Michigan is already a state known for wine and beer, but what about spirits? There are several distilleries located throughout the state, and more popping up by the day. One of the newest distilleries to open in Michigan is Two Birds Artisan Spirits. Those who attended the Sip of Michigan event this summer were lucky enough to get a chance to taste their amazing Greyling Gin. And we were lucky enough to have a Q&A session with Ryan and Nate, the founders of Two Birds, to find out how they got started and see what we can expect from them in the future.

How did you and Ryan get started with distilling?
Ryan is a winemaker and a brewer. I’m interested in cider making.  We’re very good friends and we both really like classic gin cocktails and the idea that we can use our skill sets to make the gin that we want to drink. Making spirits also provides us the ability to directly support local farmers.

Are you opening a distillery? Where will it be located? Is it open to visitors?
We will open a distillery eventually. Right now, though, we’re still very small and we need to focus primarily on production and marketing. Once we establish a market, we’ll see to it that our supporters have access to our facility and process.

Why did you decide to release a gin as your first offering?
Gin is the spirit that really excites us right now and it’s one that requires a lot of creativity, both in terms of its development and marketing.  We are doing it for practical reasons, too. Gin can be produced relatively quickly and it requires less capital investment than other spirits, making it a good place to start. If we were to make, say, a whiskey, we’d need to experiment with, and invest in, barrels for aging. We’d then need to age the spirit, which would prevent us from realizing a profit quickly.

What makes it different from other gins out there on the market?
Gins tend to fall into one of two camps. They are either very juniper forward, which is celebrated by hardcore gin fans, or, as is the case with many contemporary gins, the juniper is played down and heavily influenced by other often softer botanicals. We developed Greyling to bridge those two paradigms. With Greyling you get a gin that tastes of juniper, is complimented by citrus, and balanced by Michigan grown, culinary grade lavender.  We opted for a less is more approach and limited our list of botanicals. Too many botanicals and gin can seem overworked.  Our intent is to nuance rather than overpower the juniper berries.

Do you plan to make other spirits as well? What are your plans for the future?
We plan on adding products as we can. Right now, though, we want to remain focused on establishing Greyling throughout the Upper Midwest and in the Mid-Atlantic region.  We have a couple of concepts in their design phase.  I am incredibly enthused about making other gins that use interesting and innovative botanicals.  Ryan is interested in brown spirits and liqueurs. He currently makes a number of liqueurs that are really great that we’d like to produce seasonally on a much larger scale.

Why did you decide to make these spirits in Michigan?
Michigan is a great place to start a distillery.  The State’s laws do a lot to encourage distilling.  Plus, Ryan and I are both Michiganders and we want to see the economic situation in Michigan improve. Distilleries are a great way to encourage job creation. We see distilling as being very much an agricultural activity. All of our products will incorporate as many Michigan produced ingredients as possible.

Greyling gin will be carried by Salut Fine Wine & Spirits, Food Dance, Bacchus Wine and Spirits, Fandango Tapas, Bravo!, and the Millennium Restaurant Group in Kalamazoo.  In Grand Rapids, it will be available for purchase at Martha’s Vineyard, The Bob, and Bistro Bella Vita.  Greyling gin is sold online at www.internetwines.com.

Nathan Jonjevic was raised on a blueberry farm in Southwestern Michigan.  He worked for a number of years in Chicago as an architectural conservator.  Nathan lives in Kansas City, MO with his wife, PaKou and his daughters Lola and Felan, where he manages a small company that provides laser systems for industrial surface preparation and coating removal applications.

Ryan Bailey first became interested in creating hand-crafted spirits through his involvement in home wine, beer and liqueur making. In addition to his passion for fermenting and distilling, Ryan also teaches high school literature and composition, coaches tennis, and co-facilitates anti-racism workshops. He makes his home in Kalamazoo, MI with his wife Joy.