Long Road Distillers

As we welcome the new year, Grand Rapids is perfectly positioned to embrace what’s on our plates and in our glasses.

Michigan is an agriculturally rich, vibrant state that offers produce and proteins in tune with the seasons. This year, we are ready to take hold of that, expand upon it and West Michiganders are prepared to embark upon an adventurous year of meals that celebrate everything from local farms to authentic Vietnamese, Dim Sum and Mexican dishes —and a whole lot more.

It’s 2016, and we need to make it the year we respect our palates. Our local restaurants are increasingly considering the passionate, and, yes, emotional response food can elicit from patrons of their establishments, and we, as consumers, need to embrace that. Here’s what’s happening, Grand Rapids, in your local food scene.

Where We Will Eat

There are exciting secret (and not so secret) projects in the works all over our town. The West Side is blooming, with new spots like Long Road Distillers already developing a strong fan base with their quality cocktails and simple, approachable small plates. Harmony Hall recently opened in the old Rauser Quality Sausage Factory building a spacious, atmospheric and warm two-story place that embraced the history and roots of the West Side, offering craft sausage along with their beer. The West Side neighborhood will also be home to The Søvengård, a biergarten and kitchen that plans on not only being a part of the area’s growth, but the Midwestern food revitalization as well.

Rick Muschiana, The Søvengård’s owner who also happens to call the West Side home, explains that, “we really wanted to embrace the sort of new food revolution that is happening — with local sourcing and local producers, and sort of put that in the blender with a very Michigan culinary standpoint. Many people look at that and say, ‘Well, what is that? There’s no such thing as Michigan cooking.’ It’s really about defining what Midwest regional cooking is, and what it could be. There is a shift happening with food, whether people realize it or not.”

Chris Perkey, the owner and chef of Osteria Rossa and the new eatery, Iron, recognizes this shift as well. Calling 25 Ottawa Ave. SW home in downtown Grand Rapids, Iron will offer atmosphere, food and drink that is “simple, real and honest” — and all about the Midwest. Regional farmers, businesses and brewers will all be a part of their menu. 25 Ottawa will shift dramatically, become more intimate and familiar, the trappings of the former failed restaurants in that space falling away with the plaster dust and ceiling tiles during reconstruction.

“Iron brings you back to the roots of what you grew up eating,” Perkey says. “It’s embracing that Midwestern food culture. [Midwestern food] gets a bad rap in a lot of ways, everyone thinks of heavy, meat and potatoes type food. It is, to an extent, but people forget that Michigan has the second largest agricultural diversity in the United States and it really opens up a lot of what we are able to grow. I don’t only want to embrace Midwestern food from a culinary standpoint, but also the mentality of the Midwest. Iron is as much about the conversation and the service as it is about the food. It goes back to that real, down home comfortable feeling, the old school supper club feel of a restaurant.”

What We Will Be Eating

This is the year for simplicity and experimentation. This year, seek out the authentic, and rediscover the flavors in our backyard.

Craft Cocktails

If you’re going to pay for a cocktail, pay for a cocktail that takes itself seriously. Discover Sidebar, tucked away in 80 Ottawa NW — a tiny, dark and delicious spot that serves up handcrafted cocktails that have quality ingredients, are made with pride and care, and are worthy of your money and time. If you are one of the lucky ones who can manage to snag a seat, try a Moscow Mule — a classic cocktail at its finest here.

Bar Divani, a longtime resident on the Ionia strip, has a new bar manager/head bartender who can make you a helluva cocktail. I enjoy the Whiskey Ward Ambassador, as I have an overly fond attachment for the alcoholic beverage. If you end up going there and aren’t quite sure what you should get, ask Chris. He’ll mix something perfect for your taste buds and your mood.

You’ll also notice that your accoutrements, syrups and mixers are leaning heavily on Michigan-sourced produce and made-in-Michigan options. For example, take Brix Soda Co, a pure cane sugar soda from right here in Grand Rapids that is used in many local restaurants.

Beer and More Beer

Beer City USA won’t be a title leaving Grand Rapids anytime soon, and we’ll continue to see growth throughout West Michigan in this industry. Lucky us, the beer will just keep getting better as the public becomes more educated and willing to step outside of the Bud Light box.

Just on the cusp of celebrating its fifth anniversary, East Hills favorite Brewery Vivant has a rotating tap list of seasonal appropriateness, all with a Belgian twist. Go in and try whatever is in the Firkin or the Wood-Aged beer that’s on tap, and please don’t hesitate to ask your server or bartender any questions you have about the beer. They know their stuff.

Be on the lookout for Creston Brewery, partly owned by members of the local band Vox Vidorra, which will be heavy on the creativity, community and accessible new experiences (for your ears and your mouth).

