This holiday season, put yourself in the spirit with one of the many, unique distilled spirits made right here in Michigan. While vodka seems to be the preferred product here in the Great Lakes State, you’ll also find gin, rum, brandy and even whiskey, which make great celebration drinks or holiday gifts this year.
BLACK STAR FARMS (www.blackstarfarms.com) is one of Michigan’s most respected wineries, with locations on Leelanau Peninsula, Old Mission Peninsula and The Village at Grand Traverse Commons in Traverse City. This selection of fruit spirits is available exclusively in their tasting rooms.
* Spirit of Apple Brandy: After a brief lapse of availability, this tasty spirit is back on the shelf, just in time for the holidays and the cold weather. This brandy has a distinctive fruit-driven style, a pale golden amber color, and is well-balanced opulence with sweet-wood apple and caramel aromas and mellowed, spicy warmth. Pour a little of our Spirit of Apple Brandy into your favorite snifter, swirl, smell and sip…ahh! Warmth all over, from head to toe. It's a great digestif after a delicious holiday meal. (**Available only in the Suttons Bay tasting room).
* Pear and its Spirit: This is without a doubt the most visual of the spirits. Coming in at 80 proof, this product features an actual pear inside the bottle. In spring, a bottle is tied over a budding branch in the pear orchard with hopes that a Bartlett pear will grow to maturity, inside the bottle. The pear is harvested, cleaned and washed and then the bottle is filled with pear brandy from the same orchard and hand-labeled in this special limited presentation. This “pear in a bottle” is a true collector’s item and can be prominently displayed. When the bottle is totally consumed, just purchase a bottle of Spirit of Pear and refill the “pear in the bottle” for many years of enjoyment. (**Available only at the Old Mission tasting room).
* Spirit of Apricot: Common to Hungary, this 80 proof brandy is crystal clear, full bodied, floral and velvety. The flavor is honeyed and indulgent. The fully ripe fruit is fermented on the pits and then distilled rapidly to retain flavor and aroma. The distillate is aged in glass, providing a fruity brandy with a lingering finish.
* Spirit of the Vineyard Red Grape Grappa: Made from the fresh must of Pinot Noir, Cabernet France and Merlot grapes, this 80 Proof grappa has all the characteristics of a fine Italian grappa, but because it is distilled, without the bit.
* Spirit of the Vineyards White Grape Grappa: made from fresh must of Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Vignole grapes, this 80 proof grappa is smooth and very aromatic, with flowers an spice in the nose.
GRAND TRAVERSE DISTILLERY (www.grandtraversedistillery.com) spirits are available in about 1000 retail accounts and 200 bars and restaurants around the state and in Chicago. Tours, tastings and retails ours are offered on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at the distillery in Traverse City. For those who enjoy whiskey, Grand Traverse Distillery invites customers to come in and purchase a 2- or 3-liter mini-whiskey barrel, and select from 5 different grain sources, to make their own whiskey.
* True North Vodka: Distilled with Michigan grown rye, this 80 Proof vodka was awarded gold medals in the 2007 and 2009 International Review of Spirits and gold in the 2008 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Rated by F. Paul Pacullt of the Wine Enthusiast “Highly Recommended” with 90 to 95 points and included in his ‘Top 50 Spirits of 2009”, one of only 6 vodkas from around the world to make this selected list.
* True North Cherry Flavored Vodka: You can’t create world-class vodka in the world’s largest cherry production region without capitalizing on the fruit that makes our region famous. This 80 Proof vodka is an exquisite product that is light, crisp, and delicious, perfectly echoing the natural sweetness and delicacy of the fruit. Adding a hint of chocolate with the final touch.
* Grand Traverse Distillery Wheat Vodka: 80 proof, $21.97. Using locally-grown wheat, this 80 Proof vodka scored a 93 point rating and gold medal at the 2009 International Review of Spirits. A value for the price, this wheat vodka is a little more neutral in character than the rye.
