It’s a marriage of marketing and good spirits: a rum that tastes like Mackinac Island.
“It’s our 8-year style; it’s going to be not too sweet; it has a little smoke in it, you can pick up a little fudge taste, but mostly it drinks like a bourbon,” Adam Kazanowski says of his company’s aged rum. Adam, along with his twin brother, Michael, are the founders of the Mackinac Island Rum Co. tasting room. The hint of Original Murdick’s Fudge is a nod to Mackinac’s heritage.
Stop in at the tiny bar on Main Street near The Haunted Theatre and you’ll find yourself in a Caribbean-style tiki bar. At just 600 square feet, with small windows looking out to the ferry docks, the tasting room has a bar constructed of bamboo, with bright orange and blue décor. There are a few high tops for sitting. Dollar bills left by patrons dangle from the ceiling and walls, most of them signed by the customers. The bar serves only spirits made by its parent company, High Five Spirits, a craft distillery in Petoskey.
For $6 you can sample four rum flavors — the 8-year, vanilla cinnamon, banana, and coconut — plus Petoskey Stone gin and Gypsy vodka. “If you buy the bottle, the tasting is free,” Adam Kazanowski says.
The tasting room opened in summer 2021. It operates during the tourist season, from April to October, on the elegant island in Lake Huron. Mackinac Island’s claim to fame is that no motorized vehicles are allowed; instead, you hear the clip-clop of horse hooves and dodge bicycles and pedestrians in town.
The most popular drink at the tiki bar is the Pain Killer, a mixture of rum, cream of coconut, orange juice, and nutmeg. Other summery drinks include Rum Punch, Pina Colada, and Michigan Sunrise.
Yes, there are some challenges to having a bar on an island that allows no vehicles. Three times a summer, High Five Spirits ships 200 to 300 bottles of spirits to the island by ferry, then has to bring a horse-drawn wagon down to the dock to transport them to the bar.
Kazanowski, his brother, and operations director Michael Kolkmeyer spent a few years convincing the famously strict Mackinac Island business community that their Michigan-centric tiki bar idea was a good one. Although the island has a serene 19th century esthetic, “you also have a lot of sailors and people from all over the world who are on vacation,” Kazanowski says. What better than the Mackinac spirit to promote a Michigan spirit?
The Kazanowskis’ journey to their Mackinac venture is a winding tale.
A decade ago, the brothers, who grew up in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham, moved to Breckenridge, Colo., after graduating from Michigan State University. They became fascinated with the idea of distilling vodka and learned the ropes from a local expert. Three years of working at music festivals and living in their van let them save up $50,000 — enough to launch their own company, Gypsy Vodka, on a shoestring. They named their product Gypsy for a reason.
“Gypsy, to us, means a love of freedom and adventure. We don’t celebrate the enjoyment of life enough. It’s a celebration of what life is,” Adam Kazanowski explains.
Eventually the brothers moved their operations to Michigan, opening their Petoskey-based craft distillery in 2017 and rebranding it as High Five Spirits. It makes vodka, rum, gin, and canned cocktails, plus The Mulligan, an Arnold Palmer with vodka. The Petoskey location operates year-round as a tasting room, with live music and food vendors.
After a brief expansion lull during the pandemic, High Five added the Mackinac Island Rum Co. tasting room in 2021. Then, last September, it took a really big step — opening Gypsy Farms in Petoskey. With 23 acres, a view of Lake Michigan, and a rustic 42,000-square-foot former equestrian center as its new facility, there’s room for tastings, meals, distilling, weddings, and events.
“We’d been looking in the Bay Harbor area and we wanted something with a view,” Kazanowski says. When the brothers saw the equestrian center, “we walked around and thought, this could be Michigan’s premium bourbon house.”
So far, Gypsy Farms has opened a tasting room and offers meal service. It has an indoor “cocktail garden” where the old riding arena used to be. Some weddings and events have already taken place, and “we want to host events here, and tours,” Kazanowski says.
The company now has 22 employees and three locations, but it has even bigger goals. In the next three years, it plans to add tasting rooms in both Traverse City and Detroit.
“For now, our focus is hyper-local,” Kazanowski says. “By focusing on Michigan themes, it’s a good way for us to build fans in our home state, then in other states. We want to put Michigan spirits on the international stage. We want people to recognize Michigan isn’t just known for beer, but for spirits.”
High Five brands are sold in restaurants and retail stores throughout Michigan. But your best introduction may be to stop by a little, laid-back tiki bar on Mackinac Island.
High Five Spirits
By Ellen Creager