Photo Courtesy of Long Road Distillers
Photo Courtesy of Long Road Distillers

Grand Rapids has nurtured craft beer lovers for around a decade now, calling all types of beer drinkers to appreciate the subtlety of just four ingredients. Breweries have covered the region and bolstered the tourism and restaurant industries immeasurably. Now, the spotlight turns to the next tier of craft beverage production as local businesses like Long Road Distillery come onto the scene to steal the hearts and palettes of Grand Rapid's west side.

Jon O'Connor and Kyle VanStrien decided to bring the first micro distillery to Grand Rapids to share their own love for high-quality spirits with fellow connoisseurs. Long Road is set to open this fall on the corner of Leonard and Quarry, in the heart of GR's west side.

I immediately asked about the name for their business, and was pleased with how multi-faceted the answer was. "First, Leonard St. is a very long road, running from east of town all the way to the Lakeshore on the West. It also happens to be the longest traditional business district in the City, something we're proud to highlight. Second, and more importantly, the name Long Road Distillers speaks to the way we craft our spirits - the right way, taking no shortcuts," says Van Strien. "That means we will take the time to source our ingredients locally whenever possible in order to support and highlight the rich agricultural resources of our region. It means we will mill all of our own grain, and mash, ferment and distill all of our own spirits in-house."

Photo Courtesy of Long Road Distillers
Photo Courtesy of Long Road Distillers

The building itself has had a long road to being distillation friendly. As the second floor was formerly apartments, on top of century-old tin ceilings, O'Connor and Van Strien have worked carefully to maintain the historic integrity of the building, while crafting a destination for craft beverage lovers to flock to that can showcase the craft distillation process.

Educating the consumer about the process is at the forefront of the business plan to bring this craft to Grand Rapids. While there will be small meat and cheese boards and light appetizer options for customers, the owners plan on continuing a partnership with their neighbors The Mitten Brewing Co. and Two Scott's BBQ, a new venture set to open in the newly renovated Rootbeer Stand just across Leonard St.

For the drink menu, O'Connor was already able to hint at the goodness to come. The first product will be a vodka distilled from local Red Winter wheat. Vodka is a jumping off point for their two gin varieties, a traditional Bristish style and a unique style referred to as New American. A good vodka is also an opportunity to utilize this region's impressive agricultural offerings; a blueberry vodka will be the first infusion experiment of many.

Although all of those, and an Applejack as well, will be wonderful to round out Long Road's spirits flights, O'Connor says that "Whiskey is what really got Kyle and I excited about distilling, however, to craft a whiskey of any quality takes time aging in a barrel. Our production for aged spirits will begin right away, however as Un-Aged or White Whiskey is quite delicious and growing in popularity, we will offer both an un-aged rye and un-aged corn whiskey. The rye and the corn whiskies will, after spending a couple years in barrels, be released in the future as a straight rye whiskey and a bourbon."

Photo Courtesy of Lyndsay Israel
Photo Courtesy of Lyndsay Israel

This is an exciting step for Grand Rapids and it's great to see this city take that step from brew culture to craft culture. "People in this area understand and appreciate the importance of a locally made product. We owe a lot of credit to all of the breweries who have helped create a culture of adventure in expanding the palates of consumers. People are curious about where their food and beverages are coming from, who made them, and what went into the process," says Van Strien. Like Long Road Distillers on Facebook to stay in the loop regarding their Grand Opening this fall.

For other stops that are crafting on a more macro level, make sure to visit Artesian Distillers and Flatlanders, a self-proclaimed 'barstillery,' on your spirits tour!