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Photo for: From a Van to a Dream Distillery – Gypsy Spirits' Journey to Creating Award-Winning Spirits


From a Van to a Dream Distillery – Gypsy Spirits' Journey to Creating Award-Winning Spirits

Let go, breathe deep, and feel free with Gypsy Vodka

In the picturesque town of Petoskey, Michigan, a unique distillery is making waves with its exceptional craft spirits and a story that goes beyond the ordinary. High Five Spirits, co-founded by twin brothers Michael and Adam Kazanowski, has overcome many challenges and finally transformed a former equestrian center into the sprawling Gypsy Distillery. Join us in an interview with Michael Kazanowski as we delve into the inspirations, challenges, and the Gypsy Spirits’ journey.

Tell us about Gypsy Spirits and what inspired you to start your distillery.

Gypsy Spirits was started through the dedication to follow one's dreams, take chances, and never give up. When my twin brother Adam and I first had the idea of opening our distillery we were living in the back of our van working at music festivals. We were rejected from every bank loan we applied for and turned down by every possible investor. Turns out people didn't have a lot of faith in two 24-year-olds, with no industry experience or knowledge, go figure. Instead of giving up on our dream, we dedicated the next 3 years to learning all we could about the industry, licensing, and product creation. We saved $50k and were able to create Gypsy Vodka at our friend/mentor, Paul Dunning's distillery in Denver Colorado.

Image: Gypsy Distillery, Michigan

Gypsy Distillery is a unique transformation of the Bay Harbor Equestrian Center. Can you share more about the history and the vision behind this project?

We opened our first distillery in Petoskey Michigan 3 years after launching Gypsy Vodka. During the next 3 years, we experienced great growth and launched many new products, with the growth of our portfolio we needed to find a much larger space. That is when we were introduced to real estate mogul and visionary David Johnson. David is well known for his developments like Bay Harbor (Michigan) and Oil Nut Bay (British Virgin Islands). His team showed us the old 42,000 sq ft. equestrian center that sat on a hill overlooking Lake Michigan. Fortunately, for us, the old Equestrian Center was listed for sale, but almost every interested purchaser wanted to tear down the building for the real estate. David went to Michigan State like us, he loves northern Michigan like us, and we wanted to honor his legacy. We spent 3 years in a small 3500 sq ft distillery that wasn't suitable for the public to visit. We wanted this project to be a work of art. We transformed the indoor riding arena into a state-of-the-art distillery, complete with all new equipment and the first of its kind still from Detroit City Stillworks. We turned the old tack rooms into a bar and lounge, we removed some horse stalls for 2 kitchens, bathrooms, and a game room. We did all this while keeping as many of the old features and equestrian elements as we could.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced on your journey to opening up the distillery?

We have had many uphill battles, many of which have been financial because we grew mostly on cash flow, but I want to touch on something more personal. This company has always been inspired by a late friend who tragically passed away in a house fire when we were sophomores in college. She was super fun-loving and inspired our brand. Staying true to who we are while running one of the biggest distilleries in the Midwest has not been easy. My mom was always our reminder that work is work but life still needs to be lived and enjoyed. She died unexpectedly a month before we planned to open. She was there for all of the stress, but her passing and our wanting to honor her is what motivated us to get the job done. We had so many people jump in at the last minute and help us get the distillery ready so we could hold her celebration of life at the new Gypsy Distillery.

Do you have any advice for someone who is considering opening up their distillery?

Do not underestimate the work and mental strength it will take. You have to be ready to get your hands dirty, have your feet on the ground, and overcome any obstacle that is thrown your way. Also, work closely with your local governing boards, get involved in your community, and never be afraid to lend a helping hand.

You are best known for your Gypsy Vodka, but you also have a gin and a rum in your portfolio. What can you tell us about the rum?

