long road distillers

Grand Rapids-based Long Road Distillers will release a new seasonal gin, MICHIGIN®, on Monday, February 6 when their doors open at 4 pm. The gin was crafted from 100% Michigan ingredients, starting with water fresh from Lake Michigan, red winter wheat from Heffron Farms and juniper harvested by hand on Beaver Island.

The limited-release MICHIGIN is the first gin to use all Michigan ingredients. While the distillery works regularly with local farms to source ingredients, juniper, the ingredient that distinguishes gin from other spirits, proved challenging to find. “We’ve been planning MICHIGIN since before we opened our doors two years ago, but we were struggling to find a source for Michigan-grown juniper, a non- negotiable ingredient when it comes to gin,” said Kyle VanStrien, Long Road Co-owner and Co- Founder.

MICHIGIN’s base spirit is distilled from red winter wheat from nearby Belding, Michigan, milled on site at the distillery on Grand Rapids’ West Side. It was then redistilled with a variety of Michigan botanicals, including lemon verbena and fennel from Visser Farms in Zeeland, lemon balm from Creation Farms in Beulah, and Galena hops from the Michigan Hop Alliance in Northport. The resulting gin is unlike any other and offers a fresh taste of Michigan from start to finish.

Juniper is commonly sourced through spice purveyors and originates from Europe or the Pacific Northwest. It wasn’t until sitting around a campfire with family over the summer, discussing different botanicals used in Long Road spirits, that a Michigan source for juniper was revealed to VanStrien.

“I mentioned in passing that we were on the hunt for local juniper,” said VanStrien, “and my cousin stopped me and said that it was everywhere on Beaver Island where she grew up!”

Less than a month later, VanStrien and business partner Jon O’Connor were on a small plane headed to Beaver Island, Lake Michigan’s largest island, 30 miles northwest of Charlevoix, Michigan. After a short scouting visit, it was clear finding enough juniper wouldn’t be a problem. The bushes are so prevalent on parts of the island, they’ve become a nuisance for many residents.

During the last week of September, 2016, a dozen members of the Long Road staff set out from Grand Rapids to harvest juniper berries on the island, collecting nearly 200 pounds over a two-day period. The team weathered 15-foot waves on the two-hour ferry ride and chilly rain while picking, but according to O’Connor, the journey was well worth it.

“What started out as strictly a juniper-picking trip turned out to be a great opportunity for our team to work together on a product that epitomizes our core values and our shared vision for crafting world class spirits from local ingredients,” said O’Connor. “Not only that, the finished product is unlike any

other gin on the market due to the unique flavors we were able to extract by using local juniper and distilling it fresh.”

MICHIGIN, initially, has the familiar aroma of fresh pine and juniper berries, but quickly transitions into scents of cucumber, cedar, vanilla and tropical fruits. The rich juniper flavors lead the way at first taste and gradually shift to notes of melon, vanilla, and hints of bright citrus. It’s sure to please in a gin cocktail, on the rocks, or all by itself.

On Monday, February 6, the distillery is hosting a MICHIGIN Release Party to celebrate the new spirit. From 4 pm to midnight, guests will be able to enjoy 50% off gin cocktails and have their first opportunity to purchase bottles of Long Road MICHIGIN to take home.

Long Road MICHIGIN will also be available in statewide distribution for licensed retailers, bars and restaurants beginning the week of February 6.


GRAND RAPIDS – Leading up to this weekend’s Wine, Beer and Food Festival, restaurants around town are participating in the city’s first celebration of Cocktail Week GR. The idea behind Cocktail Week is to educate the city about what makes a cocktail stand out compared to other libations, and why spending that few extra dollars is worth it.

Bartenders and chefs came together to pair something to sip on with and something to nibble on  to form a perfect pairing experience––giving restaurants a chance to show off the talents of their employees and present a better understanding of their craft to their patrons.

Rob Hanks, bar manager of Reserve Wine and Food, was excited about giving Grand Rapids the opportunity to experience food pairing with cocktails, which seems to be lacking in a city revolving around breweries. All around town, participating restaurants put together a shared-plate appetizer with two Michigan cocktails for patrons to enjoy for $25 or less.

Reserve Wine and Food used liquors from New Holland Brewing in both of the restaurant’s featured cocktails. The Drapple, or what Hanks likes to refer to as Dr. Apple, developed more or less out of a delicious accident.

“[The Drapple] comes from a clarified apple juice that the kitchen was making a dish and one guy messed it up so there was a bunch of it left over . . . a little bit of acidity and a little bit of sweet which is perfect, so we will just combat it with a little bit of bitterness in a strong spirit” said Hanks.

