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Iowa whiskey distilleries collaborate to help suffering restaurant community amid coronavirus

At the start of the coronavirus shutdown, five Midwest distilleries came up with the idea of creating a collaborative whiskey to help servers, restaurateurs, and bartenders across Iowa.

Video Transcript

TIM GRIMES: Prior to COVID hitting, it was business as usual for us as a distillery. COVID hit, and by about the end of February we were seeing a hit that affected restaurateurs and bars-- and retailers, honestly-- right out of the gate. So for us, our business, in a heartbeat, changed.

The way we stepped up to that moment was we recognized that while we could still get our whiskey out to retail locations, the restaurant and the service industry was really hurting. I've been in the business for well over 24, 25 years now. I've had a lot of friends who are bar owners, restaurant owners, career servers in the industry.

And overnight, they were-- their businesses were shut down. The servers didn't have jobs. And it was a really scary moment. And that was not just here in Iowa. It was across the country.

So what we did is one idea. And I want to give credit to a fellow named Gene Nassif and John Baker, who have a small micro distillery in Eastern Iowa. They reached out to us and said, hey, we kind of have an idea. We wanted to flesh it out. We wanted to come up with a collaborative whiskey to help servers and restaurateurs and bartenders in Iowa.

We, of course, immediately said yes. What can we do? And we got together, we grabbed a total of five distilleries onboard. Four of them were in Iowa.

And it was kind, of cool because it was a range of distilleries like us. We're the largest distiller in the state, the largest distillery. And we got together with Cat's eye, who started the whole thing. And they were-- are a small micro distillery in Eastern Iowa. So it was these big distilleries, little distilleries all coming together.

And we created a product called Distiller's Handshake. We combined with the four Iowa distilleries. And there was one distillery right over the Mississippi River in Illinois called Blaum Brothers. That's where it was bottled and labeled there. It was a really neat combination of whiskies. It was a combination of wheat whiskey, rye whiskey, corn whiskey, different age statements. And we made a really unique product.

And it's interesting, because you know, we're competitive with one another, especially most of us being in the same state. It was nice to kind of drop the competitive attitude, if you will, to bring all of our unique products, because we all make-- there's wonderful whiskey being made in Iowa.

And to bring all of those differences together and to work together was pretty special-- and most importantly, for a cause, which are those restaurateurs, bar owners, bartenders that were out of jobs. And we created this whiskey with the idea that 50% of the profits would go to our restaurant employee relief fund.

The service industry is obviously very important to our business. It's very essential. We count on servers, bartenders, restaurants, and bars alike to-- they represent our product every day. We're on their back shelves. But more importantly, we go into their cocktails. And they make us a part of their business.

We wanted to say thank you for everything you do for us. That was the most important part of reaching out, doing this Distiller's Handshake project, so that we could give back to them, to all those people who had done so much for us and continue to do a lot for us. It just-- it puts a smile on all of our faces, that we were a part of this. And we can give a big thank you to the restaurant and bar industry. Those servers and those people work so hard every day. I think we all appreciate the service industry much more.