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.
The first still Kent chose 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.
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.
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
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!