A Family Business—Yahara Bay Distillery.

December 7, 2015
By Toni Jakovec

Genial and “spirited” owner and chief distiller of Yahara Bay Distillery, Nick Quint, took time out of his busy schedule for an interview recently. As always, we learned a lot about something we thought we already knew a lot about. Yahara Bay Distillers was founded in 2007 and is Madison’s premier small batch distillery. Using the best local fruits, grains, and herbs from around the state, Yahara Bay produces 42 spirits in house ranging from gin and vodka to whiskeys and liqueurs. The family run company also imports about 60 spirits from around the world that are bottled, labeled, and shipped to distributors throughout the U.S.

nick quint

Nick Quint, proprietor and chief distiller at Yahara Bay Distillery.

Toni Jakovec: Good morning Nick. To get started, when did you open up Yahara Bay Distillery?

Nick Quint: We actually started producing in 2007, and our first products were available in October of that year.

TJ: What prompted you to open a distillery and what background did you bring to this highly specialized profession?

NQ: My background was in water filtration and bottled water. I was semi-retired and saw a small distillery in Iowa in the fall of 2006. This started me thinking….what could I do with something like that? I had been in small businesses for myself most of my life and thought this might an opportunity to put what I’d learned about marketing and business into something brand new. At that time there were very few craft distilleries in the nation, and
only one operating in Wisconsin. So, it was pretty much a leap of faith. I just trusted on my experience and I was very

Center stage in the distilling process is "CARL", Yahara Bay’s  90-gallon copper still.

Center stage in the distilling process is “CARL”, Yahara Bay’s
90-gallon copper still.

cautious to not overextend. This idea was so new banks would not even talk to me. I ended up using my retirement money to finance the project. It wasn’t easy getting started. Getting ‘permitted’ by the feds was challenging in and of itself. Then it took about 6 months for the still to get here from Germany. I never anticipated that even the name of the business, Yahara Bay, (Yahara is the name of the river that connects the lakes), would be an issue since I didn’t expect to sell outside of Madison (Wisconsin). Most people 20 miles outside of Madison have no idea what ‘Yahara’ is or how to pronounce it.

TJ: That’s quite a story. Of all business to go into, why did you choose distilling?

NQ: (chuckling a bit) Because there weren’t any here. After studying about Prohibition I knew there was no way liquor production was ever going to stop. Knowing that liquor was a huge tax generator for the U.S., convinced me if I made most of the right decisions, I should, at least, not fail. I didn’t ever set out to make a lot of money, and still don’t. But it is still fun and challenging. The day we started there were 70 distilleries nationwide, today there are probably close to a thousand. We were the second in the state of Wisconsin and there are now at least 20 licensed, though they are not all operating yet. From what I can tell, there is no stopping the growth in this business. Distilling is following the path of the micro-breweries and small wineries that just keep growing.

TJ: Is Yahara Bay just your personal interest or is it a family business?

NQ: It’s definitely a family business. Actually this year, we won the Wisconsin Family State Business of the Year Award.

TJ: Congratulations!

NQ: Thank you. When I started it was just me. Then after our first production my daughter started using her vacation days to sell our products. My step-son then started helping. Then one of my wife’s friends began working here. Everyone worked for nothing for quite a while. So we were working mostly from volunteer labor at the beginning. Today the family is still all involved, including my wife; my step-son is still here and his daughter; my granddaughter comes in on her days off to help. Everyone is treated like family here.

TJ: At this point Nick, what is your position with the company?

NQ: As a corporation, technically I’m president. I still stay very active by doing all the shipping, though I’d like to get away from that. I also do purchasing and things like that. We’re growing so fast, the necessity for new positions keep developing.

TJ: Are you a publicly owned company?

NQ: No, the stock is still completely family owned.

TJ: How did your association with vomFASS begin?

NQ: As I was starting up, Justin’s father, David, contacted me originally. We met and it was kind of funny because we were both from Iowa, both drove the same old van, and we were basically the same age. He and Justin were just starting up and they needed someone in the U.S. with an importing permit who could bottle the vomFASS products. I was new, hungry and needed customers, so it was a great opportunity. I got the federal import permits and we began from there. The first few years we just bottled by the order. Of course, it’s a lot different now. We’ve grown. vomFASS has become a very important part of our business. vomFASS has definitely been a part of our growth, and we with theirs.

TJ: Exactly what is your role with vomFASS?

NQ: In the U.S., it is illegal for someone with a retail license, like vomFASS, to purchase and bottle their own alcohol products. As a distillery, we have a federal permit to not only produce liquor but we can also bottle bulk liquor. We import spirits for vomFASS. We then in turn sell to distributors. We cannot sell directly to stores; that would be illegal. This is called a three-tier system. We bottle the products; store them for the distributors; the distributor orders from us; and delivers to the store. Of course, every state law differs a bit, but that’s the general system. From a legal standpoint, it is vital that we, as distillers, are not directly involved with the retailers. We are a totally separate corporation from vomFASS, which is an important legal distinction.

TJ: Have you designed any specific products for vomFASS?

NQ: The first was a Lavender liqueur. We package about a dozen of our other products for vomFASS. Most of them are similar to products we sell locally in our own bottles, but we make certain that what goes to vomFASS is of the highest quality. Although we did not specifically design these for vomFASS, we do produce and age the American Whiskey, Bourbon, Vodka (especially the Hot Pepper Vodka), the Chai Tea Vodka, and a few liqueurs like the Lemoncello and Crancello. I can’t even think of them all. We’re always developing new products. Plus there’s ongoing development in Europe.

TJ: What is your favorite product?

NQ: I think the Apple Brandy. Of course, Wisconsin is the brandy state and we source our apples from an orchard only about 30 miles away from here. The orchard started with us on day one and we still get our apples from them.

TJ: Would you like to share a beverage with us?

NQ: Absolutely. Here’s our most popular cocktail, the Vanilla Chai Latte Martini.

Vanilla Chai Latte Martini 

chai thingy

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Pour the Chai Vodka, the Vanilla Dream Liqueur, and cinnamon into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes.
  2. Shake vigorously for 20 seconds.
  3. Strain into a chilled martini glass.

 
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Disclaimer: This information is not intended as an offer to sell, or the solicitation of an offer to buy, a franchise. It is for information purposes only. Currently, the following states in the United States regulate the offer and sale of franchises: California, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. If you are a resident of one of these states, we will not offer you a franchise unless and until we have complied with applicable pre-sale registration and disclosure requirements in your jurisdiction.