Gin Long Road Distillers

A local craft spirits maker has won the Best Gin honor at a global blind-tasting competition for gin.

The gin by Grand Rapids-based Long Road Distillers won the top honor and a double-gold medal at the recent Fifty Best gin event, which included 17 pre-qualified judges tasting 41 gins.

Holland-based Coppercraft Distillery also took home a silver medal at the global tasting.

Long Road gin

Long Road’s gin starts with a neutral spirit made at 537 Leonard St. NW from locally grown red winter wheat and features an individually distilled six-ingredient botanical blend.

The product was noted as having notes of lemon, lime, cherry, floral, juniper, eucalyptus and more.

“When we started Long Road Distillers, Jon (O’Connor) and I made a promise to ourselves that we would source our ingredients locally, mill, mash, ferment and distill everything on site at our distillery and filter it honestly,” said  Kyle VanStrien, co-owner, Long Road Distillers. “I believe our commitment to sourcing ingredients, rather than spirits, and using time-honored techniques without taking shortcuts is what sets us apart from others in the industry and in competitions like these.”

Ten gins were awarded double-gold medals, and Long Road’s gin was rated atop other brands, such as Hendricks gin and other staples from the Netherlands and the U.K.

The double-gold medal for gin joins three double-gold medals recently awarded to the distillery’s aquavit. The gin has also previously been awarded gold, silver and bronze medals at various spirit competitions.

Long Road Distillers celebrated its first anniversary last weekend.

“This has been a huge year of progress for Long Road,” said Jon O’Connor, co-owner, Long Road Distillers. “Every award won and distribution expansion made motivates our team to stay committed to our mission and values. We look forward to what the future has in store for our distillery.”

Coppercraft gin

Judges noted smell and taste notes such as lemon, honey dew, toffee, pine, smoky and licorice when evaluating Coppercraft gin.

Coppercraft Distillery includes 13 botanicals in its gin.

Full story here.

Aquavit Long Road Distillers

A West Michigan distillery has won its second double gold medal and best of show in an international competition.

Long Road Distillery won double gold for its Long Road Aquavit at the 16th annual San Francisco World Spirits Competition earlier this month. That honor follows on the heels of the double gold best of show Long Road received for aquavit at the Denver International Spirits Competition in March.

“The San Francisco World Spirits Competition is the most influential in the industry and winning a medal here is very meaningful,” said Anthony Dias Blue, competition director, in a press release. “We have the industry’s most respected experts serving as judges, and every entry is blind-tasted under highly focused conditions. There is no better way to discern quality and identify trends.”

Long Road also won silver for Long Road Gin and bronze for Long Road Wheat Vodka at the San Francisco competition.

The awards were based on the evaluation of 1,899 entries by a 39-person panel of judges. Long Road Aquavit was among 200 spirits to receive the double gold designation.

Aquavit is a traditional Scandinavian spirit. Long Road’s aquavit, and other spirits, can be found at the distillery’s tasting room at 537 W. Leonard St. NW and at more than 100 retailers in Michigan.

“At Long Road Distillers we strive to make spirits worthy of people’s admiration while staying committed to our core value of doing things the right way, from start to finish,” said Kyle Van Strien, co-owner at Long Road Distillers. “This second double gold recognition reaffirms what we set out to do all along and gives us the determination to continue our pursuit of making the best spirits in the world in each category we enter, no matter how big or small.”

Pat Evans, Grand Rapids Business Journal, Full article here:

Aquavit Long Road Distillers

A local distillery is on par with a $199 bottle of Dewar’s 1846 Signature Scotch Whiskey.

Long Road

Long Road Distillers in Grand Rapids won Double Gold and Best in Show this month at the Denver International Spirits Competition for its Aquavit, the same honors the Dewar’s scotch took home.

“From the beginning, it was our goal to make the best spirits in the world right here in Grand Rapids,” said Kyle Van Strien, co-owner, Long Road Distillers. “For us to tie for Best in Show with Dewar’s . . . is unbelievable.

“We are happy to see so much growth so quickly and are proud to let the quality of our products speak for themselves through these awards.”

