In the cold grip of January in Northern Michigan, we leave the gentility of the grape for the warmer comfort of the hard stuff finely rendered in the copper pots and column stills of Northern Michigan's craft distilleries. With the American cocktail renaissance well under way and the perverse faux martini mania of the last decade behind us, we see Michigan, especially Northern Michigan, developing world-class artisan spirits to complement its exploding wine and beer industries. Whether your pleasure is the ghost of a perfect apricot effusing from a glass of eau de vie, the spicy caramel depth of rye whiskey or the glacial buzz of good vodka, we have it on both sides of the 45th parallel. Grab your jigger and some joie de vivre as we profile four killer distilleries north and south.
Black Star ferments and distills cherries, pears, apricots and plums from local orchards into aromatic eau de vies, clear brandies that capture the essence of each fruit and serve as a perfect digestif. Check out the barrel-aged Spirit of Apple or spread some amore with Black Star’s red and white vinifera grappas.
Critically lauded as one of the country’s best craft distilleries, Grand Traverse Distillery has brought True North vodka to highballs and shakers nationwide. A meticulous, tightly controlled single distillation yields grain- and wheat-based vodkas with exceptional purity and finesse. Make your next Manhattan with the barrel-aged and unfiltered Ole George rye whiskey.
Further down the lakeshore, New Holland brewery has added an avant-garde distillery operation producing small batches of Dutchess wheat vodka, Freshwater rums (white and oak-aged), malt, rye and wheat whiskies, Knickerbocker Dutch–style gin and their proprietary Hopquila, a barley-based spirit infused with Centennial hops.
Traverse City native son Riffino Valentine left Wall Street and returned to Detroit to craft great vodka. Valentine’s craft distillery in Ferndale puts out triple-distilled vodka based on Michigan wheat, corn and barley and charcoal filtered for uncommon smoothness. Great for building martinis!
Following a visit to West Coast micro-distilleries, Kent Rabish felt the pull of his Polish roots and decided to produce world-class, handcrafted hooch right here in Traverse City. Grand Traverse Distillery had its first commercial release in June of 2007 and has garnered national and international acclaim with each subsequent bottling of its True North Vodkas and Ole George Rye Whiskey. We swing by to talk with Rabish’s chief distiller George Wertman to get the skinny on craft distillation, custom whiskey and a great winter cocktail.
How does distillation affect the character of True North Vodka?
We practice sealed, temperature-controlled fermentation, which extends the fermentation process and allows us to extract more flavor from the grain. Distilling happens in a reflux column still, which distills at 190 proof and cycles the base product 1,500–2,000 times, which produces a purer, cleaner vodka.
Custom whiskey? Am I dreaming?
We now sell two- to five-liter charred oak mini-barrels that we will fill with 125 proof whiskey made to your specifications; we duplicate bourbon, rye, Irish whiskey or Scotch. You get to age it at home to your liking; two to three months in the mini-barrel approximates three to four years in a standard barrel.
Best winter cocktail featuring Grand Traverse Distillery?
Fill a mug with your favorite hot cocoa recipe and add a shot of True North Cherry Vodka.