couldn’t resist, and in 2011 built a small distillery. Their Pur Class vodka has been winning awards and is now available in more than 500 bars, restaurants and retail outlets statewide.

Door Peninsula Winery added Door County Distillery to its business and now produces 10 small-batch products, from vodka and gin to bitters and whiskey. And in Brussels (my hometown!), known more for its population of Belgian immigrants, Lo Artisan Distillery opened in 2010, producing a traditional Hmong rice liquor named Yerlo.

While we’re talking beverages, our Small Business Spotlight this month by Jessica Thiel features Twig’s Beverage — the last remaining bottler of Sun Drop soda pop. The Shawano company’s founder, Floyd Hartwig, launched the company in 1951 by mixing batches of soft drinks in an old mix tub with an ax handle. In 2015, Twig’s opened a museum featuring the history of soda bottling, and already more than 35,000 visitors have trekked to the Shawano County company to see the vintage signs, watch movies and check out the tasting bar.

This issue is filled with “did-you-know?” stories. For one: Did you know that a company in Appleton invented a solution to keep kids safe from those laundry and dishwasher packets that look like candy? Turn to “Made in the New North,” page 54, for more.

For another: Did you know that cement truck companies have had a devil of a time finding people with the right skills to drive and operate their mixers? (Imagine a new driver arriving at a work site without the wherewithal to keep the cement the proper consistency before it hardens … and destroys the entire truck.) Fortunately, our world-class technical colleges in the region cater to specific needs of employers. Check out our story, “Made to order,” on page 32.

Thanks to a relatively strong economy, we’ve got some good news to share about the regional housing market in our update on the construction industry. The Wisconsin Builder’s Association shows a 13 percent increase in single-family permits from January through August. Of course, builders can take only as much work as they can handle. They’re facing challenges trying to find skilled workers. Again, the industry is working with regional technical college to train a pipeline of students to meet their needs.

It’s no wonder that New North, Inc. planned to focus on workforce training at its Dec. 6 summit in Green Bay. With the theme “Talent Triathlon,” employers and educators gathered to share what they see as challenges and opportunities to foster a robust workforce for Northeast Wisconsin. You’ll find a copy of the 2016 New North Report to the Community, produced by Insight Publications, packaged with this issue of Insight.

At press time we were enjoying the last of the balmy fall days in Northeast Wisconsin. By the time you read this, the holiday season will be in full swing. There’s no better time to break out the bubbly and get in the spirit.

Cheers!

Margaret LeBrun

About Margaret LeBrun

Co-Publisher, Executive Editor View all posts by Margaret LeBrun →