Baraboo distillery wins global attention

September 1, 2018

Baraboo’s distillery is awash in good news. In addition to getting a reduction in its sewer fees Tuesday from the Common Council, Driftless Glen Distillery is winning international acclaim.

Resolving one component of a protracted dispute between the city and Driftless Glen over its sewer bills, the council voted 8-0 to charge the distillery only for the water it discharges to the sewer. The city typically bases sewer bills on the amount of water a customer takes in, assuming that what goes in must come out. But the distillery’s owners have argued they shouldn’t be charged sewer fees for water that evaporates in the distilling process, goes out the door in the form of bottled spirits or is hauled offsite for disposal.

Before the council vote, distillery co-owner Renee Bemis reported on its recent successes. These include being ranked among America’s fastest-growing companies by Inc. magazine earlier this month. Driftless Glen came in at No. 316, ranking 13th among food and beverage companies.

Last month, the London Spirits Competition listed Driftless Glen among the top 10 must-try U.S. brands.

Attention will continue to focus on the distillery, Bemis said, as the Courier travel magazine is planning an article on Driftless Glen. Plus, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” contacted the distillery for inclusion in its collection of must-have products.

Bemis said the spotlight will shine not only on the distillery, but on Baraboo. “It’s good for everybody,” she said.

Later in the meeting, the council agreed to modify the way Driftless Glen is billed for wastewater services. Its rates will be calculated with data from multiple sources measuring water that goes into its facility but doesn’t end up in the sewer. The city will install, at the distillery’s cost, a meter measuring the amount of water that goes into its chilling system but isn’t discharged into the sewer. Driftless Glen will provide the city with reports on how many bottles of spirits it ships out each quarter and how much high-density wastewater it hauls offsite for disposal.

“This represents the first step in resolving the differences we have with Driftless Glen,” said Public Works Director Tom Pinion.

Owners Brian and Renee Bemis have sparred with city leaders over their water rates for months. They’ve asked for relief from what they say are excessive rates. Aldermen and city department heads have said they’re willing to entertain the distillery’s proposed solutions, as long as the city’s costs are covered without burdening other taxpayers.

Driftless Glen wants a break on the rate it’s charged when discharging high-density waste — grains that are byproducts of the distilling process — to the sewer plant. The distillery has offered to install technology that would create a gradual flow of high-strength wastewater into the system to avoid taxing its capacity.

About one-third of the distillery’s wastewater is considered high-strength and subject to higher sewer rates. Driftless Glen has been hauling such waste offsite but would like to use the city sewer if a lower rate is approved. A four-month wastewater rate study now underway should provide insight into how much it costs to process the distillery’s wastewater.

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