In my final guest post at Radley’s blog, I wrote:
I was surprised that Michigan’s distilleries are in business at all. The state has one of the highest taxes on distilled products in the country. Misguided ethanol subsidies have enticed farmers to plant corn instead of rye. And on top of all this they have to deal with a distribution system that’s run by a state monopoly and forbids them from selling their products to willing buyers. Opening a distillery in this legal environment sounds crazy, but despite this Michigan has become an improbable leader in micro-distilling.
Those laws have cost Michigan one of its better distilleries. Leopold Brothers, makers of a broad line of craft-distilled spirits, have left Ann Arbor for Colorado. Part of the reason for the move was a rent increase, but Michigan’s restrictive distribution laws were another major factor. As Todd Leopold explained in February:
We would’ve opened in Ypsi in a hearbeat, but the laws governing spirits sales makes it so we couldn’t sell half of our product line at a new bar (our Rum and Whiskeys). To top it off, self-distribution is legal in Colorado, and that make all the difference.
I picked up a bottle of Leopold’s American Small Batch Gin and have really enjoyed it. It’s distilled with an emphasis on botanicals like California oranges and Florida pummelos, and these citrus notes stand out in the taste and aroma. It’s a soft gin, good for a dry martini or even enjoyed neat. I’ve heard good things about their peach liqueur and look forward to trying their new absinthe verte; their French press coffee liqueur sounds especially intriguing, but I haven’t come across it on any shelves yet.
Michigan has slightly liberalized its distribution laws by allowing on-premise sales, but it’s still a control state with extremely high taxes on distilled products. If the government would get out of the way, Michigan could continue to thrive as a center for micro-distilling. And if not, I’m sure less restrictive states like Colorado will be glad to lure away their businesses.