new holland spiritsThe 17th annual San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC) took place April 20th through April 23rd. This year’s competition was the biggest in its history featuring more than 2,100 entries. A SFWSC medal has become a recognized affirmation of high quality and one of the most reliable and universal indications of spirits excellence.

New Holland submitted two spirits, achieving high marks for both. Knickerbocker Gin took home a double gold medal in its category, followed by Beer Barrel Bourbon, which was awarded a Gold Medal in its category.

“We are thrilled to receive such a great response from the judges in San Francisco,” stated Brett VanderKamp, President and co-founder of New Holland. “This competition is held in such high regard by drinkers and distillers alike.”

Knickerbocker Gin is infused with more than a dozen herbs and spices, and has been a staple for New Holland since the initial release in 2008. “This gin is so balanced and approachable,” says Ryan Cioffi, who runs the gin program at The Knickerbocker facility in Grand Rapids. “If you don’t like gin, you have not tried Knickerbocker Gin.”

Beer Barrel Bourbon is aged in new American Oak before being finished in beer casks. It was first released in 2012, and quickly became the most popular spirit made by New Holland. “Finishing in a beer barrel, especially a beer as special as Dragon’s Milk, makes our Bourbon unique to us,” says Shaun McLarty, Head Distiller at the Holland location, who manages the whiskey program. “The rich malt sweetness found in our Bourbon is simply amazing.”

New Holland Spirits awards:

Double Gold Medal: Knickerbocker Gin
Gold Medal: Beer Barrel Bourbon

Medal Interpretation:

Double Gold: Awarded to the very few entries that receive a Gold medal rating by all members of the judging panel; among the finest products in the world.
Gold: An exceptional spirit that is near the pinnacle of achievement; sets the standard for its category.

New Holland Spirits has proudly distilled spirits since 2005.


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.


Our Brewing

Our Brewing Company, a micro-brewery, small winery, and micro-distillery in the heart of downtown Holland, MI is still “smaller on purpose”—but they have recently added a twist to their lineup: draft cocktails.

What exactly are draft cocktails?

One thirst-inducing example of what to expect when ordering a draft cocktail would be Our Brewing Company’s own variation of a Vodka Spritz. Hand made in bulk using UltraPure, a gluten-free organic liquor, along with ingredients like fresh ruby and white grapefruit juice, with jalapeno agave simple syrup, mixed with just the right amount of fizz.

Our Brewing

Each cocktail is created, then placed into a keg to be served on draft alongside Our Brewing Company’s craft beer and cider, which are still at the front and center of their 20 draft-lines. At least 15-16 taps will remain craft beer, 2-3 ciders, and now approximately 1-2 draft cocktails will be featured daily. It will be as easy as ordering a craft beer or cider. If you’re in the mood for a cocktail, the bartender will simply need to add ice to a glass, pour the draft cocktail directly from the tap—just like they would for their beer or cider—and voila! Drinks for everyone!


If you are craving a craft beer with a bit of a twist, Our Brewing Company has you covered, as they have something on tap called the IPA G&T. Jenney Grant, Director of Leisure Craft Libations, describes this Beer-tail as “Combining the classic flavors of a Gin and Tonic with our Mosey Session IPA for the perfect summer libation.”

Our BrewingThe creativity doesn’t end there. Our Brewing Company will offer frozen cocktails via a slushy machine. Yacht Rock Punch—A special offering made in honor of the Yacht Rock! celebration on Saturday, June 18. “This frozen cocktail will make you feel like you’re sailing away with a flock of seagulls. Made with light and dark rum, house-made rhubarb syrup, crushed ice and a splash of lime,” Grant explains.

The cocktail recipes have been developed with the help of former Coppercraft Distillery bartenders and Our Brewing Company Co-Owner Trevor Doublestein. Making sure each recipe has the right proportion of ingredients is key. Too much alcohol, soda, or even fruit juice could ruin an entire batch. However, keeping things simple was important—especially during the summer months, when keeping lines short and glasses full is key.

“I think this is the future of cocktails. It’s awesome that we can add this to our brewery and be one of the first places to offer something as different and cool as draft cocktails,” Doublestein explains. “It’s great to be able to go into this as an opportunity to keep our creative juices flowing—not just with beer—but with fun, experimental cocktails. Doing it with no stress and having as much fun as we can while doing it!”