NEW HOLLAND ARTISAN SPIRITS (http://newhollandbrew.com/corp/profiles/distillery) are sold throughout Michigan and Illinois and are currently available at over 150 retail outlets and more than 100 bars/restaurants.
* Dutuchess Vodka: A clean and crisp vodka distilled from organic wheat, Dutchess is an excellent companion to boundless ingredients. Whether in a martini or your favorite holiday cocktail, Dutchess Vodka is sure to please.
* Knickerbocker Gin: A vibrant, aromatic gin twice distilled and infused with flavors from more than a dozen herbs and spices. Generous amounts of juniper-berries contribute a bright citrus and evergreen body, bursting with flavor before a clean, dry finish. Named for the Dutch explorers of a new world, Knickerbocker celebrates modern exploration in the historic realm of distilling.
* Freshwater Rums: A series of rums inspired by the majestic Great Lakes and distilled from a wash of fermented cane-sugar molasses, both domestic and Brazilian.
** Huron White Rum: A clean, bright rum with a delicate sweetness and hints of vanilla. The weather outside may be frightful, but Huron Rum cocktails are so delightful!
** Michigan Amber Rum: Barrel aging in oak presents a caramel color and deep body. A rich, smooth marriage of molasses and oak, Freshwater Michigan is a classic rum excellent for traditional rum-forward cocktails or served neat, perhaps with a single ice cube.
** Superior Single-Barrel Rum: Packaged from a single “honey barrel,” Freshwater Superior showcases barrel-aging in a robust, yet elegant presentation. A hearty rum, sure to complement an evening by the fire.
* Zeppelin Bend Whiskey: A culmination of New Holland’s brewing roots and a growing passion for distilling, Zeppelin Bend is a Straight-malt Whiskey, it begins with a brewer’s mash, coaxing sugars from malted barley into a liquid wash. This wash is twice distilled and aged in new American oak, with a heavy char. Notes of vanilla and clove arise from the slightly caramelized spirit, leading to a classic American-oak finish.
ST. JULIAN (www.stjulian.com) is Michigan’s largest, oldest and longest-operating winery. Purchase their distilled spirits at their original tasting room in Paw Paw.
* Grey Heron Vodka: Distilled from 100% grape spirits. It is distilled and filtered five times to achieve its smooth texture and rich palate. It opens with neutral wet stone and cream aromas. The refreshing, clean entry leads to a round, dryish medium-to-full body of smooth cream, and delicate spice flavors. Finishes with warming anise and sweet cream, making Grey Heron Vodka an instant classic.
* A & G Brandy: Aged grape brandy made from Chardonnay, Pinot Gris & Vidal Blanc grapes. Alluring nose of vanilla, hazelnut and butterscotch intertwined with toast, chocolate and anise. Flavors from the aroma emerge through the palate, making it soft and smooth. Years of patience and perseverance have brought us a new product that, once again, showcases the world-class quality of Michigan’s fruit belt. Gold Medal winner at the 2009 Tasters Guild competition.
UNCLE JOHN’S FRUITHOUSE WINERY (www.fruithousewinery.com) sells its spirits exclusively at its tasting room in St. John’s, on site with the historic family orchard.
* Apple Brandy: Subtle fruit, vanilla & spicy notes and pleasant toasted oak flavor, at 90 proof.
* Vodka made from apples: Clean and velvety smooth subtle hints of fruit in the finish, at 83 proof.
* Apple – Cherry – Pear: These sweet dessert wines are fortified with spirits from that fruit, at 17% abv.
VALENTINE VODKA (www.valentinevodka.com) offers one of first vodkas in the world, distilled from a multi-grain recipe in Southeast Michigan. Hand-distilled from a proprietary blend of barley, Red Michigan wheat and corn, medal-winning Valentine Vodka has a uniquely warm aroma, tasting notes of vanilla and caramel and a deliciously smooth finish. Valentine Vodka is available at nearly 500 retail outlets, including 100 restaurants and bars throughout Michigan.