Long Road Distillers

Grand Rapids has a lot going on these days. The changes from when the Beer O’Clock GR staff came back from the west coast sometimes boggle our tiny minds. New Grand Rapids bars are popping up all over, but there are a select few that we’re really, really excited for, either because of what they offer, or because of what they mean for the city. Below are our top 5.

Difference of opinion? Let us know in the comments, or on the Beer O’Clock GR Facebook page.

1. LONG ROAD DISTILLERS

Long Road is so much more than just the city’s first from-scratch distillery. It’s a shot across the bow of the idea that the city’s east side has to be where the action is. Plus, it couldn’t be owned by two cooler guys than Kyle VanStrien and Jon O’Connor. We had the opportunity to spend some time hanging out with these guys, and they are true blue Grand Rapidians — viewing their venture not just as a profit-maker, but also as another step toward building the west side out (they are both from the area).

They are focused on the process, about growing organically and on being the city’s first true distiller. Based on the care, thought and heart they’ve put into the process of conceiving the distillery itself and it’s place in the neighborhood, we absolutely cannot wait to try their product.

To us, Long Road represents a huge step forward for our city. Learn more about Long Road at their website or their Facebook page.

2. THE BLACK HERON

Owned by Seth and Laura Porter, founders of Michigan Beer Blog, this spot’s description had us immediately: Michigan made ciders and beers (heavy on the ciders), handmade sausages and proper poutine. At 428 W Bridge St., The Black Heron will also be part of a crop of new Grand Rapids bars making the West Side the best side (forgive us).

Learn more about The Black Heron at their website, Facebook page and definitely read Michigan Beer Blog.

3. NEW HOLLAND BREWING GRAND RAPIDS TAPROOM

Only announced officially last week Tuesday, this is huge for Grand Rapids. This spot will be part of Rockford Construction’s massive revitalization of the Bridge street corridor on the West Side. (Noticing a pattern here?) It is a massive development, and will introduce a multi-story taproom with roof deck, destined to become a go-to place for tourists and locals alike. Couple that with New Holland’s name recognition, and you’ve got one more reason Grand Rapids is well on it’s way to becoming the world’s best beer city.

Learn more about the development at MLive.

4. HARMONY HALL

So, Barry, Jackson and Heather Van Dyke, who own what may be our favorite neighborhood joint in the city, the charming and welcoming Harmony Brewing in Eastown, are opening a West Side Polish Hall-influenced bar called Harmony Hall. Color us stoked. Good memories from our misspent early 20s at 5th Street Hall abound, and since the trio are leaving up some of the 1970s Little Mexico wall art (the Hall will occupy LM’s former space), you get a little nostalgia for that GR legend as well. The progress is looking beautiful, and we just can’t wait to see it happen.

Our one hope is that they’ll do a light, eastern European-style lager that we can tip by the liter in honor of the Hall’s heritage. Learn more about Harmony Hall on MLive.

5. THE SHRUNKEN HEAD

You’d be surprised — possibly alarmed — at how often I wish there was a solid tiki bar in town. It was only made worse by this Anthony Bourdain segment featuring San Fransisco’s Tonga Room. That’s why BarFly Ventures (owners of Hopcat, Stella’s, etc.) new spot is so exciting. Let’s just hope that this joint has it all: Fine barbecue, kitschy interior, the works, please.

Learn more about the Shrunken Head on their website or Facebook page.

 

Full Article – Beer O’Clock GR – October 13, 2014

 

Long Road Distillers

Grand Rapids has nurtured craft beer lovers for around a decade now, calling all types of beer drinkers to appreciate the subtlety of just four ingredients.  Breweries have covered the region and bolstered the tourism and restaurant industries immeasurably.  Now, the spotlight turns to the next tier of craft beverage production as local businesses like Long Road Distillery come onto the scene to steal the hearts and palettes of Grand Rapid’s west side.

Jon O’Connor and Kyle VanStrien decided to bring the first micro distillery to Grand Rapids to share their own love for high quality spirits with fellow connoisseurs. Long Road is set to open this fall on the corner of Leonard and Quarry, in the heart of GR’s west side.