Our Brewing Company has bottled a few of their draft cocktails to have on hand in 10 oz bottles. If they have a week or two where the craft beer and cider is overflowing their draft-lines they can still pour the pre-mixed concoctions directly from the bottles for customers to savor and enjoy.

With clever craft beer concoctions, and humorous names to match the flavor—such as By The Sour of Greyskull sour beer, or Smackintosh cider—the creativity and whimsy that pours into to their craft beer and cider has seamlessly flowed into their draft cocktail lineup.

While they have begun with familiar cocktails, like a Moscow Mule or a Manhattan, they have absolutely put their Our Brewing Company spin on it. For instance, they decided to add citrus fruits like lemons, limes, and oranges alongside pomegranate to a Gin and Tonic. Boom. Now that classic Gin and Tonic has turned into a different experience altogether!

Our Brewing

Our Brewing Company’s entire draft-line will remain seasonal. If it isn’t fresh, they will not use it—something that has always held true for all of their beverages. This code of freshness typically pleases customers palates as well. Most of their patrons aren’t craving a hot chocolate in the summer, or salivating for a watermelon cocktail in January for that matter.

Our Brewing Company will be celebrating their Draft Cocktail release with a Yacht Rock! Costume Party on Saturday, June 18 at 8 p.m. Offering up 4 – 6 cocktails on tap and in bottles, including Sangria: Fruit, Brandy and Wine. Need we say more? Golden Sunset Punch: Whiskey, honey syrup and a bit of lemon. Top if off with a bit of mint and you’ll be able to taste a Lake Michigan sunset. Plus a special surprise cocktail to be released Saturday night.


Sponsored by Our Brewing

Photography: Steph Harding

gray skies distillery

For Brandon Voorhees and Steve Vander Pol, co-founders of Gray Skies Distillery, longtime friends, and Grand Rapids natives, the entrepreneurial spirit has ran through their blood for two generations. Voorhees’ father and grandfather, and Vander Pol’s father were business owners who raised them on the value that a viable idea is just a little hard work away from becoming an achievable reality.

Every day for two years while living in Denver, Vander Pol drove past Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey on his way to and from work. When he finally stopped in to visit, he was captivated by the distillery’s whiskey and atmosphere. As soon as he got his first fix of this budding scene in Denver, Vander Pol knew that crafts spirits were going to be what propelled him home to Grand Rapids.

gray skies distillery

In January 2014, Vander Pol made a phone call to Voorhees that changed both of their lives. Voorhees recounted that Vander Pol’s call on that gray and dreary winter day in Grand Rapids was “totally unexpected and out of the blue,” but one he’s thankful he received.

Vander Pol cut straight to the point with Voorhees, who was big into craft beer, and a homebrewer, “Would you ever consider going one step further, and making liquor? There’s a really amazing craft spirits movement happening out here in Denver, and I think opening a distillery would be something the community in Grand Rapids would be interested in, too.”

The idea peaked Voorhees’ interest. As soon as he hung up the phone with Vander Pol, he Googled “how to make whiskey,” downloaded a 150-page how-to guide on the subject, and read it in its entirety before he went to bed. Voorhees called Vander Pol back the next morning and committed without hesitation, “Let’s do it.”

Now business partners overnight, both men spent the following six months diving into the legalities of owning a business and the logistics of securing a building. Simultaneously, they absorbed every bit of knowledge they knew they would need. Vander Pol took classes in Denver and Louisville, while Voorhees did the same in Lansing, and both met for a week-long immersion workshop at Breckenridge Distillery. They pursued educating themselves on the good faith that by the time they secured a location they’d be fully prepared to deliver on their their first batch.

They were fortunate to find a building in the North Monroe industrial district. It’s an area they originally had in their sights — they could feel its presence as an extension of downtown, and foresaw its attraction to other businesses, and ultimately guests. At 13,000 sq ft, it was a little larger than essential to begin operations, but its footprint allows them to scale comfortably — especially for barrel storage, as their popularity grows.

The building was in “very rough shape” when they bought it, but they embraced it and restored it from the ground up. It needed a new ceiling, walls, electric, plumbing, HVAC — “pretty much everything,” the owners said. Vander Pol expressed, “We were very intentional about this neighborhood. We fell in love with the area because it was half-empty, but all full with potential to create positive synergy with the city and our neighbors.”

