Michigan has firmly cemented itself nationwide as a great beer state, and we are all very thankful for that—but what if your adult beverage of choice isn’t beer?
Never fear, friends, you don’t have to go looking outside the state to quench your thirst.- We’ve got a plethora of craft spirits too, and it’s about time they got their say.
In the longstanding tradition of all our wonderful beer festivals, events, and educational components headed up by the Michigan Brewers Guild, the Michigan Craft Distillers Association provides an opportunity for a unifying voice for the over 40 distilleries and distilleries in planning. Part of that voice includes events, and the inaugural Michigan Distilled festival allowed 22 of those member distilleries to showcase their spirits.
Held on Friday, September 15th in Grand Rapids at the Fulton Street Farmers Market, Michigan Distilled featured cocktails and/or spirits samples, live music, food vendors, swag, and a chance to learn all about Michigan distilleries all across the Great Lakes State.
$40 dollars got you five 3-ounce batch cocktails (or ¼ ounce straight spirit samples) from any distillery in attendance. A $75 VIP ticket got you the same plus early entry, one free food item, a special handcrafted cocktail from the Grand Rapids Bartenders Guild only available for VIPs, and a swag bag full of goodies, including a commemorative cup.
Totally worth it.
In attendance were some established favorites such as Valentine Distilling and Grand Traverse Distillery, along with some newer and perhaps less well-known distilleries that are absolutely worth seeking out.
Mammoth Distilling, headquartered in Central Lake, offers small batch vodka, gin, rum, whiskey, bourbon, and brandy inspired by the seasons and landscape of Northern Michigan. Started in 2013 with bottling beginning in 2015, they have grown leaps and bounds since then, and are ready to grow some more.
Chad Munger, Founder of Mammoth Distilling, shared some interesting news for spirit and beer lovers alike. “We are right in the middle of all the interesting Michigan-grown products we use in our distilling, and [we see] a hole in the market for brandies produced locally. Our vision is to create high-end brandy with grapes and other Michigan fruits. Nobody is doing that yet, and we want to stake our claim there long-term,” said Munger.
In the more immediate future, beer will be the focus—with a little twist. “Partly out of necessity and because we are very interested and curious people,” laughs Munger. “Collin Gaudard, the former head brewer at Northport Brewing, is our Regional Tasting Manager and about to become our Assistant Distiller. He’s got a background and real passion for making beer, which he refuses to give up, which we think is great.”
“We want to do what we can to keep our employees employed even though business slows down dramatically in Northern Michigan sometime in February. We believe beer will help keep us keep a strong business going year round and will bring more people to get to our brand. We are trying to tie our beer and our spirits together in a way that is meaningful, so we don’t cannibalize our spirits sales but really truly extend the line in a unique way.”
Another featured distillery that just screams ‘Pure Michigan’ is Iron Fish Distillery, a field-to-glass craft spirit maker founded in 2015 and located just outside of Thompsonville. Farmed directly from their own grains (as much as available), it’s a true working farm dedicated to their small-batch spirits. They are passionate about sourcing locally (from surrounding farms as needed) and holding their products to the highest quality standards possible, using non genetically modified grain, native yeasts, mashing, fermenting, and bottling everything by hand, on their own land.
Weston Brooks, Tasting Room Manager of Iron Fish Distillery, poured a Wile E. Coyote for us to sample. Featuring their Michigan Woodland Gin, farm-made jalapeno syrup, fresh lime juice, cilantro, and mint, it was crisp with a little heat and a nice finish. The juniper and other native Michigan botanicals in the gin shined through the mild heat of the syrup and accompanied the freshness and aroma of the herbs perfectly. We asked Brooks for his take on the future of craft spirits in Michigan during the early hours of this inaugural event, and he’s pretty sure the outlook is good. “It’s a very exciting time [for craft spirits] in Michigan. Wine was the first to come to its own here, then it was beer, and now it’s the spirits turn to shine… I see a bright future for us and this industry down the road.”
Detroit City Distillery, located in the historic Eastern Market and founded in 2012, roots it’s craft spirits in the grand ol’ history of prohibition. Small batch whiskey, gin, and vodka aim to invoke the history and spirit of 1920s Detroit, with beautifully made art deco inspired labels like the one on their Homegrown Rye, which we sampled. A little spicy with an almost buttery finish and a deep caramel nose, this small batch whiskey invokes not only the spirit of the Eaton County farmers growing the grain, but the old time bootlegger vibe as well—it was produced on a small copper pot still in an old slaughterhouse. Pretty good story and a pretty good whiskey to go with it.
Overall, the inaugural event for the Michigan Craft Distillers Association was a hit. Well attended and well-represented by a wide variety of Michigan distilleries, each with their own unique vibe and style. Be on the lookout for future events and educational features from the Association and discover all the amazing craft beverages Michigan has to offer.
Photography: Steph Harding