I immediately asked about the name for their business, and was pleased with how multi-faceted the answer was.  “First, Leonard St is a very long road, running from east of town all the way to the Lakeshore on the West. It also happens to be the longest traditional business district in the City, something we’re proud to highlight.  Second, and more importantly, the name Long Road Distillers speaks to the way we craft our spirits – the right way, taking no shortcuts,” says Van Strien.   “That means we will take the time to source our ingredients locally whenever possible in order to support and highlight the rich agricultural resources of our region. It means we will mill all of our own grain, and mash, ferment and distill all of our own spirits in-house.”

The building itself has had a long road to being distillation friendly.  As the second floor was formerly apartments, on top of century-old tin ceilings, O’Connor and Van Strien have worked carefully to maintain the historic integrity of the building, while crafting a destination for craft beverage lovers to flock to that can showcase the craft distillation process.

Educating the consumer about the process is at the forefront of the business plan to bring this craft to Grand Rapids.  While there will be small meat and cheese boards and light appetizer options for customers, the owners plan on continuing a partnership with their neighbors The Mitten Brewing Co. and Two Scott’s BBQ, a new venture set to open in the newly renovated Rootbeer Stand just across Leonard St.

For the drink menu, O’Connor was already able to hint at the goodness to come.  The first product will be a vodka distilled from local Red Winter wheat.  Vodka is a jumping off point for their two gin varieties, a traditional Bristish style and a unique style referred to as New American.  A good vodka is also an opportunity to utilize this region’s impressive agricultural offerings; a blueberry vodka will be the first infusion experiment of many.

Although all of those, and an Applejack as well, will be wonderful to round out Long Road’s spirits flights, O’Connor says that “Whiskey is what really got Kyle and I excited about distilling, however to craft a whiskey of any quality takes time aging in a barrel. Our production for aged spirits will begin right away, however as Un-Aged or White Whiskey is quite delicious and growing in popularity, we will offer both an un-aged rye and un-aged corn whiskey. The rye and the corn whiskies will, after spending a couple years in barrels, be released in the future as a straight rye whiskey and a bourbon.”

This is an exciting step for Grand Rapids and it’s great to see this city take that step from brew culture to craft culture.  “People in this area understand and appreciate the importance of a locally made product. We owe a lot of credit to all of the breweries who have helped create a culture of adventure in expanding the palates of consumers. People are curious about where their food and beverages are coming from, who made them, and what went into the process”, says Van Strien.

Experience Grand Rapids – Full Article

Lyndsay Israel, August 14, 2014

Long Road Distillers

This fall Long Road Distillers, Grand Rapids’ first and only craft distillery, will join the ranks of established and upcoming businesses peppering the Leonard Street corridor.

The two story brick building, a former clothing store at 537 Leonard Street NW, is currently under renovation to house Long Road, which the entire operation- from milling the grain to pouring cocktails- will function. At approximately 8,000 total square feet, about 1,500 feet on the north ground level will be used for production space with the remaining 2,500 feet of space on the ground level dedicated as the cocktail lounge, seating up to 80 people.

The north end of the lounge will feature a glass wall encasing the 14 1/2 foot still that will be erected through the ceiling into the second floor. A second, narrower 25 foot still will be added within the first year. The 14 foot, 300 liter batch still is capable of producing 7,500 cases per year. With the second still added the total production will max out at 20,000 cases per year.

The second level will have a more laid back feel, with foosball and other games, and be amenable for group events with seating up to 120 people.

Production will start with red wheat vodka, which will serve as a base for flavored vodkas. A couple of varieties of gin from dry to citrus and floral, white whiskey, aged bourbon and rye bases will fill out the menu. Long Road is working with a local farmer to source red winter wheat, rye and corn.

“We’re selling you a craft product that we hope and we believe will be as good as any product you can buy anywhere in the world,” says co-owner Jon O’Connor.” “It’s a little more costly for us to do that, so we want to make sure that we can have that consistently high quality product that people will understand and appreciate and pay the premium price for.”

Their licensure allows Long Road to distribute, sell bottles out the door and do tastings.

“Initially our goal is to do everything we can right here and sell out the front door and in cocktail form whatever we can because we want to make sure that we can meet local demand and we’re not running out,” says co-owner Kyle Van Strien.

“We’re in the spirit business,” says O’Connor. “We’re not trying to get into the food business. But we know that when you have a cocktail you want to have something good to munch on along the way.”

To meet that need, the distillery will serve light dishes such as cured meats, cheeses, veggies, dips, sandwiches and desserts.

