Monday, June 3, 2013

Final Piece Draft #1

            Teacher, coach, husband, leader, and small business owner, these are all words to describe Ryan Bailey.  Sitting in a coffee shop, Sherlock Holmes cap matching a tweed jacket, Ryan seems like the epitome of the cool English teacher who you want to be your friend.  Neatly trimmed facial hair, a balding head, and an easy smile complete this look.  Ryan has a rare free moment to enjoy a Biggby coffee in between his many duties. 
            “I always say I wish I had more free time,” Ryan says with a rueful grin, “but I find whenever I have a free moment, I’m always doing something.”  On top of being a high school English teacher at Kalamazoo Central, Ryan coaches the girl’s tennis team, leads anti-racism workshops, and co-owns a small gin business. 
            Ryan grew up in Grand Rapids, but came to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University to study English education.  He never intended to stay here permanently, but he and his wife got married right after college, found jobs in the area, and never left.  Now at 35, Ryan doesn’t regret the decision to stay, but he could see himself moving on if things with his small business change.  “For such a small city, there are a lot of things going on in Kalamazoo,” he says, he hasn’t grown tired of the city just yet.
He describes many of his major life changes as just happening outside of his control, and he jumped on and said yes to them.  When the girl’s tennis coach retired, Ryan had no intention of asking for the position, he didn’t want to be “one of those teachers who gets the job just to coach a sport.”  However, one of his students knew he had played tennis, asked him to coach them so they could have a team, and he accepted.  Now, Ryan is very happy he made that choice.  “It’s really great to see the kids outside of the context of school.”
Ryan also tells the story of how he became a part of the gin business as if it were just a happy accident.  Ryan was always an avid home-brewer and wine maker, but he wanted to get involved with something more exciting.  One of his good friends, Nate Jonjevic, had come up with the idea to start a small, local distilling business and he invited Ryan to join in this endeavor.  This seemed like just the thing Ryan had been looking for, and he jumped at the opportunity. 
Two Birds Artisan Spirits was born when the two entrepeuners started their journey by taking a few distilling classes at Michigan State University, learning how to make several types of liquor.  “The name is representative of us,” says Ryan “we’re doing a new venture, we have a lot of freedom, and birds fly, fly to new places.”  Their logo is two black birds pecking at their name, the jury is still out on which bird is which. 
The decision to make gin as their first product “We like gin – so there’s something.  Mostly though, gin doesn’t require aging, which means an immediate return on our investment.”  Two Birds first gin is called Greyling Gin, with “secret ingredients” of two types of citrus and lavender.  The name came from the Greyling fish, which started going extinct right around the time of the prohibition, which also caused a decline in small-batch distilleries.  Two Birds considers itself a post-prohibiton revival of these small-batch distilleries and so the name fit.  Ryan and Nate plan to eventually branch out and do other things, but not quite yet. “We really, really liked the way Grayling turned out, and we don’t want our sophomore album to be a flop.”
After they had taken enough classes to feel comfortable, they wanted to start production of Greyling Gin, but they were taken aback by the giant price tag associated with buying a still.  Instead, Ryan and Nate decided to rent space from a large distilling company in Wisconsin.  “We wanted to build a brand first before investing in equipment,” explains Ryan.  However, this caused some problems in marketing their gin as a “Michigan product,” which had been there original plan.  All the grains and botanicals used in Greyling Gin come from Michigan, but sometimes it’s hard to appeal to local customers on that alone. 
Their first year has been hard, although things are picking up now.  “We started distributing in October 2012, but everyone had already done their orders by that time so we didn’t start in earnest until a few months ago.”  Food Dance and Salud were two of the first places in Kalamazoo to take a chance on Two Birds, and gave them support in the form of business and advice.  The owner of Salud even got them involved with a sales force that now goes around Michigan and Missouri, pitching their gin to stores so they don’t have to do the legwork.  Places like Bacchus, Tiffany’s, and Hardings have also picked them up, and things are looking bright.

“If this could be a full time thing that would be beyond my expectations, but I would be open to it.  We would love to see the business become sustainable and support full time work, because job creation is something Nate and I are invested in.”  For now, Ryan is fine with his busy life, finding each thing fulfills him in different ways.  “I think that teaching and the anti-racism workshops tap into my desire to do something transformative, not just individual, but systemic.  Having the gin business taps into my desire to be creative and make something.” 


  1. A very nice profile Cassie. I think this profile in particular does a wonderful job of capturing something that is very important to me, which is the fact that everyone has a story to tell. I was taken aback by the randomness of a high school teacher meeting at a college to discuss his life but I was pleased in the end.