The city’s first distillery also won a silver medal in wheat vodka category, a bronze in the flavored/infused vodka category for its Wendy Peppercorn and a bronze in the dry gin category.

In the wheat vodka category, no gold medals were awarded.

“We have always put an emphasis on doing things the right way,” said Jon O’Connor, co-owner, Long Road Distillers. “We have a ‘no-shortcuts’ policy. . . . Earning these awards makes that commitment to quality worthwhile.”

The spirits were judged on a 100-point scale by 20 judges.

There were 200 applicants in the competition.

Other brands in the competition included Bacardi, Johnnie Walker and Jim Beam.


Holland’s Coppercraft Distillery won a bronze medal at the competition in the straight gin category and a silver in the white rum category.

Coppercraft’s Straight Bourbon and Cask Strength Bourbon both won bronze in the small batch bourbon, 10 years or younger category.


Full story here.

Long Road Distillers

There’s a lot more to Long Road Distillers than just being Grand Rapids’ first distillery.

Kyle Van Strien and Jon O’Connor took an old grocery store on the west side and turned it into a state-of-the-art distillery that, within the first year of operation, is already one of the state’s largest.

As long-term proponents of the city’s west side, Van Strien and O’Connor are expanding on the organic neighborhood revitalization occurring on the corner of Leonard Street and Quarry Avenue with The Mitten Brewing Co. and Two Scotts BBQ.

It helps that the two owners are involved in the community, with Van Strien on the Grand Rapids Planning Commission and O’Connor a newly elected city commissioner – and a Business Journal 40 Under Forty honoree.

The pair are fond of telling their story, highlighting the process of going grain-to-glass with their product, with ingredients sourced from within 30 miles of their Grand Rapids tasting room.

The products are better for it, too. Long Road has already been named Michigan Vodka Distiller of the year, and is helping define what cocktails can be in the Mid-west.

And they know they’re doing in right.

“I’ve tasted it. We know good spirits when we taste them,” Van Strien said. “We went out to find the right equipment you need to make it; we found the guys capable of making it; we’ve put the pieces together to be able to make the best liquid.”

See the full publication for GRBJ’s Newsmakers of the Year here.


Long Road Distillers

With craft distilling on the rise, some are cashing in without even making their own product.

By Pat Evans and Jesse O’Brien for the Grand Rapids Business Journal

The story behind a bottle of spirits sitting on the shelf might be murkier than its contents.

Look closely at that bottle and the label can be confusing — and misleading.

There are a variety of descriptions that can be slapped on a label, including, “Distilled in,” “Bottled In,” “Manufactured In,” “Produced In,” “Aged In” and any combination of those.

Just because a label reads “Bottled in Michigan” does not mean the spirits were made in Michigan, said Kent Rabish, owner of Grand Traverse Distillery in Traverse City. If it reads anything other than “distilled,” at least in whiskey, it wasn’t made by the company.

Rabish said the distilling industry is mostly split in two camps, with producers and merchant producers.

Producers, like Grand Traverse Distillery and Long Road Distillers, are involved with nearly the entire process of distilling, from grain to bottle. Merchant producers purchase their spirits from a larger distillery, often in bulk quantities and sell it under their own label.

This shouldn’t be a problem, Rabish said, unless the “craft” distiller is intentionally deceiving the consumer. In some cases, he said, distillers are buying their spirits from industrial factories that churn out whiskey, and then sell it under a “craft” label.

“I think that’s kind of the tragedy of non-distillers,” Rabish said. “They’re clogging the shelves. It looks like craft, like they bring raw grain in, like they have product they’re making. (Craft) costs more, but it’s a better product.

“I try to point out to people, why do most vodkas taste alike? Because most are made by the same handful of companies.”

Rabish anticipates that soon enough, consumers will begin to notice the difference in taste, and the divide between distillers and merchant producers will become clearer.

“It’s getting out there and I do think the customers of craft spirits will start hearing rumblings and start hearing more and more about who’s making it and who are the merchant distillers,” Rabish said. “There’s no reason you can’t set up a company and be a merchant distiller, you’ve just got to be straightforward with what you’re doing.

