CNOtes – January 29, 2019 – Jim Finke – CEO, Crystal Spirits

Phather Phil’s Prayer

Heavenly Father your son ‘s birth was the beginning of 30 odd years
of instructions for us to live by. In faith we try to live our lives
accordingly. But You also gave us a free will which in turn allows us
to put our own spin on Your teachings. Sometimes our spin puts us in
troubled waters. Thankfully You made yourself our bridge to get us
out of our troubled waters. A bridge we probably use too often. So
help us Lord to stay on the path You have set for us and not use You
as our get out of jail free card.  Amen!

Today’s Guests

Guest Guest Of
Dan Apolito Scott Langer
Charlie Ballinger Dick Stevens
Michelle Brown Mike Bevis
Jim Finke Speaker
Mike Fullenkamp Scott Langer
Julie Langer Scott Langer
Doug Reno Carolyn Taylor
Cindy Sitzman Wendy Hatton
Kerrie Smith Joe Kronenburger
Steve Smith AKA “The Flower Man” Scott Langer
Ron Thompson Jean Pummill

All Photos from the Meeting are Here

Happy Birthday to Scott Langer

Today was Scott Langer’s Birthday. Bob Duffy led our infamous group of singers. It was an awful sound as always, but it still makes everyone smile. Happy Birthday to Scott Langer!

Today’s Speaker

Dick Stevens introduced Jim Finke, CEO, and Charlie Ballinger, Regional Sales Manager, from Crystal Spirits, a small distiller of Handcrafted Buckeye Vodka.

Jim Fink spoke to us. He said, “Thanks for having him here today.” He asked, “How many have heard of Buckeye Vodka? How many have tried it? How many of you have made it your brand of choice?” Very few answered yes to the last question, so he said, “I need to work harder to increase that number.”

He discussed how the idea of making vodka came about. He was running the 4th generation of a family business called the “Finke Co” which was started in 1886 and has been in Dayton for over 130 years. It was a wholesale non-foods distributor. This business had gotten much smaller and in 2008, they needed to do something else. This was not a good time in the economy. No one was starting a new business. The housing market burst and in December, 2008, GM closed the Moraine assembly plant. In June of 2009, NCR moved 1400 jobs to Georgia. Every family member, friend, neighbor and business owner he knew suffered from the poor economy and those losses.

He and his younger brother in Texas searched for months to find something to buy. The only businesses available were already distressed.

His brother called one day and asked, “What about if we started making vodka?” Alcohol sales is one business that does well in a down economy. They studied the industry and learned that 33% of liquor sales are Vodka. Craft distillers have expanded greatly. Sales of gallon size vodka had increased. People were willing to sacrifice quality for more quantity at the same price. Small craft distillers were a small but growing group. In 2000 there were 12; by 2010 there were 400; today there are 1600 and growing.

They asked themselves if they could make an ultra-premium vodka and sell it under market value.

It all seemed to come together. They would leverage Jim’s experience in distribution and retail merchandising. Additionally, his brother-in-law, Tom Rambasek, owned the Crystal Water Co and it was also hurting because of the economy. They could use this high-quality, distilled water in making their vodka. Plus, Tom had space that could be converted into a distillery.

To keep costs down they developed the company to operate debt free. It is a family business and all 5 of his siblings have shares in the company.

It is very complicated to make and sell spirits in Ohio. They had to hire a lobbyist to help with the state compliance. Ohio controls every aspect of the liquor business. He noted that retail store owners only earn 5% on the sale of liquor. In February, 2010 they met with state liquor control board. The state controls and can also guarantee distribution. They gave them 210 stores which is half of all the stores in the state.

For a great product you want a great name and a great package. The name Buckeye Vodka came up in the first conversation about the name. There was concern that brand name may not sell very well in Michigan.

The wanted their product to be pure, smooth, handcrafted, using the best ingredients. It is to be made with the best water and grains using efficient technology and create a superior quality product. The distilled water is tested to 10 micro ohms which means it is nearly perfectly pure.

Once they decided on a designer and name in April 2010, they found out that Ohio State University wanted to prevent them from using the brand name which cost them 9 months. This eventually worked out. It took 9 months to settle on the bottle design. During this process the governor of Ohio changed which can disrupt the process because all new people come in on the liquor board.

They were finally granted a federal license in February, 2011.

Quick Facts

  • Their product is distilled 10 times. Depending on how you examine the process, it is technically closer to 30 distillations
  • Each batch is 430 gallons.
  • It takes about 1 week from start to finish to make a batch.
  • The filtering is what is the major influencer of the taste, not the number of distillations.
  • The first year they sold 3500 cases which was a huge success. The state of Ohio almost gave them no distribution because they thought the product wouldn’t sell.
  • In 2012 they sold 5700 cases.
  • In 2016 they sold 10,000 cases.
  • They now sell in Kentucky and West Virginia, and most recently to Illinois. Their plan is to be in 10-15 states in the next few years.
  • In 2012 there were named the Ohio Distillery of the year.
  • In 2014 they were permitted to make 1.75-liter bottles.
  • Their product is gluten free and this is stated on the bottle. Unlike many other brands their vodka is made from corn from Ohio and the Midwest, which grows the best corn in the world.
  • They now have 3 sales reps.

They have just hired Greg Sabatino from Sabatino West advertising agency to do broadcasting and heighten awareness of the brand.

Locally they get some help. They received a lot of publicity from local media such as channel 45 and the Dayton Business Journal.

He said, “We’re looking forward to seeing what the increased awareness will do for sales.”


Member Birthday
Clint Freese January 29
Scott Langer January 29
Karen Sirmans January 31
David Ladd February 01
Donna Huss February 01
Mike Schwartz February 3

Membership Anniversaries

Member Month Day Joined # Years
Todd Kelchner January 30 1/30/1992 27
Mike Bevis January 31 1/31/2002 17
Rachel Goetz January 31 1/31/2013 6

New Member Readings and Inductions

Name Sponsor 1st 2nd 3rd Reading or Induction
Doug Reno Carolyn Taylor 3rd Reading
Katie Calloway Gary Hansen 2nd Reading
Cheryl Dowd Joan Cordonnier 2nd Reading
Ashley Simeone Emily Duke 2nd Reading
Ron Thompson Jean Pummill 2nd Reading
Dan Apolito Scott Langer 1st Reading

Sergeants at Arms

No time for sergeants this week.

 Happy Bucks! 

No time for Happy Bucks this week.