Karen Reppen almost couldn't believe it.
The Madison resident was scanning a listing of upcoming events when she saw "A Celebration of American Distilling" set for Feb. 19 at the Edgewater Hotel. No surprise there; this is, after all, Wisconsin. What popped Reppen's cork was that this is a benefit for the Teresa McGovern Center, an alcohol-abuse treatment facility.
"I was stunned," says Reppen, who's had her own struggles with alcohol and knew Teresa McGovern back in the day. (McGovern, the daughter of presidential contender George, froze to death here in a drunken stupor in 1994, after a lifelong battle with alcoholism.) "I had concerns that maybe they didn't think this thing through."
Reppen says her concerns were assuaged, somewhat, by Kevin Florek, executive director of Tellurian, which runs the McGovern center. But she's still uneasy about a rehab center profiting from a "celebration" of spirits.
Florek has heard from others besides Reppen who've raised similar concerns. But he says Tellurian felt it was appropriate, given "these economic times and budget cuts," to accept this helping hand. He knows the liquor industry sponsors may be trying to polish their image but also thinks they truly want to help.
The $55-per-person event, which will feature samples from 30 distilleries throughout the U.S., is expected to raise $5,000 to $7,000.
Isn't it likely some attendees will be there to get hammered? "I assume so," says Florek. But he finds the bright side: "If Tellurian's there, maybe it's a chance to reach out to them."
Tellurian staffers will pass out literature for programs including Alcohol Smart, which encourages responsible drinking.
"We're firm believers that alcoholism is a terrible, tough disease," says Florek. "But 97% of the population is not alcoholic," including some folks who "go out on weekends and hit it pretty good."
Adam Casey of the Madison Malt Society, the event's major sponsor (the minor ones include Isthmus), says the goal is to highlight the national boom in micro-distilleries, like Madison's own Yahara Bay. He notes that the quantities are limited, the sample cups tiny, and the vendors told to "maintain a small pour." Plus discounted cab rides are available.
"There's definitely some irony" in the event, admits Casey. But the Malt Society, like his store, Star Liquor, promotes responsible alcohol consumption and wants to help a worthy cause. "We don't want to see our product causing problems for people, and if it is, we want to help."
Reppen sees the logic, but only to a point: "I'm not going to attend."