People to Watch: Adam Roelle

  • Photo by Meghan Ralston
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From the August 7, 2014 edition

If you enjoy good booze, thank Adam Roelle. Since moving to Columbus from Chicago, where he worked as a bartender the previous 10 years, Roelle has spent the last four years working with the Ohio Division of Liquor Control to bring the best spirits out there to local consumers.

He began this process while working as the beer and spirits manager at Weiland’s Market, but has recently taken a new position as spirits manager with Cavalier Distributing, where he’ll work full-time making sure Ohio has the products most in-demand by those most in-the-know.

“Working at Weiland’s and being outside of Ohio, tending bar in Chicago … I know what’s out there and what’s not here. Being so involved with all the bartenders and the good-drinking consumers that came [to Weiland’s], I know what they’re looking for. And a lot of the time I know the suppliers, makers, importers from my time in Chicago,” Roelle said during an interview at the Crest Gastropub.

See, Ohio is different from Illinois, which is an “open” state, meaning all spirits are available for retail sale. Here in Ohio, Liquor Control only allows certain spirits (over 21 percent) to be sold in liquor stores and bars.

Therefore, Ohio is missing out on some less-produced products — think micro-distilleries, not Captain Morgan. Thankfully, Roelle has found solution.

“The way it’s working right now is I’m getting on-premise accounts with bars and restaurants. They’ll commit to buying a case through special order with the state,” Roelle said. “A lot of the funkier, unique stuff that I know is out there and people want; the way to work with those is special orders. Then I get it on the state list and then start working the sales off of that, and getting people into it that way.”

The special order process is a lot of footwork for Roelle because he has to receive a commitment from buyers for the spirit before presenting it to Liquor Control. However, the other option — full bailment — is more difficult.

Full bailment means the state will allow the product to be available consistently, but it requires a presentation to Superintendent Bruce Stevenson that could go either way. The special order process is far more likely to be accepted because buyers are already secured.

So far Roelle has worked to make top-notch Amaro Averna (a bittersweet, herbal digestif used by the world’s best mixologists), Rhum J.M (an agricole version with distilling methods dating back to the 1800s) and a bourbon and rye from up-and-coming Kentucky distiller Town Branch.

“I’m all about making a good spirits culture in Ohio. The death of the martini list is my goal, and getting people to drink like adults,” Roelle said.