For patrons inclined more towards other alcoholic drinks, Long Road is applying for a microbrew license to provide at least one of their own beers on tap as an alternative. Adding to the variety will include ciders and possibly wine.

Both Van Strien and O’Connor have been west side residents since their college days nearly ten years ago. The two initially met while serving on the West Grand Neighborhood Organization board of directors. They collaborated to start the WelcomeWest non-profit that hosts the annual WinterWestevent.

Their commitment to the West Side is why Leonard Street is the perfect place to open the distillery.

“That’s why we’re here, because everything we’ve done in our spare time for the past 10 years has been for the West Side and in the West Side,” says Van Strien.

“We’ve been preaching the merits of the West Side since we’ve been in town,” says O’Connor.

Rapidian – Full Article

Eric Tank, July 1, 2014

Long Road Distillers

The Grand Rapids School Board is guaranteed at least one new member after the November election with Jon O’Connor deciding not to seek reelection to pursue a new business venture on the city’s West Side.

Five of the board’s nine 4-year seats will be on the Nov. 4 ballot. Board president Wendy Falb, vice president Maureen Slade and Tony Baker plan to seek second terms. John Matias, who was appointed July 13, 2013 to replace now-City Commissioner Senita Lenear, will be seeking his first full term.

No one has filed yet with the city clerk’s office. The filing deadline is July 22 at 4 p.m.

This fall, O’Connor and business partner Kyle Van Strien will be educating the community about the spirits world with the planned launch of the city’s first craft distillery, Long Road Distillers, a cocktail bar and lounge under renovation at 537 Leonard St. NW.

“We feel like there is some momentum here on the West Side, and we think we can help make this neighborhood a destination place with what will be a world-class craft distillery,” said O’Connor, who owns West Michigan Appraisers and is completing his first term on the school board.

“We’ve been telling people for a long time the West Side is a cool place.”

Revitalizing the West Side neighborhood is a fitting goal for O’Connor and Van Strien, former president and vice president of the West Grand Neighborhood Association.

He said part of that revitalization effort was the reopening of Stocking Elementary this school year. O’Connor is candid about what motivated him to run for the school board – getting the neighborhood school reopened after its controversial 2010 closing and bringing on a new superintendent with the skill set to improve the district and change the culture.

“I feel like my two big ticket items are done,” said O’Connor, who said turning around a large district takes time but they’re on the right track. “Superintendent Neal’s Transformation Plan is a step in the right direction. The biggest challenge going forward is growing the enrollment.”

The challenge before him and Van Strien, project coordinator for Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and a city planning commissioner, is transforming their two-story, 8,000-square-foot space into that hip destination place. They plan to invest at least $750,000.

Van Strien said people will be able to view the craft spirits being produced by the micro-distillery. He said a lot of people don’t know the difference between a distillery that produces spirits such as vodka and whiskey and a brewery that produces beer.

Long Road Distillers will be able to produce both on site. Patrons can enjoy spirits as well as beer and wine. The cocktail bar won’t have a full restaurant, rather just appetizers and some small-plate offerings.

“To set us apart from some of the spirit brands that people know of such as Absolut and Smirnoff, we are a micro-distillery and our equipment is extremely flexible and will allow us to change the products we are distilling on almost a daily basis, if not hourly,” said Van Strien, who said they can do four runs in a day.

“From our vodka, we can make gin or an infused vodka with local blueberries or raspberries and experiment with apples, for example. Ultimately, we want to be in the business of recreating this neighborhood through investment in businesses like ours and helping others invest as well, so we can have a resurgence here.”

He said the area has largest traditional business district in the city.

The business, which will employ around 15 people initially, gets its name in part from Leonard being a long road, as well as their commitment to not taking short cuts with creating spirits.

O’Connor said he thinks their business complements the Mitten Brewing Company, the microbrewery located next door in the historic Grand Rapids firehouse.

He said he wants to see a high level of market synergy on the street, in which Individual businesses are working together to be more successful and to spur that revitalization.

Mlive – Full Story

Monica Scott, May 29, 2014

Long Road Distillers

The city’s west side is about to get a craft distillery.

The Grand Rapids Planning Commission approved Long Road Distillers last month, and co-owners Jon O’Connor and Kyle Van Strien said work is underway to rehab the distillery’s future home at 537 Leonard St. NW.