We have 3 rums in our portfolio, that fall under the umbrella of the Mackinac Island Rum Company. Mackinac Island is one of the most historic, and visited island destinations in the world. Growing up in Michigan, we fell in love with its natural beauty. We were granted the first-ever tasting room license to operate on the island which did wonders for our brand. We got to sample our spirits, and cocktails, and sell bottles to people all over the world. As we always say our rums are like a postcard to home from the island. We are currently producing the 8-year-old rum that we infuse with chocolate fudge from Mackinac Island, a 5-year-old Jamaican spiced rum, and a 3-year-old banana rum.

Image: The spirits line-up consists of Gypsy Vodka, Petoskey Stone Gin, and Gypsy Whiskey

Do you distill or plan to offer other spirits in addition to rum, gin, and vodka?

Yes, we also distill and produce a variety of bourbons and whiskeys. These products are usually limited releases. We have had 2 successful launches of two types of Gypsy Bourbon: Batch 1 "The Queen" in honor of my mom, and Batch 2 "The Heart" from which we donate a portion of proceeds to pulmonary research. This past year we had one of our biggest releases yet called Gypsy Apple Pie Vodka which quickly became one of the most sold Michigan spirits ever produced in a few short months. We also produce 2 different lines of RTD: "Clean Cocktails", which are 0 sugar, 0 carbs, no artificial flavors or sweeteners; and "The Mulligans". We have 3 different flavors for each SKU.

Your brand and ideology cater to free-spirited explorers. How does sustainability play a role in your production, and do you use local ingredients?

We try to source as many local ingredients as possible. Our Gin and Vodkas are corn-based and we are proud to use Michigan Sweet Corn. In our gin, we pride ourselves on using local lavender and working with local farmers to source juniper, cucumber, and ginger. Our apple pie vodka uses 100% Michigan-grown apples.

Image: Cask at Gypsy Distillery

Do you have signature rum cocktails? If yes, which one is the most popular?

Yes, we call it the Hemingway Old Fashion. We take a traditional old fashion and make it with our 8-year-old rum and chocolate bitters. What separates this drink and makes it fun to drink and make is we smoke an orange on a cedar plank, capture the smoke in the glass, and use the torched orange to add depth and aroma to the cocktail.

Where are your products available for purchase, and do you have plans for expanding your distribution?

Our products are available all over Michigan and online. Our vodka has limited availability in Colorado and Florida. We have plans to increase distribution to Florida, Illinois, and Ohio, in the next year. We are also working with a group in the UK and are in the process of preparing a successful launch of Gypsy Vodka, Gypsy Gin, Gypsy Tea, and Gypsy Cleans in the UK.

Image: Bigger is better, especially when it comes to Gypsy Vodka's liter bottles - perfect for any occasion that calls for a celebration

How has participating in competitions like the London Spirits Competition helped Gypsy Spirits, and what are your key growth strategies for the future?

Competitions like the London Spirits Competition have been an incredible way to get our name and products out to many influential people in the industry. The awards we have won have helped solidify what we are producing and it's a huge help when dealing with chains and distributors. We are in a very competitive industry and it's just getting more and more competitive, winning these awards helps separate us from the pack. Without having a big celebrity name, or a million-dollar marketing budget we focus on key relationships. We shift a lot of our resources to boots on the ground, building relationships at the street level, and building fans instead of customers.


In the heart of Michigan, Gypsy Spirits has not only crafted exceptional spirits but has also turned a dream into a reality with Gypsy Distillery. From overcoming challenges to embracing the free-spirited ethos, Michael and Adam Kazanowski's journey serves as an inspiration for aspiring distillers and lovers of craft spirits alike. As the Gypsy Bourbon Batch #2 hits the shelves, Gypsy Spirits continues to innovate, transform, and spread the joy of their unique creations. Cheers to the spirit of adventure, passion, and the remarkable journey of High Five Spirits!

Header Image: (From Left to Right) Michael Kazanowski, Michael Kolkmeyer and Adam Kazanowski

In conversation with Malvika Patel, Editor and VP, Beverage Trade Network

Call for domestic and international submission is now open for London Spirits Competition. Enter your spirits before 31 August 2024 to get super early bird pricing. Register now and ship later to save.

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