“And I think over time it’s going to pan out. I think long term, the ones who are going to succeed in this industry are the ones who are honest about their product.”

There is some gray area as producers are often limited by the type of still they have and might only be able to produce a whiskey or vodka or gin, and would like to package and sell the others, said Jon O’Connor, co-owner of Long Road.

“There are layers. There are legit distillers making all their own whiskies but they buy vodka,” O’Connor said. “At least they’re trying to make some stuff — that’s good.”

Still, many distilleries opening up across the country perform zero distillations because the rebranding of already distilled spirits makes financial sense as starting a distillery is a capital-intensive business.

A distiller hoping to enter the market and create an authentic product with an authentic brand would first need to spend approximately $1 million on necessary equipment, thousands of pounds of grain, labor and utility costs to run a still three times, mash for eight hours and hand bottle and label the finished product. Distillers hoping to sell authentic aged whiskey must sit on inventory for years before it’s ready to sell.

“We’re not playing the short game; it’s capital intensive,” O’Connor said. “That’s why people take the short cut. To get whiskey takes a while. To make vodka is not cheap.”

Rabish said some new distillers might choose to buy their whiskey from an industrial manufacturer, with the intention of selling their own whiskey after it’s been aged. In theory, a distiller could build its brand this way, selling bottled whiskey until it is ready to bring its own aged whiskey to the market. However, that’s not always the case.

“There’s a number of brands out there that have been on the market for four or five years and still not selling their own whiskey,” Rabish said. “They’re selling product, they’re making a profit, but I think five years from now, customers will figure it out and it’ll catch up to them.”

That’s where “clogging the shelves” comes into play. Nondistillers are selling bulk-produced spirits under the guise of being handcrafted at a significant advantage, due to the large disparity in manufacturing costs.

A $14 bottle of “craft” vodka on a liquor store shelf is relatively impossible, O’Connor said.

“You can’t do it without buying vodka for $1.50 a gallon,” he said.

Antiquated state liquor laws have a big effect on the end shelf price, said Kyle Van Strien, O’Connor’s partner at Long Road.

At the federal level, producers are taxed by gallons produced. So small distilleries like Long Road and larger ones such as Smirnoff are taxed at the same rate based on how much they produce. Michigan, however, taxes based on how much a distiller can sell its product to the state, creating a huge disadvantage for smaller producers.

“For us, a bottle of vodka, maybe we’re paying more than $8 in state taxes,” Van Strien said. “Popov pays about $2.50 for the same quantity of vodka because it’s cheap and they produce on such a (large) scale that they can.”

The mass-produced quantity is where it becomes an issue as some “craft” distillers can buy from those massive producers and bottle it and label it as their own and sell it for a “craft” markup of $30 or more a bottle.

“It costs eight to 10 times more to start with grain,” O’Connor said. “You can buy a gallon of high proof vodka for two bucks a gallon, and the margins are exceptional if you can throw a craft brand on it and sell it for $30 bucks.”

Several major brands have been caught in the transparency issue, including Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Templeton Rye Whiskey.

In 2014, following an article in Forbes magazine detailing the process of Tito’s handmade process, several lawyers sued Tito’s over that key word in the name: “handmade.” While Tito’s has an elaborate story, the reality is the vodka starts as a neutral grain spirit shipped from a factory in Iowa and redistilled as Tito’s vodka.

Judges in various courts have been torn in the decision on Tito’s, including in New York and California where judges ruled consumers can be confused by the term, while in Florida the judge dismissed five of six charges.

Templeton settled three class action lawsuits last year in cases questioning the whiskey’s “Made in Iowa” claim, as the whiskey is really made by a company in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Templeton also had produced a branding story suggesting it was using a pre-Prohibition recipe for “small batch rye whiskey.”

Both Tito’s and Templeton have turned into national brands, with similar stories happening at a more local level, and it doesn’t help the distillers trying to build an authentic brand from scratch, Van Strien said.

“It’s not bad whiskey or vodka,” O’Connor added. “Everyone picks the way they do business. For us, the authenticity thing has been so paramount to what we want to do. Do you want to lie to people to make a fast buck? (If) that’s your business model, go ahead.

