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The Spirit of Michigan Distilleries

Click on image to see edited/printed version.
Click on image to see edited/printed version.

By Dianna Stampfler

Michigan’s craft distilling industry is growing at a rapid pace – ranking #4 in the nation in terms of overall number of distilleries (behind California, Oregon and Washington). To help unify the interests of the more than two dozen artisan distilleries, the Michigan Craft Distillers Association was formed earlier this summer to bring a voice to the industry.

Black Star Farms operates locations in Suttons Bay, Old Mission Peninsula and at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons just a few blocks southwest of downtown Traverse City (the former Northern Michigan Asylum). In addition to its world-class wines, Black Star offers a handful of fruit brandies (pear, plum, cherry, apricot), grappa and eau de vies. The most recognizable product in its portfolio is “Pear and its Spirit,” which features a full Bartlett pear which is grown inside the bottle, and then filled full of brandy for a decadent presentation (and memorable flavor).

Chateau Chantal is perched atop a high bluff on Old Mission Peninsula, just minutes from downtown Traverse City. The Cerise Cherry Port-Style Dessert Wine is a 2014 Tasters Guild International Wine Competition “Gold Medal” winner, a perfect complement to chocolate. The limited-edition Cerise Noir Port-Style Dessert Wine begins with partially-fermented Merlot and Pinot Meunier grapes, infused with cherry brandy for a silky, rich taste. The Entice Ice Wine Brandy is a luscious wine made from frozen grapes, fortified with grape oak-aged brandy for extra body and richness.

Copper Craft Distillery is a Holland-based producer of quality spirits, with a focus on local ingredients. Recently awarded a “Gold Medal” for its vodka by TheFiftyBest.com, this 9000-squarefoot distillery and 50-seat tasting room is one of the newest operations in Michigan. Visitors are invited to sample products, as well as enjoy hand-crafted cocktails with juices and other mixes made in-house. In addition to its current spirits offerings of gin, rum, vodka and citrus-flavored vodka, Copper Craft is also producing and aging bourbon, whiskey and brandy, set for release later this year.

Flat Landers Barstillery near downtown Grand Rapids is also a new operation, as of 2014. As a producer of premium, certified-organic spirits, the name comes from the association of poking fun at folks that don’t live in the hills – with the owners’ Northern Michigan kin commonly referring to those ‘down state’ as Flat Landers. With attention to local—specifically Michigan’s amazing fresh-water source, this distillery uses certified organic grains, fruits and fine craftsmanship in the microbrew-distilling business to yield great premium products. ingredients.

Grand Traverse Distillery opened its newest tasting room in December at the Downtown Market in Grand Rapids as well as operating three tasting rooms in Traverse City (near the airport, downtown on Front Street and in The Village at Grand Traverse Commons), downtown Frankenmuth and in Leland’s Historic Fishtown. Offering a wide selection of award-winning whiskey, gin, vodka and coming soon—rum, this distillery also offers public tours of its main location for $10 per person. Among its many accolades and awards, Grand Traverse Distillery’s Bourbon was among 27 contenders evaluated for the distinguished “Best Bourbon” awards for 2014 by TheFiftyBest.com, receiving a Gold Medal. The Peninsula Gin, True North Vodka, Wheat Vodka, Cherry Vodka and “Ole George” Rye Whiskey are all also medal winners in various national competitions.

Journeyman Distillery is housed in the historic Featherbone Factory in Three Oaks, in an area affectionately referred to as Harbor Country, (in Berrien County, Southwest Michigan). With a focus on whiskey, these hand-crafted artisan spirits also include gin, vodka and rum, as well as specialized products like Humdinger Jalapeno Spirit, OCG (Old Country Goodness) and Snaggle Tooth Coffee Liqueur. The “Traveling Barrel Program” (with a six month, one year or two year “journey”) gives consumers an opportunity to pick out their very own personalized barrel (5, 15 or 30 gallon, respectively) which is filled with Silver Cross Whiskey (or Ravenswood Rye, Buggy Whip Wheat or Featherbone Bourbon for the one or two year options) and aged appropriately and then bottled (2, 4 or 6, respectively) for take-home consumption.

Long Road Distillers, based in Grand Rapids, takes full advantage of West Michigan’s rich agricultural heritage by sourcing grain and fruit from local growers. Long Road vodkas, gins and whiskies will be made 100% in-house at its Leonard Street location (just north of downtown GR), from milling all the way to final distillation. Look for them to open their doors for sampling this fall.

New Holland Brewing Company & Artisan Spirits is one of Michigan’s most noted breweries, but is also one of the state’s distilling pioneers. Clockwork Orange Liqueur is the newest offering in the portfolio, joining award-winning gin, rum, vodka, the noted Hatter Royale hopped whiskey, and the Beer Barrel Bourbon malted whiskey (90 proof). Small barrels accentuate and accelerate the barrel-aging process, turning this smooth brewers’ wash into whiskey, with barrel-character well beyond its years.

Round Barn began as a winery, but soon added craft beer and distilled artisan spirits to its repertoire. Vodka, rum and bourbon—each hand-crafted, one bottle at a time—can be sampled in DiVine cocktails in the new Round Barn Winery & Public House, in downtown Baroda. You can also find fruit brandies which are a bold yet delicate offering made from wine grapes or other fruits. One ton of fruit yields about 150 gallons of wine, which when distilled produces roughly 20 gallons of high proof (140) brandy, which means attention to details is paid every step along the way of the process.

Sanctuary Spirits Artisan Distillery is located in the center of the state in Grand Ledge, not far from Michigan’s capital city. Located in an old church, they current produce three fruit brandies, a vodka made from Michigan cherries, a white rum, a gin made with seven botanicals and its flagship product—Spirit of the Maple, an oak-aged maple syrup spirit. With whiskey aging in barrels, they’re now focusing on fun new products and infusions to serve in the tasting room.

St. Julian Winery in Paw Paw is not only Michigan’s oldest winery, but it has been producing distilled spirits longer than any current operation in the state. A&G Brandy (80 proof) is aged from Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Vidal Blanc grapes, with an aroma of vanilla, hazelnut and butterscotch intertwined with toast, chocolate and anise. Cream d’Or is a well-aged sherry that’s flavored with 100% pure almond oil, then fortified with St. Julian’s Brandy for a light Amaretto flavor. Grey Heron Vodka (80 proof) is made with 100% grape spirits, distilled and filtered five times to achieve its smooth texture and rich palate. St. Julian operates tasting rooms around the state, including Frankenmuth, Dundee and Union Pier.

For more about the Michigan craft distilling industry, visit MiCraftSpirits.com.