The Drapple is like a walking through an apple orchard towards the end of autumn, with the smell of oak leaves laying on the brisk ground. The cocktail features New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon, Cynar, and house-clarified apple juice.

Second on the menu is a new spin on the classic gin martini. The Commander consists of New Holland Knickerbocker Barrel Aged Gin, Benedictine, and Cointreau. Instead of bright aromatics shining through, you can feel warmth from the hints of baking spice.

Both drinks fit seamlessly with the Reserve Food and Wine’s version of Duck Confit Leg in different ways by adding apple, turnip, and chestnuts flavors to attach to each cocktail’s own uniqueness cutting right through the density of the duck fat.

“For having the number of restaurants that signed up this year is only going to make next year that much better,” said Hanks. “We have definitely had people coming in and checking out the list to get excited about it. It is really the only thing we can ask for. It challenges us in a way we haven’t been challenged before––to explore different flavors that beer and wine can’t give you.”

Restaurants are participating in the Pair and Share for the rest of the week, as well as some other fun events revolving around Cocktail Week GR. For a list of those events and participating restaurants, check out www.cocktailweekgr.com for more details.

GRAND RAPIDS — Gregg Palazzolo was standing 30 feet from where he’s sitting now when he got a call. He was next door at the future Grand Butchers, helping some clients of his design firm get their business started, when another client called and asked about good locations for a craft spirits venue.

“Hang on,” he said, and ran next door to a vacant storefront to snap some photos. His friends saw the photos and came running themselves, and that’s how the place where Palazzolo is sitting now became Flat Lander’s.

Flat Lander’s is a “barstillery” — that’s a place that sells house-branded liquors alongside beer, wine and food. (It’s also a term Palazzolo, ever conscious of “the brand,” is trying to trademark).

Opened just this March on Michigan Ave. NE in Grand Rapids, Flat Lander’s is the first of a wave of new West Michigan businesses trying to harness the tide of craft beverages as it rises to include spirits as well as beer and cider.

It’s the perfect time to check the place out: now through October 11, Flat Lander’s is hosting its first Whiskyfest. Food and drink menus both will be highlighting Flat Lander’s bourbon and white whisky, and the bar will also be tapping several barrel aged beers.

Don’t just go for the beer, though. (Besides, since you’re reading this now, you already missed the Founders KBS tapping on Wednesday.) You definitely need to try the special lineup of Whiskyfest cocktails.

The Hottieshine promises to be a great warmer on a cool fall afternoon. The autumnal cousin to the customer favorite Appleshine, a Hottieshine adds hot apple cider to Flat Lander’s white whisky and house-made bitters. The complexity of the bitters is beautiful, and it’s perfectly balanced by the sweet finish of the cider.

If you want something cool, try the O’Canada: bourbon aged in Canadian oak, shaken with maple syrup and cream liqueur. It looks as innocent as milk, and tastes almost as mild at first, but then it hits you with the twist and kick of the bourbon. The maple sugar dusting on the rim of the glass is a nice touch too, and adds a surprising finish when you reflexively lick your lips after a sip.

If you like your liquors neither shaken nor stirred, then keep it simple with a glass of the vanilla bean bourbon, neat. There’s something — and something seasonal — for everyone.

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There’s also some darn good “hillbilly chic” food. Complement your Whiskyfest drink of choice with something, anything blanketed with the maple bourbon barbeque sauce. (Your options are ribs, pulled pork or smoked chicken wings.) Or, if you’re a vegetarian, try the autumn salad with white whisky apple vinaigrette. (Again, something for everyone.)

Palazzolo’s aim is that whatever you have at Flat Lander’s, whenever you have it, it will be excellent. “We’re really built to show off a premium product” — the spirits — “complemented with excellent food,” he says. “So far, we’ve been amazed at the response.”

One of the best things Flat Lander’s offers, according to Palazzolo, is the house-made bitters. He’s also excited about developing house-made “shrubs” — a vinegar-based, non-alcoholic concoction from the South that can serve as a mixer or be drunk straight. “We’ll be famous for them,” he wryly predicts.

But despite Palazzolo’s big ambitions for the restaurant and its signature products, he and his partners don’t plan to make things too big. “We didn’t build a 200-seat space for a reason,” he says. “Keep it special. Keep it small.”

Flat Lander’s is certainly the former. In a town where “craft” is now the norm, it’s found a way to be unique without being complicated, and most important, a way to be just plain good.