IT company executive Heather Manley is spending discretionary income on alcohol in a big way.
Manley, owner of Crooked Water Spirits, is the first woman to operate a certified spirits company in Minnesota, according to Women’s Business Development Center. She doesn’t have her own distillery yet, but she is working on that.
Crooked Water Spirits continues a family history of spirits related businesses run by her grandfather and grandmother.
“In tandem with Crooked Water, I run On-Demand Group, an IT consulting company in Minneapolis since 2006; family-owned company that I bought from my father. It’s been around for 19 years. I also run Heather’s Dirty Goodness, which is a seasonings company, [with products in] Kowalski’s and Cub Foods. Five seasonings all about grilling, meats, pasta. They are all-purpose, they can go on anything,” she said.
There are about 55 On-Demand employees, while Crooked Water has “two: me and my CMO, chief marketing officer, Rhett Ambrose,” said Manley. “What’s nice is that we are trying to wrap up our brands, creating recipes because all these are our [spirits] recipes from scratch, and leveraging the infrastructure from Norseman and Yahara [distillery partners, based in Minnesota and Wisconsin, respectively]. Outside of us getting in there and bottling, it’s just a lot of waiting. Doing the research and development on future products; marketing; waiting for distribution. Until we have that distillery it’s not going to take a lot of labor investment.”
Her own distillery “is my goal,” said Manley. “We were going to try to start one in Excelsior but we ran into a lot of roadblocks; a little more of a conservative town. Now we are opening our options and worrying about getting these products out and building the marketing and product line base — and then we’ll worry about a distillery.”
Until then other distilleries will produce her spirits, which include Abyss Gin, making its debut at the end of this month, and L’Eau Grand, a charred French oak-aged vodka, scheduled to be released in late November. Lost Lake Bourbon and King’s Point Bourbon are already available at more than 50 liquor stores and restaurants in the Twin Cities, including St. Paul’s Happy Gnome, where we got together for drinks, but not really, as you will see in my startribune.com/video.
Q: Why is it important for Crooked Water to be 100 percent woman-owned?
A: I think it’s a differentiator. I want to go after corporate work and organizations that value diversity. There [are] not a lot of distilleries yet that are fully woman-owned. Maybe one that’s popping up. But no one certified yet. We are the first certified spirits company in Minnesota.
Q: How do you get certified?
A: You have to provide all your financials to an organization called the Women’s Business Development Center [and another organization, she claimed].
Q: Your liquors are being made in other distilleries right now?
A: Yep. I make my bourbon and one of my gins at the Yahara Bay Distillers in Wisconsin. I make my other gin and vodka and regular vodka with the Norseman Distillery in northeast Minneapolis.
Q: How many of those major distillery tours have you taken in your career?
A: Not a lot, probably four. I have done Waconia here locally. Norsemen. Yahara, both of whom are my partners.
Q: Why did this appeal to you as a business?
A: My grandfather owned a distribution company before Phillips took ’em out. My grandmother owned a bar. Alcohol’s been a really fun part of my family. No one’s ever abused it. So when we have a Christmas dinner we have a case of wine. Tom & Jerry’s. Bloody Mary’s. Prosecco. Seeing what a couple of people were doing in the industry, it seemed like a low-risk opportunity to dabble in, see if I could create a product that was going to be unique from what was on the shelves and something that people wanted to have.
Q: Nobody in your family has ever abused alcohol?
A: No one that I was raised with in my immediate family ever had issues with alcohol. It has always been a fun part of our holidays.
Q: Do you know how unusual this makes your family?
A: I realize I am extremely lucky. My parents have been exemplary entrepreneurial role models in my life, heavily involved in Rotary and the community. We have always put a heavy focus on being together as a family and enjoying the time with great food and such!
Q: At what age did you have your first alcoholic beverage?
A: I would say it was rather late, probably 15. It was a beer that we [secreted] out of my friend’s dad’s refrigerator. St. Pauli Girl. That was horrible.
Q: What is your go-to drink at the end of a crappy day?
A: At the end of any day, good or bad, if I can have anything I want it would be a Ketel One vodka martini, straight up. Itty-bitty teeny-weeny dirty with three olives.
Q: How do you make it dirty?
A: A little bit of olive juice.
Q: How do you infuse a beverage with juniper?
A: With the whole gin process you actually have the vapors go up through the botanicals and they drip back down and that’s vapor infusion. You can also put the products in the alcohols and let them infuse, as well.
Q: Have you ever used alcohol to sanitize a wound or cut?
A: [Long laugh] No. But I should start selling my booze to hospitals maybe.
Q: You know that now that you’re in the spirits business you can’t get picked up for drinking?
A: I do know that. You can’t have a distillery if you have a DWI. So I use DDI [ Drink and Drive Intelligently: http://youdrinkwedrive.org ] which is a drive-home service. So anytime I drink, they drive me and my car home.
Q: What’s your favorite nonalcoholic beverage?
A: I would say La Croix sparkling water.
Q: Nothing cures a hangover like rest, but what is your favorite hangover cure?
A: Ohhhh. I just had it this weekend. [Liquid] Alcohol would be a mimosa. [Food] Greasy eggs, a ton of bacon, three slices of toast with mounds of butter on it.
Q: Do you want to become as rich as Eddie Phillips, the vodka player?
A: [Long laugh.] Money is not the goal here. I would like to get the vodka and the gin going; the gin Abyss will be out at the end of the month. My goal is to self-fund a distillery and be able to create a livable income off that. I don’t think we are looking to become a … [she did not finish the thought]. I think you lose a little bit of your soul when you become that big. You lose a lot of your agility. You become more concerned about your bottom line than innovation. I want to stay that nice little small boutique distillery, creating a small batch, a highly unique product.
Q: I’m not much of a liquor drinker. I have a rule about wine drinking. I eschew spending more than $10 a bottle, because I pretend I’m in Paris. And if the winery has a silly name I don’t buy it. What’s the most stupid name you’ve seen on a wine bottle?
A: Oh my God. There are so many. I thought Ménage à Trois was kind of weak. I know what they are going after, but I thought it was kind of cheap and easy. Honestly, a lot of them are really, really bad. They don’t even resonate with me. I look at it, I judge it, and I walk away. [Laughter.]
Q: How many glasses of bourbon before you look like this? [ Video of Happy Gnome at horizontal angle.]
A: You will never see me that drunk. I have never fallen down. I have never passed out. I have a natural stop. I like the taste of alcohol. I love bourbon, I love wine, vodka. All within responsibility, right? I have a type A personality. I don’t like being out of control.
Q: You’ve got 20 minutes to live. Are you going to slug back some stuff or sip it?
A: It depends. Is there a zombie coming or is the Earth going to blow up by hitting the sun? Because if the Earth is going to blow up, I will take [be] a sipper. I’ll enjoy it. If zombies are coming, I am going to put my mouth underneath the keg and drink. [She illustrated.]
Interviews are edited. To contact C.J. try email@example.com and to see her watch Fox 9’s “Jason Show” and “Buzz.”