Vander Pol’s idea and Voorhees’ willing pivot from craft beer to spirits paid off when Gray Skies officially opened their tasting room March 17, 2016. Now the second distillery in Grand Rapids, alongside Long Road Distillers, they’re honored by the opportunity to elevate awareness for spirits in a city with such a strong affinity for craft beverages. Voorhees affirmed, “It’s exciting for us that we get to establish a relationship with the community and create connections with the consumer all by sharing our passion for making a quality product rooted in Michigan.”

As a small-batch distillery, distilling 500 gallons per batch at a time, Gray Skies is special in that they are grain to glass. Vander Pol explains, “We bring in whole grains — mill, mash, ferment, and distill them — all on site. And, by using all local Michigan grains, we can create mash bills that are exclusive to us.” They did just that with a toasted barley that’s never been used anywhere else, supplied by Pilot Malt House, for their first American single-malt whiskey, which will be available this December.

Gray Skies prides themselves on not conforming to the same expectations as their mass-producing, macro peers. Instead of repeating the same static liquor year in and year out, Voorhees said, “We’re doing classic spirits in a modern way. For me, small-batch means versatility.”

He’s particularly enthusiastic about taking creative liberties when it makes sense, “We have the freedom to experiment with some really unique things to push the envelop with flavor profiles.” Their Barrel Finished Hopped Gin is a testament to that. The introduction of Citra hops to the botanical profile is an invigorating take on gin that gives a clever nod to Grand Rapids’ craft aficionados who would appreciate its inclusion.

The experience Gray Skies provides in their tasting room is personal. It’s a chance to engage with both owners and bar staff in a meaningful way — one that’s different from ordering a drink in a bar and then becoming anonymous in a crowd. They serve over ten cocktails on a regularly rotating menu that feature either their gin or Utility Vodka. The drinks are impressive, mixed with house-made liqueurs, fresh fruit, or herbs. And, worth the visit alone is their scratch-made Moscow Mule… wait for it… on tap(!).

In addition to their gin and vodka, which are available by the bottle at their tasting room and in limited distribution around West Michigan, Gray Skies is moving to expand their portfolio. This summer, they’re set to release a spiced rum aged in red wine barrels, which will also see distribution. By the end of the year, they’ll add a white rum, apple brandy, and barrel-aged apple brandy aged in Journeyman Distillery rye barrels.

For the true connoisseurs of brown spirits, Gray Skies knows that good things come to those who wait. Taking very seriously the traditional methods for the two spirits they hope to ultimately be recognized for, Gray Skies will release their first straight bourbon and rye whiskies in 2018. Both have already been laid down in new white oak barrels to age for the next two years.

In the meantime, Gray Skies will shine.


Photography: Steph Harding

Ann Arbor Distilling

Ann Arbor, MI–One of the great things about modern society is that it gives people a chance to remake themselves, to be what they want to be. The same could be said for buildings. Take 220 Felch Street, located in the Water Hill neighborhood in Ann Arbor. It was built as a fuel oil storage for Amoco in 1924. At other times in its life, it has been a bicycle shop called Cycle Cellar, Kaufman Studios, Ann Arbor Art Center studios, the Pot & Box, and the Daily Grind Flour Mill, which provided the grain for the Wildflour Bakery. Grains are back at the location today, but in the form of distilled beverages.

Last year, Ari Sussman and his partner/co-owner Rob Cleveland opened the Ann Arbor Distilling Company at 220 Felch Street. The tasting room provides thirsty patrons with vodka and gin straight up or in the form of craft cocktails. More alcohol is on the way.

Ann Arbor Distilling

“We make whiskey constantly,” Sussman said. “The earliest batches will be available in early summer, with releases continuing after that.” Sussman said that it can take anywhere from 18 months to more than three years to make a good whiskey. “Most folks are used to the Kentucky style of whiskey, because it’s what they are used to. That takes three years, usually longer. But if you want a different profile in your whiskey, you can do it in less time. It all depends on the character you are trying to achieve.” Sussman has found craft distilleries across the country releasing products that compare favorably to legacy brands of whiskey.

Sussman is no stranger to good liquor made from good products. In his early 20s, he spent time in France working with wine and brandy makers. When he returned to Michigan, he found that no one was making spirits. “Some winemakers made some brandy on the side, but that was it,” he said.

