Who’s behind the company? How did it come to be?
The whole idea of Great Northern Distilling was hatched in 2012 when Brian Cummins, the company’s founder, and a group of friends were enjoying craft cocktails at the Marvel Bar in Minneapolis. A chemical engineer by trade, Brian knew he could combine his technical and quality control skills along with his culinary palate to create small batch, award-winning spirits with exceptional smoothness.
He spent a year gathering friends and family to join the project and that is when Steven Heller came on board. Brian met Steven at the beginning of Steven’s career when he was selling advertising for a local broadcaster. Steven is now a project manager at Epic Systems in Verona and is a member of Great Northern’s five-person board of directors.
Tell us about Great Northern itself: What does the company do, and how does it do it differently/uniquely that makes it stand out from other distillers in the area?
Great Northern was founded on a couple of simple principles – to make great liquor from local ingredients and to promote craft cocktail culture to central and northern Wisconsin. We source almost all of our ingredients from within a 150-mile radius of Plover, Wisconsin and distill in small batches to create the perfect flavor profile for every bottle that goes on the shelf.
While we are sold statewide, we want to build a relationship directly with our customers through our tasting room and mixology bar. Not only do we have a menu of about 20 handmade drinks that changes weekly, but we also hold special educational classes and events. We want to be a resource and gathering spot for the community and make sure everyone knows they are welcome. For example, the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce regularly holds their central Wisconsin happy hour at Great Northern. We’ve been one of their members since our founding in 2013.
We also are a tourism destination for the area by holding special events and releasing limited batch spirits. Past events have included Tiki Night to celebrate our rum, prohibition parties every year on the anniversary of repealing the 18th amendment, and our anniversary party every May where we always have a limited edition spirit release. This year’s special release was our C.W. Rye Whiskey, a three-year-old whiskey that was finished in Central Waters Brewing’s bourbon barrel stout barrels.
How does having several gay members of the company’s board change/impact the way things are done? Was diversity on the board intentional, or did it just fall into place that way?
Our board is diverse in many ways; each of us comes with a unique educational and professional background from corporate law to marketing and project management to industrial engineering and product development. We also have a wide range of ages that lends a unique view into the needs of other generations, whether Millennial, GenX or Boomers. Ultimately, by having two of the five board members as part of the LGBTQ community, we think differently about underserved markets and how to solve issues in creative and non-traditional ways.
Personally, why did you decide to become a member of the board? What about Great Northern stands out to you?
I was excited at the prospect of growing a brand and a business, especially one that I could share with family and friends. Wisconsin has a long tradition of cocktails to celebrate everything from major life events like a wedding to a simple Friday night fish fry. To have something that we worked on as a team in that celebratory glass is a very humbling and gratifying experience. Also, building this business felt like a grassroots effort, where a group of friends and acquaintances came together to build something special together.
Where can folks go to learn more and/or sample the product?
We have events throughout the state and have our products on most major retailers shelves. You can also visit us online at www.greatnortherndistilling.com or visit our tasting room for a tour or cocktail at 1740 Park Ave in Plover, WI.