It was a very nice Sunday and we decided to drive out to Three Oaks Michigan, for breakfast. Any excuse to get out in the Roadster. So after an quick hour and a half ride, we stopped at a great spot we found a few years ago. Viola's breakfasts are simple hearty and very, very good. A lot of local ingredients and it shows, er, tastes like it too.
The town of Three Oaks has grown. It has begun to really make a mark for itself among the competing cities of Michigan City, New Buffalo and the casino (Four Winds). With the Acorn Theater making a splash with Chicagoans, and surrounding cities, the city is looking to accommodate people who are looking for something more.
Set up in a building that dates back into the 1880's (Featherbone factory and building) the distillery is the culmination of owner, Bill Welter's journey to bring fine whiskey to the US. It starts with a trip to Scotland where Bill found a true pairing with single malt Scotch. Welter found a friend in an Australian who was making whiskey in Tasmania (I'll pause while you get out your World Atlas). He learned at the hands of that master and settled in Three Oaks to begin his task, making fine craft whiskeys in the United States. He began with a hearty Rye (very good I may add). Since then he has expanded, but we were there for the RUM!
Katie was our guide and she related the story as I tell above. The distillery has tried to not only make top-notch craft spirits (check) it also sources as many local ingredients and components locally (check) and it has managed to keep every spirit it makes certified Organic (double check!). The Midwest Organic Services Association (MOSA) has put its certification on Journeyman's products. The care and developement of a Distiller bent on making The Best. This seems to be a story we hear at every Distillery. For them, making the rum is not just a job, or a business; it is a passion, a goal seeking journey. The name of the place kind of says it all. Journeyman.
The tour includes the history and this fascinating panoramic picture showing employees of the Featherbone Company in the early 1920's. The visitors book not only records the visitation of tourists - it has family members who have found a Great Uncle, or even a Grandfather or Great Grandfather in the photo. Journeyman is committed in preserving not only the building (which has much of its original parts visible and still n wonderful shape. The wood columns are awe-inspiring. A huge table is constructed from Floor joists that were removed for equipment installation. Everywhere the old building is visible and shines in its restoration.
The map to the right contains pins from every visitor that has come by (well not everyone as the Chicago area is so over populated - I skipped even trying to find Tinley Park).
As we entered the area where preparations are made for distillation, we saw the fermentation vats, the grain mill and all the machinery necessary. A sea of stainless steel.
This is the grain mill which allows them to mill their grain in-house preserving much of the oils and flavors of the fresh milled grains. This is lost often by off-site milling and shipping.
Their smaller still, seen here is reserved for their stronger spirits in particular their Jalapeno spirit that is purported to make a KILLER Bloody Mary.
Their larger still makes the rest of their products and had just finished a run of Whiskey before we arrived.
If you look carefully at the barrels note that the four on the floor are un-bunged and awaiting the cooper to seal them off for aging.
We explored the Distillery and learned a lot -- but the taste table lay ahead. In its current set-up tastes of all the spirit products except Road's End Rum are sampled. Tiffany (Manager) made sure I got a sample of that as well. In keeping with sourcing local, I asked if the molasses was local, alas, no -- but their Black Strap Molasses is imported from Mexico an has been certified Organic by MOSA as well. Sugar cane, while available in the US, is a tough commodity to get on a regular basis.
We sat around the table, enjoying the fruits of distillation and getting background from Katie. I admit I was taken the most by the Rye, but every product was very well done and beyond a treat. Still, I was missing that magic flavor......
The rum..... I was escorted to the bar and poured a healthy sample. The nose was instantly taken by the sweet smell, tinged with butterscotch and caramel. Smooth to the tongue and at 90 proof, no lazy spirit here, Road's End is a robust hearty rum - with a deep flavor even in its un-aged form. The legs are heavy on the glass, showing it's sugar. There is a sweet aftertaste that lingers presently. This bottle joins the Clear rums on my bar as a real member. A rum that I proudly call -- American Made. It ranks well up there and is declared a "Do not miss"...
To all in Three Oaks and at Journeyman Distillery (Katie and Tiffany that means you -- and the bartender(ness) whose name I neglected to ask... Thank you! To Bill Welter, Your journey has brought you here -- stay with it -- and it is appreciated! If you travel Michigan include a stop in Three Oaks -- you may not want to leave.
As always, I remain: