Grand Traverse Distillery Tour

Grand Traverse Distillery, located in Traverse City, Michigan, is a grain-to-glass distillery that prides itself on using locally sourced ingredients and crafting high-quality spirits. Founded in 2007 by Kent Rabish, the distillery began as a one-man operation but has grown into a successful business with a team of employees. Visitors can take a tour of the distillery to learn about their processes and enjoy a tasting of their various spirits. Learn more about them in our Grand Traverse Distillery Tour Review!
Grand Traverse Distillery
781 Industrial Circle, Suite 5
Traverse City, MI 49686
Tour / Review
Visit Date: August 2021 (Update June 2024)

Please enjoy our Grand Traverse Distillery Tour Review

The Distillery

Grand Traverse Distillery is located in a small industrial park in Traverse City, MI a few miles from downtown. Their footprint occupies two buildings, and is fairly utilitarian. There is also a small gift shop and tasting bar on site.  Tours of the distillery are offered daily except Sunday and reservations are available online. Tasting rooms are also located in downtown Traverse City and 3 other locations throughout northern and central Michigan.

We Began At The Tasting Bar

Our visit started in the gift shop at the tasting bar, which is always a great place to begin. There was quite the selection of spirits to sample, so I thought it best to just jump right in. I began with a few bourbons and ryes and after several tastes, we met our tour guide. It was our lucky day because he was none other than the founder and owner, Kent Rabish. Kent previously had had a long successful career in the pharmaceutical industry, but in 2005 he decided to change course and open Grand Traverse Distillery. Production began in 2007 with their True North Rye Vodka, their first product to be released. They also laid down several barrels of bourbon and rye. This early start made Grand Traverse the first craft distillery in Northern Michigan, and amongst the older craft distilleries in the U.S.

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A One Man Operation

Grand Traverse began as a one man operation. Kent not only handled all duties himself at the distillery, he continued to work his full time pharmaceutical job. After 6 months of double duty he realized this was not sustainable. Relief came when his neighbor joined him in the distillery. Kent eventually retired from the pharmaceutical industry making the distillery his full time passion. Today, he has stepped back a bit further. His son, Landis, had taken the reins as master distiller, but sadly, he passed away in 2023, and the Head Distiller is currently Chris. At the time of our visit in 2021, there was a team of 4 people to manage the production process. In total, the company then had 45 employees, with the vast majority working in the various retail locations.

Frootbat - Making hard to find liquor easy to buy

A Grain To Glass Distillery

Once inside the distillery we began learning more about their process. Grand Traverse is a true grain to glass distillery. From the very beginning, they have always distilled their own spirits (except the cherry whiskey). Grains are locally sourced, except for the peated barley which comes from Scotland. The wheat, rye and corn come from local Send Brothers Farm, while the malted barley is from Great Lakes Malting Co. also located in Traverse City. Grains are ground on site in a small roller mill and then are transferred via an overhead pipe to the 2400 liter mashtun.

Grand Traverse uses the sweet mash process, meaning a completely new mash is made for each fermentation. This differs from the sour mash process where some of the stillage from a prior distillation is added to a batch of fresh mash prior to fermentation. Once the mash is complete, it is moved to one of the five 2400 liter fermenters. Fermentation generally last 7 days. Then the “distiller’s beer” moves on to the stills.

Frootbat - Making hard to find liquor easy to buy

The Stills

The first still Kent chose for Grand Traverse Distillery was a 1200 liter hybrid still from Arnold Holstein. It is used primarily to make clear spirits (vodka and gin) today. The second still is a 2500 liter Arnold Holstein hybrid still used primarily for whiskey and rum. It also serves as a stripping still for the clear spirits. As with most distilleries, the stillage (the spent grains after distillation) is sent to farmers and used as animal feed. What’s interesting about this particular farm is that it is the dairy farm which produces the milk used in Moomer’s ice cream, a local favorite. The spent grains are dried prior to pickup. A homemade apparatus designed just for this task sits smack dab in the middle of the distilling area.

The Warehouse

After barreling, the whiskey ages on-site in a large insulated aluminum warehouse just across the parking lot from the distillery. The warehouse is also heated as the Rabishes believe in heat fluctuating their warehouses. This certainly makes sense given how long and cold the northern Michigan winters are, but they also add some heat during summer. Gotta keep that whiskey moving in and out of the wood! Some barrels are stored in the traditional manner, on their side in ricks, but they are currently switching to palletized storage. This method has the barrels stored on pallets standing on their ends for a more efficient use of space. To provide adequate air circulation, there is a giant fan on the ceiling. When it’s time to bottle, it is all done by hand using a 6 spout bottle filler. Afterwards, labels are applied by hand as well.

Back To The Tasting Area

After our tour, we thanked Kent for his time and headed back to the tasting area to finish where we had begun. In addition to bourbon and rye, Grand Traverse also makes a cherry whiskey, rums which are distilled from molasses, as well as a variety of vodkas and gins. The list is long, so I’ll just provide the link to their spirits list.

Barrel - Grand Traverse Distillery Tour Review
A Focus On Quality

The focus at Grand Traverse Distillery is on crafting high quality products from grain to glass. Kent and company take great pride in creating each product from start to finish.  By methodically managing each step, from grain, to cook, to distillation, and of course aging, their extra effort is certainly evident in the quality of their spirits. If you find yourself up in the Traverse City area, be sure to check them out. You’ll be glad that you did!

We hope that you have enjoyed our Grand Traverse Distillery Tour Review! Next, you’ll likely want to watch our Grand Traverse Distillery Tour (Video) to see a bit more of the distillery. Also, you can read about one of their whiskeys in our Ole George Cask Strength Single Barrel Rye Review.

Original Visit Date: August 2021. Updated June 2024.

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