To familiarize himself with the products he had made in France, Sussman bartended at some of the finest places in Ann Arbor: Zanzibar, eve the restaurant, and the Raven’s Club. “The entire time I bartended,” Sussman said. “I had it in the back of my mind to get into manufacturing.”

Then Sussman received a life changing opportunity—to work at the Michigan State University Distillery. He worked with students in the program, and with Kris Berglund, the professor who founded the program. (The program is part of MSU’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and still provides product and process development consulting for people who want to start distilling operations.) “I was able to learn from the best,” Sussman said of Professor Berglund. After three years, Sussman worked his way up to head distiller.

Now, he is head distiller at his own place. “The more you learn about the distilling regions in the world,” Sussman said. “The more you realize that Michigan is one of the best places for it.” About 90% of his ingredients are local because “we can’t find better product anywhere else– it happens that they are all available locally.” The products used include the cereal grains, apples, and grapes.

All of this alcohol is created on two stills, custom made in Germany. They are designed to be able to make any product from the base ingredients.

“The raw ingredients go in and whiskey, brandy, vodka, gin, rum, and so on is what will come out.”

And the alcohol is flowing out! The cocktail menu includes a Moscow Mule, Pomegranate Fizz, Ginger Gimlet, and Seasonal Shrub. Recently, the distillers use Mighty Good coffee to make a coffee liqueur for their White Russians. Sussman said that they are actively looking for snacks that will help highlight the spirits and pair well with the cocktails.

The future of the Ann Arbor Distilling Company is as bright as the gleam on the stills. “People are going to be pleasantly surprised by the quality of spirits that can be made from local ingredients,” Sussman smiles. The old Daily Grind grain mill is long gone—but the grains shine on at 220 Felch Street.

Folks can try the cocktails and spirits Tuesday-Saturday from 4:00-10:00.

Photography: Steph Harding

GRAND RAPIDS – Over the course of the 11 days spanning Cocktail Week GR, Grand Rapids’ only distillery, Long Road Distillers, played a huge role in the week’s events.  

The backbone of a cocktail is in the quality of the liquor.  To prove just that, Long Road hosted distillery tours at a discounted rate throughout the week, sharing with patrons the process it takes to make its different liquors.

Long Road’s beautiful distilling facility houses multiple-story, shiny gold-colored tanks towering skyward.  While on the 45 minute tour, patrons were able to taste gin during its distilling process as well as a tasting of five different liquors following the tour.

Long Road also hosted a few events educating people on how to make a cocktail.  They occupied their new second floor, to create an intimate learning experience.  While on the second floor, you also get a magnificent view of the distillery below.

A similar event to this took place at the Downtown Market, where guests were shown how to make a cocktail using all ingredients from the market itself.  After the demonstration, guests were encouraged to shop the market to make the cocktails again at home.

All across town, participating restaurants joined together to create a Pair and Share.  Many of the cocktails at the participating restaurants featured Long Road liquors in their drinks.  


Kyle Vanstrien, owner of Long Road Distillers said, “It is an awesome thing to continue to promote cocktail culture that has been lacking forever.  As well as it is exciting to be a part of 30 venues partaking with five other venues using our liquors in their cocktails.”

Not only could you find Long Road’s liquors in cocktails around town, the distillery figured it should have a couple drinks of its own to join in on the fun!  Sourcing all ingredients from local suppliers, Long Road’s drinks are ever-changing with the seasons.  Appropriately enough, calling one of their Pair and Share drinks “Berry’s Last Call,” using the last blueberries of the season with their house gin and local additions.  My personal favorite, “Orange and Stuff,” surprisingly doesn’t have any oranges in it whatsoever, yet delightfully tastes like an adult orange julius. This is either a mistake or genius. I say genius.  And last but not least was “Peared Up,” boasting their vodka.

There are plenty of events scattered around town, featuring Long Road Distillers, still left in Cocktail Week GR leading up to the Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer and Food Festival this weekend at the Devos Place.  Check out the schedule to see where you can still catch some delicious drinks and learn more about the beautiful science behind a cocktail.

GRAND RAPIDS – The Grand Rapids Cocktail Guild exists for promoting weeks like this. An opportunity to promote Michigan’s burgeoning distilled spirits culture, a chance to offer the typical cocktail drinker something out of the norm, and a way to share the passion that drives the bartenders we all know and love, Cocktail Week Grand Rapids welcomes everyone. The Guild, and its Interim President, Torrence O’Haire, are much of the driving force behind this new event.

