By Emily Bennett
Michigan possesses a proud agricultural heritage, and its distilleries are taking full advantage of that heritage. As the state’s overall craft-beverage industry continues to flourish, distilleries are setting themselves apart by utilizing grains, fruits and botanicals grown right outside their back doors. According to the Michigan Craft Beverage Council, distilleries use an impressive 2 million pounds of Michigan grain and fruit to produce a vast array of spirits, ranging from world-class whiskey to award-winning aquavit.
This symbiotic relationship among agriculture, craft-beverage production and tourism is still very much in its infancy, but Michigan’s craft distilleries have embraced it enthusiastically. State government recognized the economic advantages of fostering these relationships, and in 2018, the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council transitioned into the Michigan Craft Beverage Council under the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. The council provides connections between growers and producers and helps to guide research focused on growing the beverage industry and tourism throughout the state.
Several Michigan distillery owners believe that sourcing close to home is vital to their success. A few have taken the additional step of championing Michigan through the terroir of the local ingredients they choose.
Here’s a closer look at some Michigan distilleries that are worthy of exploration for both their products and their practices:
Long Road Distillers
“Respect the Craft. Honor the Journey. Take No Shortcuts.”
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Long Road Distillers proudly shares the belief that spirits are best created when the ingredients are unique and sourced close to home. The one of the distillery’s two gins, cleverly named MICHIGIN, exemplifies this through the inclusion of hand-picked juniper from Beaver Island (off the coast of West Michigan, along with Michigan-grown Red Winter Wheat, fennel, lemon verbena and mint Galena. The distillery’s liqueurs are likewise made with Michigan fruits such as cherries, blueberries, and a brandy is produced from Michigan apples.
Other West Michigan distilleries worth exploring include Eastern Kille Distillery, Coppercraft Distillery and New Holland Brewing Company Distillery.
Ann Arbor Distilling Company
“Highly crafted, quality spirits inspired by the community in which we live and call home.”
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Ann Arbor Distilling Company is a mere hour’s drive from Toledo, and its owners believe that sourcing ingredients through close relationships with local farmers helps create world-class spirits. Fox River Michigan Whiskey, named for a river in the upper peninsula, utilizes four grains grown in the state and a cherry-wood filtering process to create its distinct style. The distillery also makes four different seasonal gins and a variety of fruit liqueurs.
Other Southeast Michigan distilleries worth checking out include Two James Spirits and Detroit City Distillery.
Grand Traverse Distillery
“Create an exceptional locally-sourced spirit and waste not.”
Traverse City, Michigan
Although fruit seems an obvious choice in a geographic area renowned throughout the world for cherries and grapes, Grand Traverse Distillery has a deep focus on locally grown grains. Its award-winning Whiskey, Bourbon, Vodka and Gin begin from corn, rye and wheat grown at Send Brothers Farm in Williamsburg, Michigan, mere miles from the distillery. And the distillery also has the great fortune of having Great Lakes Malting Company nearby. The distillery also boasts two down-state satellite tap rooms, in Kalamazoo and Frankenmuth.
“This is Northern Michigan in a bottle.”
Elk Rapids, Michigan
Its web site summarizes this distillery’s products best: “Spirits with regional roots, innovative interpretations, and disruptive evolutionary ideas that challenge what a spirit is, where it comes from, and why each farm, field, orchard, botanical, season, and drop of honey has terroir.”
This hyper-local distillery sources all of its ingredients from within a 33-mile radius, including blue corn, honey and regional botanicals gathered by a local herbalist. Although open less than three years, Ethanology is gaining attention for its hyper-local approach and its focus on quality rather than quantity.
Another Northern Michigan distillery worth exploring is Iron Fish Distillery in Thompsonville, Michigan.
When traveling the Mitten State and exploring any of its 60-plus distilleries, visitors are supporting more than just one local business. They are also supporting farmers, maltsters and small bottle-shop owners across the region.
Plan your visit: