All roads lead to vodka. At least, that’s the case for Adam and Mike Kazanowski. Skiing to distilling? Check. Pre-med to making spirits? Check again. Colorado to Florida to the Caribbean? That’s right, all the way to Petoskey.
It took a long and circuitous route for the twins to get there, so what better way to recognize the journey than to dub the result Gypsy Vodka? “My brother and I graduated from college, and didn’t want to go to med school,” Mike says. After just a few months of working as consultants on a variety of projects, they headed west to Breckenridge, Colo.
There they met a friend—on a chairlift, of course—who showed them the ins and outs of distilling. “We fell in love with it. Mom told us it was time to come home (to Michigan) and get a job. We told her what we were doing. It didn’t go over well.”
This is the part where they move back and begin to make their fortune by distilling alcoholic beverages. Except that’s not quite the way it happened. Instead, the two continued to follow their nomadic lifestyle. They began following bands around and working merchandise stands at festivals. “We worked at music festivals and lived out of our car. They began calling us the Gypsy brothers,” Mike says with a laugh.
Hence the name of their vodka. The two teamed up with their friend Mike Kolkmeyer on a product they’re pitching as the perfect vodka for those who share a similar sense of adventure. “All the other vodkas are going after a high-end market. We said, let’s make a brand for people like us.”
They decided they needed to have a special look for their special vodka. “My brother and I came up with the first version. It was pretty bad,” Mike says. They approached a design firm, but it wanted $10,000 up front as a retainer fee. “We called our best friend’s little sister, Jen Frasco. She did the logo in 30 minutes.” Another friend, Ashley Wiggins, crafted the prototype of the hand-blown glass bottles.
The two first launched the product to bars and retail outlets. “That first year we were booze peddlers,” Mike says, who describes knocking on the doors of liquor stores and restaurants.
Now they’re on the cusp of opening their own establishment. The tasting room is set to open next month in downtown Petoskey at 312 Howard Street in the old Jesperson’s. The two have melded some of the original features with a new look, leading to what they call rustic Caribbean décor. “It’s a super old building. We salvaged the tin ceiling and built it into the bar. We finally got to exposed brick and the wood floor.”
Kolkmeyer came on board as a result of a skiing accident. “He’d been one of our best friends for a long time,” says Mike; as proof, he says Kolkmeyer’s couch in Vail often served as their home port. In 2016, Kolkmeyer fell off a cliff, shattered his femur, and went home to Detroit to recover. Adam convinced him to move north—“My brother Adam grabbed him” is how Mike puts it. “His background is in hospitality. He’s great with people. He runs the day-to-day operation in Petoskey.”
And they’re not stopping at vodka. They recently launched Petoskey Stone Gin, and coming soon is Mackinac Island Rum. “The vibe of Northern Michigan is what’s special.”