Speciation Artisan Ales will bring Grand Rapids experimental, spontaneous and sour beers that range from funk to tropical on your palate. Speciation is owned by the husband and wife team of Mitch and Whitney Ermatinger, Grand Rapidians at heart who came back to us from Denver, where Mitch worked at Former Future Brewing Company and helped work on an award-winning wild beer with them.

Michigan Bounty

Locally sourced Michigan proteins, vegetables, simply presented, lovingly prepared. This is what we’ll eat.

The Søvengård crew brought us beautiful examples of how these things can come together.

A root salad, featuring both raw and pickled — carrots, beets and radishes, was dressed simply with a housemade carrot mayo and beet vinaigrette and topped  off with crispy kale and the surprise of candied kumquat, adding that little bit of sweetness to the earthy taste of winter produce.

A pork chop, perfectly cooked, served with charred carrots, kabocha squash and cipollini onion, the tartness of pickled cherries and the fragrant, evolving taste of oolong tea bean puree, served with the cherrjus pan sauce is big, bold, and filling.

Meat pies and traditional Danish open-faced sandwiches called Smørrebrød rounded out the taste test. The pictures speak for themselves.

Michigan Diversity

Step away from anything fusion and embrace the authentic.

Chuancai Fang on 28th Street offers real Sichuan Chinese cuisine alongside the more Americanized offerings. Try the number F05: a fish dish made with pickled chili and tofu, spicy but perfectly so. For an appetizer, order the Sichuan cold noodle salad, a simple, yet interestingly complex noodle dish that you’ll want more of.

The Kim Nhung Store complex at 4242 Division Ave S is a gem of a shopping center, housing not only an amazing Asian supermarket full of fresh fruits, vegetables, and must-haves for Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, but some delicious little restaurants as well.  Go to Wei-Wei Palace for Dim Sum, Pho Soc Trang for Vietnamese style soup, and Ly’s Sandwiches for Banh Mi — a French inspired Vietnamese sandwich on a baguette with a variety of filling options.

Taqueria San Jose on Division Ave is just one of the few places in our city that offers affordable, fresh and authentic Mexican food. Order and eat your tacos the way they should come — skip the ‘supreme’ topping options like lettuce and tomatoes and go with the onions and cilantro instead. Order the taco lengua (tongue) and nibble the roasted jalapeno that comes with your meal. Be brave and eat well.

How We Should Be Eating It

Grand Rapids restaurateurs are practically shoving goodness down our throats. They recognize the shift happening nationwide, and the growth in our city. We, as consumers and diners, need to see it too and be receptive to the change. We might be surprised at how much we like it.

There will be a greater push towards education of the consumer with food, beer and spirits. What does medium rare really mean? How did that pig make it from the farm to the restaurant kitchen and become that sausage on your plate? Your server could very well be a Certified Beer Server, tested and trained to understand what your best beer options are for your meal.

Resolving that cognitive dissonance between the brain and the gut requires us to listen, observe and appreciate what it really takes to make your meals. And our area restaurants are trying to make it right.

Chris Freeman, operator of the 16,000+ strong Facebook group EatGR, offers some wide-ranging perspective: “What I see locally is restaurateurs who are interested in taking a chance on something a little more challenging or different in the way of cuisine…things that are available in bigger cities. But I don’t feel that the public is necessarily ready to follow.”

“For example, people kept crying for authentic Ramen noodles,” Freeman continues. “Noodle Monkey switched from Thai food to authentic Japanese Ramen, but the public that said they would be there to support them has been slow in responding. I do see newer places like The Old Goat doing well by tapping into what is already familiar to people here. They take a dish that people are comfortable with but put a fun an interesting twist on it. That is appealing to the population in West Michigan.”

(Sidenote: Go to The Old Goat for brunch, and get ‘The Board of Education.’ Housemade and Michigan-centric, with enough uniqueness to satisfy the staunchest food critic.)

Patrick Conrade, executive chef at the soon-to-open Søvengård, has cooked in our town for the last 24 years and knows a thing or two about where we are, or should, be going with food trends in this city.

“The direction I’m hoping for is smart farming and sustainable crops,” he says. “Working with what we have, not trying to push it beyond just because you can. I look at cooking very simply. That’s the direction that’s happening nationally. That’s the direction I hope Grand Rapids chooses to go.”

This is fundamentally the concept of “The Third Plate” — beyond just farm-to-table. Dan Barber, author and chef, coined this term, noticing that what should be sustainable wasn’t all that friendly. It involves rotation of crops, creating a way of growing and eating that supports the ecology and scope of place.

Chefs, like Conrade, are at a unique point in our community right now that can allow them to cultivate what West Michigan dining is, and redefine what American food means.

So, cheers, Grand Rapids — let’s get out there, raise our glass and eat!