“But I don’t want to be compared to someone else because I’ve chosen to do something in an authentic manner.”

Full story available here.

Long Road Distillers

The West Leonard beverage scene is growing bigger.

Hard cider maker People’s Cider Co. is planning to open a tasting room in Grand Rapids, at 539 Leonard St. NW, next door to craft spirits maker Long Road Distillers, at 537 Leonard St. NW, and at the same corner as Mitten Brewing Co., at 527 Leonard St. NW, and Two Scotts BBQ.

The plans still need go to the Grand Rapids Planning Commission on Feb. 11, as well as the city commission and liquor control commission.

“There is no other place, that we know of, that these places exist with a consecutive address,” People’s Cider owner Jason Lummen said of having a brewery, distillery and cidery all in a row. “It’s not one large project. It’s three separate businesses all collaborating with each other.

“We’re all creating things that are enhancing the neighborhood, continuing to make it a great place to live and a great place to work.”

Lummen hopes the space will be completed and open by May 1, the fourth anniversary of the company.

The space

The opportunity came when the same company that owns the Long Road Distillers building, which owns the site next door, separated the Chicago Style Gyro shop, which will remain open.

“What we’re effectively doing is utilizing the urban street wall,” Lummen said.

The owner of the buildings didn’t want to lose the gyro shop, however.

“They’re a great asset to the neighborhood and add a diversity of food we don’t have in many places in this city, let alone this neighborhood,” Long Road Distillers co-owner Kyle Van Strien said.

People’s Cider

People’s Cider is currently operating a tasting room out of its 1,000-square-foot production facility in Grand Rapids, at 600 Maryland Ave. NE.

The new tasting room will open up about 400 square feet of space that People’s Cider can use for expanded production. Last year, People’s produced about 5,000 gallons of cider, and Lummen expects this move to double the number.

“Right now, I’m limited by how much finished product I can put out in a week, and this will drastically increase production capabilities,” Lummen said. “I want to be good to the existing wholesale we have now and use the space to grow the brand.”

The new tasting room will also be the first time Lummen has needed employees.

“It’s still pretty small, but it’s big for us,” Lummen said. “It’s more than I can handle. But I’m happy to be able to provide income for more people and families.”

Former plan

In 2013, Lummen had plans to open a tasting room on Jefferson Avenue. The plan, however, fell a part when a new owner purchased the building.

Lummen said that was a blessing in disguise.

“I wish it could have worked out, but it’s funny how things always work out,” Lummen said. “That one was a little bit early, but this one I’m ready for. I was extended a little bit further than I should have then, but it didn’t sink the project.”

This opportunity comes at a time when he feels it’s better for the company and as production needs to be increased.

It’s also in a neighborhood he would pick over any other in the city, despite being a lifelong Eastown devotee.

“If I sit down and think about where I want to be, this is where it’d be,” Lummen said. “This is a premier neighborhood of Grand Rapids and is extremely proud and vibrant.

“It’s a great place to live, great place to work, and I hope to add to the diversity.”

Full Story Here.

Long Road Distillers

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM) — This week on the Beer Beat, we’re learning about hard alcohol at Long Road Distillery.

In the video above, Pat Evans of the Grand Rapids Business Journal and Grand Rapids Magazine takes us to the distillery to explain why that sector is becoming more popular.

Check out Pat’s writing in the Grand Rapids Business Journal and Grand Rapids Magazine.

Long Road Distillers

A local distillery has launched its Michigan distribution.

Long Road Distillers in Grand Rapids launched two of its spirits into statewide distribution this month.

The distillery’s gin and vodka are now available to all restaurants, bars and retailers in Michigan.

The distillery opened in May, and distribution is coming right about when co-owners Kyle Van Strien and Jon O’Connor expected in their timeline.

“We wanted to make sure we could meet demand here and work out our kinks,” O’Connor said. “A lot of times, distillers go into distribution and can’t satisfy demand. They get an initial launch and can’t provide more.”

Van Strien said one of the most common questions from a restaurant group is, “If we run a featured cocktail at our three locations, will we run out?”

Now, Van Strien said that assurance is possible and within the first week, The Winchester in Grand Rapids had a cocktail menu featuring spirits by Long Road Distillers.