The 8,000-square-foot space will be renovated to include a retail space, cocktail lounge, kitchen and bar, overflow seating and the on-site distillery.

The floor plans have yet to be finalized, but Van Strien said he wants to make sure patrons have the opportunity to view the distillation equipment and be able to ask questions and learn about the process.

He estimated the initial investment to get the business up and running will be at least $750,000.

Nate Willink of Willink Construction will serve as the project’s general contractor; Neale Bauman of The Design Forum is the architect.

O’Connor and Van Strien expect to open to the public in mid- to late fall.

The pair said their products will not go into distribution right way, but they expect that to happen somewhere down the road.

“We want to be able to sell out the front door and meet the demand locally,” Van Strien said.

Long Road Distillers will start production with vodka and gin, adding white whiskey, whiskey and malted gin later.

All of the spirits will be “grain to glass,” meaning Long Road will start with grain purchased from area farms and distill the spirits on site.

“It’s very important to us, and we will be the only West Michigan distillery that is doing clear spirits from grain,” Van Strien said.

O’Connor said grain-to-glass production is both costly and time consuming.

“In order to get to the point where you can make vodka, per se, from grain, it has to go through a certain number of rectifications to get to a certain alcohol percentage,” he explained. “Most people don’t have the equipment capable of doing that.”

All of the distillery equipment is coming from Germany where it is made by hand, requiring a seven- to nine-month lead-time.

Once it is up and running at full capacity, the distillery should be able to produce 6,000 to 7,000 12-bottle cases annually, Van Strien said.

“With the addition of a new pot, we could significantly increase that,” he added. “In our first year or two, we will definitely be looking to expand our production capacity because we anticipate there will be demand for the product in the market and particularly when we want to go to distribution. We’ve had a couple of conversations with distributors and we expect that we will want that ability to make more and more.”

Pricing has yet to be determined, but the spirits will be in the premium category.

O’Connor and Van Strien agree the craft beer scene in West Michigan has laid the foundation for the introduction of grain-to-glass spirits using local ingredients.

“Founders and Bell’s have laid the foundation for the craft brew movement, and now Harmony and The Mitten and other local breweries have really helped bring people’s awareness to the local craft alcohol industry, so we think the market is primed for a craft distillery in Grand Rapids,” O’Connor said. “People have a real understanding and appreciation for wanting to know where their products come from and, hopefully, we can capitalize on the knowledge base.”

Long Road Distillers plans to work with area farms to source ingredients locally.

“We want to support West Michigan farmers and growers, and by doing this, we are actually going to be able to highlight the characteristics of the products that we are going to use to make our spirits,” O’Connor said.

The pair chose to become neighbors with The Mitten Brewing Co. in hopes of creating a synergistic experience. They don’t think it will be a competition as much as a complementary opportunity, giving patrons two great establishments next door to each other.

“It will be a real vibrant corner over here. It can be a destination,” O’Connor said.

The two men are west side residents and said they didn’t even consider locations other than on the west side, which they are excited to see finally receiving the attention it deserves.

In addition to spirits, Long Road Distillers will offer a small plate menu and a coffee and dessert menu.

The new business will employ between 20 to 25 people.

Grand Rapids Business Journal – Full Story

Charlsie Dewey, April 11, 2014

Long Road Distillers

Partners behind a fledgling craft distillery in Grand Rapids think the city’s reputation as a haven for craft beer drinkers plays well into their marketing of small batch vodkas, rums, gins and whiskeys.

Kyle Van Strien and Jon O’Connor, the two public partners behind Long Road Distillers LLC, have a vision to tap into local residents’ passion for quality, locally sourced beverages. 
Long Road Distillers has leased space at 537 Leonard Street NW, across Quarry Avenue from Mitten Brewing Co., with plans to invest $750,000 into opening a craft distillery at the site. The investment will go to renovating the 8,000-square-foot space and buying a 500-liter, 18-plate still — one large enough that it will be suitable for making vodka, Van Strien said.

The company’s mission is to be a true “grain to glass” distillery in Grand Rapids using as much locally sourced materials as possible, he said. They plan to make a full-range of spirits and experiment with local fruits and grain commodities used in the distilling process.

Long Road plans to sell bottles of spirits, offer tastings, serve cocktails in their bar and distribute products in the state, O’Connor said.

