With a mission to “end dependence on foreign alcohol,” Kent Rabish opened the Grand Traverse Distillery in Traverse City in June 2007. Rabish was hooked after a trip to a local distillery in Bend, Oregon in 2001. “I had never had American made liquor before,” he states, “I was so impressed with their use of local agriculture.” With a lot of research and a little time spent convincing his wife, Rabish set to work to create Michigan’s first distillery upon return from that trip.
Currently, Grand Traverse Distillery offers four different kinds of vodka and six whiskeys. Rabish puts his biology and chemistry degrees to use while formulating different recipes for his alcohol. There is a long procedure for creating the perfect liquor and Rabish carefully chooses how he wants to go about his distilling process. Although he is only able to produce 4.5 barrels of whiskey each week, he and consumers alike can be assured that each batch is monitored and tweaked to perfection. Rabish also relayed some very exciting news during my visit; coming in the fall of 2012, the Grand Traverse Distillery will be releasing gin. I had the pleasure of sampling the different gins that Rabish is currently perfecting. Let your anticipation rise, because it is amazing. Gin lovers rejoice!
Rabish is determined to stay 100% local with his ingredients. The cherries in the cherry whiskey come from a plant in Buckley and all the grains are locally grown. “Our wheat and rye are grown 8 miles from here,” Rabish mentions with excitement. “It’s just great to be able to utilize all that northern Michigan has to offer.”
In 2009, the Grand Traverse Distillery was rated among the “Top 50 Spirits” in world by Wine Enthusiast Magazine in 2009. The Distillery’s True North Vodka was one of only six vodkas included in the list. Rabish, of course, was thrilled, “I was happy to hear that it was good,” he beams. “I thought it was good, but I wanted to know where I ranked amongst others.”
The secret to Rabish’s success is his passion. Rabish and his employees strive to make sure every batch is perfect. They want their customers to be able taste a distinct difference between the rye liquors and the wheat liquors. When I asked Rabish about his favorite product, he smiled and stated, “Well it changes depending on the day, but I love the True North Rye Vodka.”
Not only can the Grand Traverse Distillery’s products be purchased at the actual distillery itself, but also at an abundance of other locations. Just enter your zip code using their handy locater tool on the website to find a location closest to you. The tasting room is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. and tours are available Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tours are available the rest of the week as well, but hours may vary. Their Facebook page is a great place to share recipes and keep up with what’s coming next, but most importantly, stop in! The staff is extremely friendly and there is an abundance of spirits to be sampled.
~Jennifer Hamilton, feature writer