    That being said, I think you could focus the piece a bit more. It is a nice well rounded profile as is but the fact of the matter is that what I am interested in is this mans Gin business. I think you could easily write 1000 words on that alone and it could still be a profile of this individual just told through the lens of his fledgling business.

    I do like Gin but I swear that's not the only reason why I say that. I think it is very interesting to examine a person at large and then present them through one facet of there personality or one story they have shared with you. It would certainly be more work but I think it could be really cool as well.

    I can't wait to discuss,


  2. This piece does a wonderful job of pulling together several interesting and cool aspects of Ryan’s life. You tell his story well, giving quotes where they are needed, and allow us a glimpse into several of his interests.

    The main question that came up while I was reading this was: is the focus on Gin? This is definitely the area where it seemed you spent time and energy talking with him, and is likely the focus of his story at this time. I’d like to see that come into the picture earlier on, and the other facets of his story can lead in later on to aid our understanding of him.

    Several more perspectives could be crucial here as well. Who drinks this Gin, what do they think of Ryan, what does Nate have to say about Ryan? If you could get these additional interviews, I think this piece could give an even more full sense of him.

    See you in class.

  3. Hey Cassie,

    You do a really good job of telling this story, complete with context and physical description of Ryan. It's a great read, and the quotes are incorporated so nicely.

    I can see why you're dissatisfied, though. It seems like there is something more to be uncovered or focused on here. I think if this piece were a heat monitor, there wouldn't be a whole lot of variation in the feedback, and you're looking for the variation, which I think will add to the piece through your next few interviews. As Laurel asked: I think you could fine a more specific focus. Additionally, I think it would be good to have a couple more perspectives in here just to spice things up and move around a little. I read this piece very much as a conversation in Biggby, but a great conversation and super well written and clear.
    See you tomorrow!

  4. Hey Cassie,

    Good job with this profile! I think you give a really well-rounded perspective on Ryan and he is no doubt an interesting person. It seems that he has so many sides to him that it would be better to hone in on one aspect. Due to the amount of time that you spend on the gin business, I think that this is your biggest area of interest and I think it would be for the reader, as well.

    By the way, great physical descriptions in this piece. I felt like I could paint a picture of him in my head. I think your execution is going well so far and it just needs a bit more focusing.

    Great work and I can't wait to talk more in class!

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  6. Charlotte,

    This was really interesting. A teacher/distiller? GREAT subject choice. I think you're pretty much there.Your reporting/selection of quotes is fantastic. The structure is also great--the story flows naturally and smoothly, much like good gin.

    I think your main task is to focus on your theme at this point.
    You can go two ways with this. 1. Make the piece bigger and have it be about the way he balances these two seemingly-disparate occupations. or 2. Focus more on the gin business and talk a little bit more about the oddity of a small-batch spirit company.
    I'm leaning towards the second one. It would probably be really easy: all you'd have to do is cut the paragraph about tennis and you'd be golden. As it is, the part about him coaching sticks out like a sore thumb and seems out-of-place and distracting.

    Well done!


  7. Cassie,

    I think this is a piece about Ryan and his gin distilling, so I'd make sure to lead with it. As it stands, the story of making gin begins in the fifth paragraph. After reading to the end, I don't feel like anything in the first four paragraphs was relevant, with the possible exception of his wife, age, and how he came to Kalamazoo.

    That being said, I think the gin distillery is plenty for a great piece, and most of your reporting is already done to vault it over the finish. The name of the company and the name of the gin itself are fascinating. Ryan's connection to early twentieth century small-batch distillers is profound; I wonder if there's a way to connect his entrepreneurial venture to the larger subject of the current nationwide popularity of small-batch, place-based alcohol. There's a booming economy made up of people like Ryan who held pretty normal jobs (or didn't) and then decided to start brewing or distilling to satisfy some creative urge. Ryan as a representative of that wider story could be an even more interesting piece than simply his profile.

    Good work,


  8. woah, theres a lot to write about here. you do a great job touching on everything, since he does so much and has so little time to devote to anything in particular. theres a clear focus on his distilling work, so it would be good to declare that the article is about that, so when people get to the end, like i did, they dont ask "well, what about everything else he does?"

    i agree with trevor, though. there are a bunch of threads that need sorting out, and priority-giving. search for what you think is most important in this story and highlight it, while touching on the rest in a thoughtful way.

    everything here is well-written and relevant, and its a good job. youve just got a fascinating story to tell, and i think it may be hard to convey that to the reader sometimes