Gray Skies Distillery, located in the Belknap Lookout neighborhood of Grand Rapids, is a grain to glass fully operational distillery; quenching locals’ thirst for natural and locally made spirits and craft cocktails. I recently attended a tour of GSD’s facility and tasting room led by co-owner Brandon Voorhees and let me tell you – I had an absolutely amazing experience!
GSD was nationally recognized as the 2016 Michigan Distillery of the Year by the New York International Spirits Competition and I tasted just how deserving this award is on my visit.
GSD started as an idea between two friends wanting to provide a business to customers around products they loved. Not only was the experience informative and interesting on so many levels, one of my closest friends joined me for the experience. I feel that’s the best way to enjoy such thoughtfully crafted spirits (and time) – with a cherished friend over great conversation. We started out with the tour of the facility – located at 700 Ottawa Ave NW – and learned about the multi-process steps it takes to make a distilled spirit from start to finish.
Highlights from the tour of the facility include:
- All of the malts used in the first step of the spirit making process come from Pilot Malt House.
- The machine called the Hopper turns the grain into a consistency like bakers flour (before the product even becomes liquid).
- The fermenter is where the yeast is added and the yeast eats the sugars in the distilled mixture of sprouted grain and water, kicking off ethanol (the alcohol) as a bi-product. Side note – when Brandon was explaining this, I definitely envisioned a PAC-MAN like scenario happening inside the fermenter tank. 😉
- The 500 gallon copper brew tank has a spirit in production every single day.
- All of the mixes, bitters and cocktail mixers are made in house (yes, everything).
Next, we visited the tasting room and cocktail bar – the seating has been designed to make the most out of the open concept space.
Here is where we talked about the trends of the craft spirit industry, the award winning spirits at GSD (and tasted), how the company came to fruition and why Grand Rapids was chosen as the mainstay for the distillery.
Highlights from our conversation and tasting experience include:
- GSD’s location in Grand Rapids (and West Michigan as a whole) was decided upon because of the rich, agricultural history in the area.
- The tasting room transformed into a combination of a tasting room with a cocktail bar because of public demand (tip: on Friday nights, the Patty Matters food truck appears at GSD for patrons).
- GSD uses traditional methods for production and plans on continuing this along with producing spirits that are locally purveyed as much as possible.
- The award winning, Barrel Finished Hop Gin is a delicious, herbaceous and balanced spirit with a (naming) nod to the local beer scene. (This is a seriously impressive spirit – try it on draft in a Gin and Tonic or in the Gin Old Fashion.)
- GSD has some serious aging going on in the barrel for the single malt whiskey (expect early 2018 to have some killer releases).
It seems to be a consensus at GSD that an amazing product needs to be readily available; with as much thought given as to where every component of the finished product comes from as to how well the finished product actually tastes. The craft spirit scene in Grand Rapids is definitely rising in popularity and we have more than enough room for some spirit diversity in our beer city. Small batch is where it’s at!
The tasting room is open to the public on Tuesdays – Thursdays from 4pm-11pm and Friday – Saturday from 4pm-1am. This would be a perfect date-night option, guys night/girls night or really any-night-they’re-open excursion. You can stay up to date with all of the happenings at GSD through their Facebook page and find more information on their website. You can buy GSD’s spirits at these locations; including Martha’s Vineyard in Midtown.
Special thank you to Gray Skies and Brandon for having me out for the tour, tasting and taking me to distilling school! I can’t wait to enjoy my next spirit or cocktail at GSD and I hope you find yourself there soon too.
As always, thanks for reading and supporting local!