KENTWOOD — Jason Spaulding recalled in the spring of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic decimated the bar and restaurant industry and left him sitting on 400 kegs of dead beer.
“What were we going to do — dump this beer?” Spaulding said. “That was the last thing that pushed us over the edge.”
Spaulding and his wife, Kris, owners of both Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids and sister brewery Broad Leaf Brewery & Spirits in Kentwood, then applied for their distillers license, fully prepared to distill their expired brews and use them in spirits.
Today, Broad Leaf unveiled the first of its new line of spirits, a gin and vodka, both of which were distilled in partnership with Grand Rapids-based Long Road Distillers LLC.
This initial offering is not a byproduct of the 400 kegs that Broad Leaf turned over to Long Road for distilling purposes — those are still in production. However, the initial releases of gin and vodka can be purchased in 750ml bottles at Broad Leaf’s tasting room, where they are also available in the form of draft cocktails.
With onsite canning capabilities, Spaulding said Broad Leaf is also exploring the idea of creating canned cocktails, a concept that has exploded in part because of the pandemic.
“We’re just doing some testing in cans to show if they’ll hold up,” he said. “They seem to be doing well, so that could be coming in the near future.”
When the Spaulding’s entered the craft beverage industry in 2010 with the launch of Brewery Vivant, they had aspirations of offering both beer and spirits. However, their spirits offering ended up taking more than a decade to finally come together.
“My first passion is beer, for sure, and we talked about starting a business and how we could do beer and spirits,” Spaulding said. “It was just too much to take on at once — we just kind of pushed it off and didn’t think about it much again.”
However, the pandemic had them revisiting the idea once again, and not just because they were sitting on expired beer. The pandemic was causing relatively seismic shifts in the craft beverage market.
“We noticed the marketplace, people were really getting into cocktails, and craft beer has kind of spurred on other categories, whether that be hard seltzers or canned cocktails,” Spaulding said. “There is a craft beer thing happening right now. It just seemed to be a time to re-think that again.”
Broad Leaf teamed up with Long Road to distill the gin and vodka and plan for future releases involving the expired beer from the pandemic.
Spaulding said Broad Leaf’s distilling license also allows the company to forge partnerships with other distilleries. Spaulding said he has talked to Grand Rapids-based Eastern Kille Distillery about a potential collaboration, as well.
If spirits become a major segment of Broad Leaf’s business, Spaudling said they might bring the process in-house.
While taking on new ventures during the uncertain times of the pandemic may seem like a risky proposition, Spaulding said that it was something that kept him and his team sane throughout the chaos.
“We were driving ourselves crazy during COVID because business was off and not doing our normal day-to-day stuff,” he said. “To be honest with you, pursuing those projects kind of saved my sanity and gave me something to focus on.”
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