“Companies like Founders Brewing and (Mitten Brewing) have laid the foundation for quality beer in Grand Rapids, and we want to have that same quality in spirits,” O’Connor said. “We think there’s a sophisticated palate here that has an appreciation for distilled spirits. … We’ll never be to the scale where we’re making 100,000 barrels a year, but we can do small-batch innovation.”

The project is being internally financed with the help of a silent partner, Van Strien said.

Long Road Distillery and the holding company that owns the property, River Bed Investors LLC, go before the Grand Rapids Planning Commission on March 27 with applications for industrial facilities tax and obsolete facilities exemptions.

They plan to make $300,000 in property improvements to upgrade the facility – which dates back to the late 1800s – for production and commercial use, as well as buy about $400,000 in production equipment and furniture and fixtures for the tasting room, according to city documents.

“We want it to feel like a micro brewery. We want our place to be a destination,” Van Strien said, noting the initial plans call for a tasting room that will serve small plates, but not be a full-service restaurant. “We want to be a place you go to on the way to dinner and the place you stop on the way home from dinner.”

Long Road hopes to open by fall, but that’s dependent on securing the necessary local approvals, as well as the federal and state licenses. The company is buying specialized equipment from a manufacturer in Germany, which will also take six to eight months to make and ship to West Michigan, O’Connor said. The partners have tapped Willink Construction Inc. of Grand Rapids as their contractor and plan to have an architect in place soon.

While neither partner is a Grand Rapids native, they both came to the city for college and lived in the city’s west side neighborhood, which they described as an up-and-coming area.

“We want to be part of the change that’s happening here,” O’Connor said.

The pair say they are intensely focused on getting the approvals in place and renovating the facility so they can get into the process of making spirits, all of which will be produced in-house — not using outside contract producers. O’Connor said the company must focus on quality and ramping up production ahead of time to meet the demand they’re projecting.

They also plan to take time once they’re open to educate customers on craft spirits, Van Strien said.

“We plan to focus our marketing on consumer education and how things are produced,” he said, acknowledging that — as with craft breweries — the competition for consumers is intense from the established, international manufacturers in the spirits market.

MiBiz – Full Article

Joe Boomgaard, March 12, 2014

Long Road Distillers

Entrepreneurs Kyle Van Strien and Jon O’Connor have some spirited plans to bring Grand Rapids its first neighborhood distillery and tasting room.

The pair and a silent partner purchased an 8,000-square-foot building at 537 Leonard St. NW on the corner of Leonard and Quarry St. NW, and have begun the process of converting it into Long Road Distillers, LLC, a full-on spirits distillery with customer amenities.

First, two upstairs apartments and a main level clothing store must be vacated, according to federal law. The building must be completely production-ready and a bond in place before the final licenses can be procured.

“We will be doing production onsite in about 2,500 to 3,000 square feet for production and storage,” Van Strien says. “We’ll serve cocktails and have the spirits tasting room in the front, with overflow seating upstairs. We’ll produce everything onsite. We want to take the microbrewery model and apply it to the distillery, and have people come and hang out and learn about how we source and make the products.”

O’Connor, a real estate broker and appraiser with West Michigan Appraisers, and Van Strien, project coordinator for Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, will be the head distillers and will work at the business full-time once everything is in place.

“Our goal is to source as much of our inputs from Michigan as possible; our vodka will have as much grain from West Michigan as possible,” O’Connor says. “We’ll start with vodka, gin, a flavored vodka, possibly a rum that will be sourced outside Michigan for the cane sugar, and an un-aged whiskey. We’ll grow into producing aged whiskey and rye, which take years to age. Smaller companies have the ability to push the envelope with experimentation and work with fruit, grains, and botanicals to provide flavor and sources for our products.”

No opening date has been set, but the guys are shooting for a fall 2014 opening, if the licensing and build-out processes fall into place.

Van Strien and O’Connor are good friends with Max Trierweiler and Chris Andrus, who own Mitten Brewing just across Quarry St. Mitten Brewing aims to triple its beer production by expanding into a second building on the same corner. Read the story here.

“We can’t sell their product, they can’t sell ours (because of licensing restrictions),” Van Strien says. “But we’re definitely excited about partnering with them and catalyzing economic development in the area. There’s a lot of new energy developing right there on that corner.”

Long Road Distillers goes before the Grand Rapids Planning Commission for a special land use permit on March 27.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Rapid Growth Media – Full Article
March 13, 2014

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