Bayfield distillery owned by tribal couple is a first
Nov 23, 2018 03:43PM
By Kristine M. Kierzek from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - November 23, 2018
Curt Basina spent nearly 17 years with the Wisconsin State Patrol. He’s never really seen himself as a risk taker. Still, he’s put much of his own money into his next chapter: Copper Crow Distillery.
As members of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Basina and his wife of 37 years, Linda, worked to create the first distillery and tasting room owned and operated within the boundaries of the reservation just north of Bayfield. The distinction here is that the couple hold the title to the property, notes Basina.
It’s a first in Wisconsin, and a first in the nation. Basina traveled the country attending workshops and learning from other distillers. They began the process in 2016, working with the Tribal Council and submitting the federal application before building the distillery and tasting room just north of Bayfield.
Working with his wife and their daughters, Elizabeth and Rebecca, they officially began selling their first wheat vodka in April. Earlier this month, that vodka was featured as part of Potawatomi Hotel and Casino’s Native American Heritage Month dinner.
They plan to eventually add rum, whiskey and brandy, aiming to have their spirits in tribal casinos across the country.
In another first, they’ve also teamed up with the University of Wisconsin-Stout to create the area’s first whey vodka, using whey from Burnett Dairy in Grantsburg.
A place and a plan
When Linda and I go traveling, we always try to incorporate some kind of brewery or distillery. (We thought) nobody in Bayfield is doing this, let’s give it a shot.
We acquired a piece of property within the boundaries of the reservation, right on the highway and the snowmobile trail. We hold title to the property. Linda and I are both tribal members, and it is legal for us to run a distillery.
If you go back in history, there was a prohibition against all alcohol on the reservation. …Then that was mostly repealed except for a small section of the law that says there will not be any distilleries on reservation land. This is not reservation land, we own the title.
One of our unique things is being the first distillery in the nation owned and operated by tribal members that operate within the boundaries of a reservation. It is our goal to have our product in every tribal casino in the state of Wisconsin.
This is a premium product that will enhance business opportunities and tourism in an otherwise economically deprived area. Our tribal population is not our target customer. We have been received very positively by our Tribal Council and other tribal members.
Tourism and tastings
In Wisconsin we can mix cocktails in our tasting room, provided we use only the spirits we make. My wife and daughters have created a great cocktail menu using just vodka, because that’s what we produce right now. We are very limited within Wisconsin statutes. We can sell our bottles across the counter here, and we can mix cocktails with the spirits we produce
We started with vodka primarily because it doesn’t need to age. You can basically take it right of the still. We filter it, of course, cut it down to 80 proof, and we’re able to sell it immediately.
Making way for whey
The other thing we are doing is working on a vodka from whey. Currently there are less than a dozen distilleries in the world that are doing it. … We’ve teamed up with UW-Stout to help us. We get our whey from Burnett Dairy in Grantsburg.
Whey certainly wasn’t my first choice, but I had gone to a course in Seattle, Washington, a few years ago put on by Rusty Figgins, a nationally known distiller. … He pulled me off to the side and said, you’re from Wisconsin, the dairy state, you need to be working on something from dairy. Here’s a suggestion, look at whey. …
We hope to have it available sometime next year.
Skill and science
There is a ton of science in distilling. My dad was a math teacher. There has always been an interest in math, and in the alchemy and science.
My favorite way to drink the vodka is in the drink we call a Frog Bite, our take on a vodka Margarita. It is probably our No. 1 seller.
We’re working on an apple brandy, made from local apple cider. We’re in the apple district up here, so we’re doing an apple brandy, which we hope will be mature by next fall.
We’re working on some whiskeys. We’ve got three barrels of bourbon, two barrels of rye whiskey, and one wheat whiskey. We do have a rum in a barrel, and we hope to have it cured by Christmas.
Support from the start
One mentor is Rusty Figgins. Another would be Peter Nomm at Northern Waters Distillery in Minocqua. He actually spent some time up here helping me. Another is Scott Perlick, out of Perlick Distillery in Verona, a really small distillery that recently just tripled the size of his tasting room and makes a wheat vodka that is unbelievable. We’ve also worked with Rick Erickson, the science teacher in the Bayfield Public School System.
Fork. Spoon. Life. explores the everyday relationship that local notables (within the food community and without) have with food. To read the original article and related stories, follow this link to the jsonline.com website: https://www.jsonline.com/story/life/food/fork-spoon-life/2018/11/23/bayfield-distillery-within-red-c...