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Local Distillery Makes Waves In Community

Have you ever wondered what compels someone to go out of their way to be kind? Studies have shown that one simple act of kindness can not only positively affect the recipient, but those giving and even witnessing the act as well.

Perhaps it was the kindness of others that triggered Chad Munger and his wife’s desire to start a business and create jobs in their community. When Chad’s interest in distilling spirits was piqued, he went all-in – going back to school at his alma mater, Michigan State University, in the artisan distilling program. He later purchased distilling hardware from his instructor and set out to establish Mammoth Distilling in Central Lake, Michigan. They have since grown the business to have three other locations in Bellaire, Traverse City, and Bay Harbor.

So how does an owner of a popular local distillery carry his business through COVID-19 and spinoff into providing hand sanitizer to our community and beyond? According to Chad, it’s all about the talent and creativity of the people you surround yourself with. And maybe a dose of kindness, too.

“I wish I could give myself that credit,” Chad laughed. “Collin Gaudard, our Associate Distiller, knew others throughout his network in Seattle were taking steps to fill the gap in providing access to hand sanitizer. He looked into the logistics and feasibility, did his research, made contacts, and suggested we give it a shot.”

Chad knew that without taking drastic steps, his team wouldn’t be working for a long time.

“We started Mammoth Distilling to make jobs. We were scared and stuck at home, and we felt like we needed to do something. People appreciate being paid when they can’t go to work, but no one on our team was content with that. We wanted to contribute. We wanted to be constructive,” Chad explained. “So, we ran with Collin’s plan.”

They put a hold on spirit production and gave hand sanitizer a chance. According to Chad, the production of hand sanitizer starts where the distilling process ends. High-proof ethanol is the main ingredient in hand sanitizer and is, by definition, the main ingredient in drinkable spirits.

“To change what we do from making potable alcohol to sanitizer required us to take some risks including exposing our equipment to hazardous and corrosive materials that we do not normally use. For instance, Bitrex (the world’s most bitter substance) is added to sanitizer to make it undrinkable, but could also permanently damage valuable and critical equipment. We weren’t sure if repurposing our equipment was going to have any long-term ramifications in our ability to produce quality spirits. It was a gamble.”

Through the help of his team, Chad began testing the capabilities of their facilities. The gamble paid off.

Collin creating sanitizer
Collin Gaudard creating sanitizer

“It just turns out that vodka, at 190 proof, is the perfect type of ethanol to use as a base for hand sanitizer and we had significant amounts on hand. As we continued to turn our spirits inventory into sanitizer, we ended up with batches that smelled like gin, whiskey, and even apples. It wasn’t long before we burned through our entire spirits supply and had to decide whether we wanted to go to the market and buy ethanol from outside sources or continue to use our equipment to make ethanol for the job. As it turned out it was cheaper and more efficient to purchase bulk ethanol from large producers.

With the process ironed out and scalable, Mammoth moved from offering only free sanitizer to people and businesses who would visit their tasting rooms around Northern Michigan, to full distribution throughout the midwest.

“We received nothing but positive feedback. In this moment, when everyone is feeling so helpless, it has been a real blessing for us. We got to wake up every day and go to work and make a difference,” Chad says. “And it brought people into our world we never would have met otherwise.”

One person from downstate actually purchased radio time and placed ads for Mammoth Distilling as a means to express his gratitude for the work they were doing. Having never spoken to anyone about it before, it was a shock when Chad was told by the ‘stranger-now-turned-friend’ in their Traverse City storefront. Their selflessness and generosity were making waves.

Another friend and business owner in Traverse City was inspired by the work being done at Mammoth Distilling, as well. He opened doors and provided access to his transportation and blending resources allowing for the sourcing of ethanol in significantly greater quantities than what was available before.

“He wanted to keep his team happy and working, too. Because of his generosity, and the fact that we were just trying to help our community, we were getting processing expertise and resources with at-cost pricing for much of what we needed for large scale sanitizer production,” Chad recounted.

The free hand sanitizer also brought many local first responders through the doors to regularly top off their supplies.

When the stay-at-home orders were lifted, many people throughout the state were ready to get back to life as they remembered it.

“We were nervous. Transitioning from a manufacturing environment back into hospitality with so much uncertainty was scary. We took our time. Made sure the team was comfortable before getting back into the swing of things,” Chad remembers. “The world is stressed. We had our share of customers who didn’t want to wear masks or were frustrated with the rules.”

Much like before, when presented with a challenge, Chad turned to those around him to develop a solution that would benefit the community. He used his customer’s frustrations as another opportunity for spreading compassion.

“As the community began getting more comfortable gathering outside, we looked for ways to expand our footprint and enable a safe environment for everyone to escape the confines of their homes,” said Chad. “Our search led us to partnering with Brownwood Acres on Torch Lake.”

Brownwood Acres has been a Torch Lake family destination for years and makes up a part of the area’s DNA. Consisting of a country store, an old schoolhouse, and a honey house, this local gem has plans to further cement itself into the lives of others by partnering with Mammoth Distilling.

“Now we can activate a 15-acre piece of land for social gatherings and events within our community without ‘elbow room only’ concerns in a world focused on social distancing.”

At a moment when many are feeling removed and shut off from their community, Chad Munger and his growing list of teammates, friends, and associates are finding unique ways to connect their neighbors safely. Who knows? Maybe the next time you witness an act of kindness, it will, in some way, be connected to the ripples that began in Central Lake.

Did You Know?

Concern for community is one of the seven cooperative principles upon which Great Lakes Energy’s operations are based. We celebrate the positivity and kindness exhibited by Mammoth Distilling, a member of Great Lakes Energy, in their effort to enrich our community. Want to learn about the other guiding principles? Learn more at Understanding the Seven Cooperative Principles

Interested in making a difference in your community? Learn how you can contribute to the GLE People Fund and make some waves of your own.

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