Some of our favorite made-in-Michigan products 

click to enlarge The Chillbean, perhaps one of the most Michigan inventions ever. - ART GRANTED
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  • The Chillbean, perhaps one of the most Michigan inventions ever.

Though the Chillbean crew would rather be known as a "worldwide inflatable hammock brand," the fact is that two former Charlevoix High School classmates joined forces with European friends to market something that seems distinctly Michigan: an inflatable lounge chair. It would appear to be the perfect millennial marketing maneuver, from the slangy "chill" to the outdoor-oriented nature of the product, right down to the emoji-like logo. The lightweight air cushion is made of durable materials, ready for a quick poolside drink or a grueling week at Electric Forest Festival. The LED lighting upgrade will only help you get noticed.

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Schooley's Original Spring Bobber Pole
Schooley's, Greenville;
According to family legend, one Michigan product started out as a childhood dream. Marvin Schooley had a dream that would seem to be very normal for a Michigan boy: He was ice fishing, but with a special pole he had never seen. The very next day, Marvin put together a model of the fishing pole in his dream, the first prototype of his "Original Spring Bobber Pole." The design got popular, and a number of Marvin's friends asked him to make them some. In the 1960s, Marvin improved the pole and developed even more fishing tackle, the products that now form the basic wares at Schooley's Ice Tackle, owned by Marvin's grandson, in Greenville, about 10 miles northeast of Grand Rapids. But Schooley's isn't the only manufacturing game in Greenville, which has hosted such companies as Ranney Refrigerator, Gibson Guitars, White Consolidated, and Frigidaire.

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Hatchetman Keychain
Psychopathic Merchandise, Farmington Hills;
The Insane Clown Posse is more than a band, it's a Midwestern marketing empire. And how does an offbeat horrorcore rap duo become a Great Lakes State cottage business? Simple. First, the gruesome twosome held onto their publishing rights as best they could, which means they're not at the mercy of even-more-gruesome coastal corporates. Second, the imaginative line of products they have marshaled means they own the site where you search for merch. And no merch is more iconic than the ICP "hatchetman," a figure seen running in profile carrying a hand ax held high. It's the symbol for Psychopathic Records and its artists, back when the label was going to be called Mad Paperboy Records, and ICP's Shaggy 2 Dope sketched the runner on a napkin. As a Juggalo once told us, "It's a great symbol for ICP, the record label, and Juggalos in general, because he's always running, with his hatchet held high almost as a salute, and moving forward toward the future, never running backwards, cutting things down that get in the way, always making epic things happen."

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Martha's Original Mackinac Island Fudge
Mackinac Island;
Not all fudge packs the same wallop. And not many fudges on Mackinac Island can boast the pedigree of Martha's, which is made using a century-old recipe with fine ingredients, cooked in copper, poured, cooled, and "hand-paddled" on a half-ton marble slab. It all helps ensure that each 8-ounce slice of fudge is delectable, whether it's garden variety or an exotic double dark chocolate caramel sea salt fudge. Lots of Martha's fudges even have nuts in them, including pecan, walnut, and peanut butter.

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Press On Juice
Traverse City;
In 2012, Kristin Rockwood's health was at low ebb. Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, her skin was discolored, her knuckles hurt, her hair was falling out, and, worst of all, she was unable to keep up with her two young daughters. A radical change in diet followed, as Rockwood moved away from processed foods and began loading up on cold-pressed fruits and vegetables. Her health improved, the pounds melted away, and when she was back chasing her youngsters around, she decided to market a line of juices so that others could enjoy the same benefits without the extra effort and cleanup that juicing can involve. Now there are more than a dozen different concoctions, ranging from an 8-ounce mini-brew to an 18-bottle three-day cleanse package.

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True North Rye Vodka
Grand Traverse Distillery;; Tasting rooms in Traverse City, Leland, and Frankenmuth
Until recently, the distillery scene in Michigan resembled the state's beer scene in the 1990s: Large, industrial concerns dominated the market with almost no challengers. Fortunately, however, the loosened rules that made the state's craft brewing scene possible generated interest in small, craft distilling. One of the most established small distillers is Grand Traverse Distillery, as it was a pioneer in the legal microdistilling business. For a decade, Grand Traverse has used an Arnold Holstein still custom-built in Germany to produce spirits using fine grains, and to deliver batches by taste, not by automation. Their True North Rye Vodka has been showered with more than a dozen awards, and they also produce a wheat vodka, a cherry vodka (natch), and a chipotle vodka, as well as gin, whiskey, and bourbon.

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Win Schuler's Cheese Spread
Jackson-area restaurant owner Win Schuler ran a very successful eatery that bore his name. The problem was lines were so long that diners were often famished by the time they got to their seats. So he sweetened the deal a bit by making sure diners sat down to bread, meatballs, and his proprietary "Bar Scheeze." And, like today's bottomless breadsticks or Cheddar Bay biscuits, diners developed a taste for the creamy, cheesy sauce. Win Schuler is gone, but his party mix lives on, available online in several sizes and flavors: original cheddar, sharp cheddar, bacon, "lite" cheddar, even a 2-pound party size.

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Steenstra's Almond Cookies
Available statewide at Meijer
These brittle, gingery cookies baked with slivers of almonds and a hint of cinnamon and clove were a classic when your grandmother was a baby. They are based on a Dutch recipe that comes by way of western Michigan, where many hail from Holland. They've remained a classic ever since the 1920s, with the only ups and downs being the motion of the cookies as they're dunked in milk. The brand is now managed by a larger firm, but the little orange packages of cookies are guaranteed to fill you with the same warm, fuzzy feelings when your pajamas had feet on them.

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American Gourmet Butter Pretzels
America Gourmet Snacks, Essexville;
Before it became a shopworn marketing buzzword, "gourmet" attempted to stake out a place in American food that was on a somewhat higher plane. Back in 1981, Robert Jaenicke hoped to elevate the pretzel, a finger food eaten by the handful and washed down with beer, to something fancier. Using a patented and secret process, Jaenicke's pretzel was both butterier and arguably better for you. Today, 37 years later, the pretzel's makers claim it's "the best tasting mini-twist pretzel available."

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Bavarian Inn Franconian Style Mustard
Bavarian Inn, Frankenmuth;
Bavarian Inn has become a one-stop shop for the road-tripping SUV set. Countless thousands of families visit each year, snapping photos at Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, ordering the chicken at Zehnder's, and perhaps spending the night at Bavarian Inn. You can take a little flavor from the latter in the form of a squeeze container of the same spicy German condiment you've enjoyed in their dining rooms. And what does "Franconian" mean? It's a little piece of Bavaria, just like this mustard.

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Sayklly's Salt Water Taffy
Sayklly's Candies, Escanaba and Marquette;
Since 1906, Sayklly's has been catering to Yoopers' sweet tooths. Today, its offerings include not just those big, boxed candies given on Valentine's day but fudges, dark sea salt caramels, milk peanut clusters, milk pecan "snappies," chocolate drops, peanut brittle, and "Yooper Trail Mix." But those with a taste for the classics will no doubt approve of Sayklly's taffies: It's made from the same recipe it was 100 years ago, and hand-flavored and hand-pulled by expert candy makers. Flavors include banana, chocolate, grape, maple, vanilla, mint, cherry, orange, and even anise.

From our 2018 Made in Michigan issue.

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