Tiffany Ewigleben is a mother, craft brew aficionado, freelance writer, wife of a chef, and a true Michigander in her heart, despite being from Washington D.C. She hopes you won’t hold that against her.

Long Road Distillers

While Grand Rapids, aka “Beer City, USA,” is the so-called epicenter of the nationwide craft brewery boom, West Michigan has quietly played host to a related trend in artisanal spirits. Independent distilleries have been popping up across The Mitten, spearheaded by folks with a passion for finely wrought booze featuring locally sourced ingredients and other notable elements. These days, Michigan is home to over 40 distilleries and that number is growing.

“I think if we look at places like Washington State and Colorado, you see craft distilling trailing brewing by about 15 years. [Michigan is] in a similar trajectory,” says Kyle Van Strien, co-owner of Long Road Distillers, which opened this spring on the Westside of Grand Rapids. “In West Michigan we have this desire to eat local food and drink local drinks. The craft beer movement is strong and we feel [independent distilleries are] the next step in the movement.”

Van Strien believes that before the craft beer craze, many consumers felt that specialty brews were too flavorful. But “they’ve learned to love it,” he says, citing evolving tastes and a new desire to seek out diverse taste experiences “I think we will see the same [evolution] with craft spirits. I think that…people don’t really know what it is they are drinking. They assume vodka has to burn your throat, that it is odorless and tasteless, while it’s a much more beautiful spirit, depending on what you are using to make that spirit.” Crafted with grain sourced from local farms, Van Strien describes Long Road’s vodka as “soft and sweet with a little bit of a vanilla flavor to it.”

With Long Road Distillery located in the heart of a working class region, many patrons come in for a drink not because they are necessarily connoisseurs of the many nuances of different spirits, but because “they are coming in for the great cocktails,” he says.

One of the early players on the craft distillery scene was Grand Traverse Distillery, based in Traverse City and in operation since 2007. In December 2014, the company opened a tasting room at Grand Rapids Downtown Market, which has enabled them to reach a wider market. According to Van Strien, state law allows for multiple tasting rooms. Some distilleries take advantage of that capability in lieu of, or prior to, full distribution. “Grand Traverse Distillery is one of the distilleries we respect the most,” says Van Strien, because they create all their products in house.

Some distilleries are not capable of producing a full range of liquor on site and circumvent the process through a variety of tactics, which is a topic that has been covered by a number of notable publications, like The Atlantic. “We wanted our equipment on display,” says Van Strien. “If you don’t see that at a place, you want to ask where [the product] is coming from.” According to him, Long Road Distillers is operating the first legal alcohol still in Grand Rapids.

Near the lakeshore, Holland is host to two distinct distilleries. Coppercraft Distillery, launched in 2012, prides itself on a “grain to glass experience.” They feature locally grown herbs and fresh-pressed juices in their “classically inspired cocktails.” Patrons can also enjoy weekly tours of the stills.

New Holland Artisan Spirits hit the taproom in 2008 as an extension of the popular New Holland Brewing company. “Distilling is a continuation of fermentation,” says Fred Bueltmann, vice president and author of the book The Beervangelist’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Philosophy of Food and Drink. “We get to see the fruits of beer making into malt whiskey and other spirits.” Some of their well-known products include Knickerbocker Gin and Clockwork Orange liqueur.

Bier Distillery is another example of brewery-born spirits. Operating out of Cellar Brewing Co. in Sparta since 2013, the micro-distillery recently gained approval to distribute beyond the brewery. Product features include their signature moonshine called JUSTtheSHINE, which is created in a “traditional backwoods style.” Notably, Bier Distillery’s website features detailed information about each spirit, including cheeky historic facts, the distillation process, flavor profiles and even a handful of recipes and food pairings.

Later this year Grand Rapids is set to gain Gray Skies Distillery, aptly named for a Michigan-based company, which specializes in small batch spirits. Located in the former Rapids Spring & Stamping warehouse just outside of downtown, the new distillery is nestled along the small industrial stretch that is also home to several bars. According to their mission statement, “Grand Rapids North Monroe industrial district is a place where things get made. Unfortunately in many of the district’s structures that just isn’t true anymore. Entire stretches of buildings have fallen into disrepair. For at least one location Gray Skies Distillery is changing that.”

True to the passions of any artisanal craftsperson, many new and established distillers across the state cite the desire to create a fine product with superior and local ingredients in mind as a driving force behind their operations. “In the brewery culture and distilling, it’s just people that decided do it, and we’re back to this culture of making things,” says Van Strien of Long Road Distillers. “We are proud to be makers in Michigan where we’ve made cars and furniture for years and years. Now we are back to a maker’s culture.”

By Audria Larsen, June 25, 2015 in Rapid Growth Media

Photo Credit: Adam Bird Photography

Full Article Here

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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