GRCocktailGuild (9)

“This year is a bit of a trial run. We’re starting off small to build a foundation, and go from there,” O’Haire said. “Really, it happened organically. One of the [members] of Experience GR is also a founding member of the Cocktail Guild. She is really involved and a great resource and was really excited to make this happen.”

The Guild, whose mission is to build a “local collegiate of experienced professionals working to develop, enrich, and share the history, art, culture, and enjoyment of the distilled spirit,” continuously offers monthly events for the public, many with a non-profit focus like the Iron Bartender challenge.

Iron Bartender is a big part of Cocktail Week GR as well. If you’re seeking a big, awesome, crazy showdown of some of the finest barkeeps in West Michigan, this was the event to attend. For the Iron Bartender: Championship Finals, six professionals were challenged on the history of distilled spirits, and presented their showpiece cocktails, lovingly created concoctions audience members were able to sample.

While much of the focus of the event is on Michigan-made spirits (such as the many cocktail and small plate pairings at area restaurants and discussion/review sessions), O’Haire said that “we have no problem tipping the hat [in the craft spirit industry] to those who are doing a great job.”

One of those companies is Brown-Forman, who is helping to put on Iron Bartender during Cocktail Week. Part of their brand includes Old Forester, which is the longest running continuously distilled liquor in America. Fun fact: This happened because they were allowed to legally distill during prohibition, receiving a government license to continue for medical purposes.

History and artistry runs through the veins of the GR Cocktail Guild and through all the events around Grand Rapids this week.

If you are seeking something a little more low-key, but still full of fun (and alcohol), make sure you check out the showing of Hey Bartender at the UICA and the adjoining event at the Downtown Market, where you can enjoy cocktail hour and apps and get some speed lectures on cocktails or spirits from resident experts.  And with every lecture, comes a drink.

What more could you ask for?


Cocktail Week Grand Rapids is made possible by the combined efforts of the Grand Rapids Cocktail Guild, Experience GR and the Michigan Distillers Guild. For a full schedule of events, please visit:  

Cocktail Week GR Logo Final

GRAND RAPIDS – The Grand Rapids Cocktail Guild, Michigan Distillers Guild, and Experience GR are teaming up to host 11 days of cocktail appreciation starting this week.

From Nov. 11-22, Grand Rapids residents and visitors can take advantage of restaurant specials, educational opportunities, and tastings all celebrating Michigan’s burgeoning craft spirit culture.

Throughout the duration of the event, called Grand Rapids Cocktail Week, 29 participating venues will offer a special on two cocktails made with Michigan plus a shared appetizer for $25 or less.

The Bistro, for instance, will have a Blackberry Basil Old Fashioned made with New Holland’s Walleye Rye and a Salted Caramel Mocha Martini crafted with Journeyman Distillery’s organic Red Arrow Vodka and Snaggle Tooth Coffee Liqueur. You can enjoy these two cocktails alongside a plate of roasted butternut squash or smoked duck tartlet. Or you can visit one of Grand Rapids’s own distilleries, like Long Road Distillers, and try two hand-crafted cocktails made with in-house liquor and Michigan ingredients with a plate of short ribs or fall root vegetable flatbread.

But the week isn’t only about tasting; education is also a key component. Grand Rapids Public Museum will get in on the action with an exhibit titled “American Spirits: The Rise & Fall of Prohibition.” Put your imbibing into perspective by finding out why America went “dry” in the first place and then why alcohol regained legality 13 years later.

The museum will also host the Iron Bartender Final Championship on Nov. 18. Six bartenders, all winners of the past six Iron Bartender challenges, will go head-to-head to see who can craft the best cocktail.

To close out the series, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) will pair up with Downtown Market to host a class and movie combination event called “Hey Bartender” through Big Screen Cuisine on Nov. 22. The event will start in the Downtown Market teaching kitchen, where lecturers from the Grand Rapids Cocktail Guild will discuss the history, practice, and technique that go into making cocktails. There will be snacks and sampling. Afterward, attendees will convene at the UICA movie theater to watch the documentary “Hey Bartender.”

These key events only scratch the surface of activities taking place during the week. Businesses throughout the Grand Rapids area will be hosting a variety of cocktail-related events. For a comprehensive list, check out the Experience GR website.