Van Strien added that several other local businesses will carry its products: Donkey; Siciliano’s Market; Rishi’s International Beverage; and Essence Restaurant Group.

“To see some of the places we respect so much have our products . . . it’s a lot of fun,” Van Strien said.

O’Connor said they welcome restaurant and bars to bring in owners, managers and staff to show them the manufacturing process.

“We encourage other folks to reach out,” O’Connor said. “We love to host potential partners. We want to educate people on what makes our products different and what’s unique about it. The more people we talk through the process, the better.”

Long Road Distillers

A local distillery has opened up an addition.

Long Road Distillers just opened its upstairs, The Rickhouse at Long Road, at 537 Leonard St. NW.

Event space

The space holds 160 people and is available for special events and general overflow on the weekends.

The space rents for $100 an hour for a three-hour minimum and a $500 food-and-drink minimum on weekends. The weekday rate is considerably cheaper, said Kyle Van Strien, co-founder, Long Road Distillers.

“We want people to use it, but we do anticipate to raise it as we see demand,” Van Strien said.

Cocktail classes

Long Road Distillers will use the space to host its first cocktail class next Tuesday.

The class is the first of many events Long Road expects to host in the space.

Cocktail classes will be an ongoing series for the distillery, said Jon O’Connor, co-founder, Long Road Distillers.

“There’s a heightened awareness in the country about cocktails, and it’s just starting to make its way to Grand Rapids,” O’Connor said. “We’re hoping to be a part of that transformation.”

While the first class will be a general overview of the history of distillation and cocktails, future classes will have a specific focus on different cocktails.

The class on Tuesday will be hands-on, as students will taste every aspect of the cocktails, from simple syrup and sugar to bitters and the spirits.

“This class will be history and structure, techniques,” Van Strien said. “We use many methods to craft cocktails and how to make better drinks at home. It will also require lots of tasting.”

Grand Rapids Business Journal, Pat Evans

Full Article

Long Road Distillers

When Mitten Brewing Co. was getting started in 2011, owners Chris Andrus and Max Trierweiler were a bit apprehensive as they attended the West Grand Neighborhood Organization Christmas Party.

They meekly told then-executive director Nola Steketee they were the guys opening the brewery on Leonard Street.

“She gave us a big hug and cried about how happy she was,” Andrus said. “Ever since then, we felt like we belonged and we haven’t forgotten.”

Steketee stepped down earlier this year, and the city’s second largest neighborhood organization is trying to regain its footing under interim executive director Robert Tolbert. So this weekend, several Leonard Street businesses are coming together to throw the inaugural WGNO Block Party, led by the Mitten. All profits will head to WGNO.

There is a suggested donation of $5 for admission.

“The organization needs the help financially,” Andrus said. “This helps give them a fresh start and some operating funds so they can continue the programs they’ve provided the neighborhood.”

The block party will be held noon-8 p.m., Saturday, in the parking lots of the Mitten and Long Road Distillers, along with a portion of Quarry Street north of Leonard, between the two businesses.

Both the distillery and brewery will be open, while Two Scotts Barbecue— from across Leonard Street — will be closed and only serving at the block party.

Andrus said WGNO has supported the brewery countless times, so it’s time to repay that generosity.

“We couldn’t have done it without their support,” he said. “They came to planning meetings on our behalf and spoke up for us; they gave us assistance with the city when we needed it.”

Mercantile Bank, with its headquarters on Leonard Street, is the presenting sponsor, with several other businesses with a west side presence supporting, including 616 Development, Open Systems Technologies, Westside Garage, Ferris Coffee and Nut, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and Rockford Construction.

Music will be performed from 2-8 p.m., by bands such as JOE, AOK, The Legal Immigrants, Shane Tripp, Boot Strap Boys and DJ Vinyl Fetish.

“This is great timing for this party,” Andrus said. “We’ve got three businesses rolling and it’s a great excuse to get together on something, close down the street and have a party that will showcase the hot corner we have going on here.”

– Pat Evans, Grand Rapids Business Journal, August 27, 2015

Read Full Article Here.

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