Take the Long Road


West Michigan distilleries offer the perfect thirst quenchers.

The perfect cocktail is a beautiful thing.

It can be a refreshing gin drink on a Michigan summer’s day or a bold bourbon concoction that warms you as winter rolls in. That’s why it may not come as a surprise that craft distilleries across the country grew by nearly 20 percent in 2017, with over 50 of them calling Michigan home. Craft spirits are on the rise, and they are altering the state of cocktails.

“The craft spirits industry has seen tremendous growth over the past couple of years,” says James Loughmiller, Spirits Category Manager at Imperial Beverage. “Michigan alone has been making strides, producing some of the highest quality spirits in the nation. We are usually known as a craft beer state, but recently spirits have started to take hold, and we are seeing a surge of new distillers open throughout the state with a dedication to craft and quality. The craft segment of the spirits category is growing at a rapid pace, and we don’t see it slowing down anytime soon,” Loughmiller confirms.

A shining example of this craft movement comes right from west Michigan. Long Road Distillers has been producing high-end craft spirits since 2015. It is located on Grand Rapids’ west side and has created a stunning home by dedicating their craft to the community that surrounds them. Both co-founders Jon O’Connor and Kyle Van Strien reside on the west side.

“We both have deep roots on the west side of the city, so it was a no-brainer for us to develop this project here. We wanted to give back to the community and make this a shared space with the people that support us. It’s been amazing watching the area thrive over the past three years,” says Van Strien, co-founder of Long Road Distillers.

Southwest Michigan is home to an array of local distillers, from Green Door Distilling in Kalamazoo to Bier Distillery in Comstock Park, and the craft spirits game has exceeded expectations helping to grow the Michigan economy. Operating locally has positively affected the restaurant and retail industry as well as resident farmers who are seeing the boost in their own economic benefits from this new flourishing industry.

Rows of wheat don’t usually come to mind as your bartender makes your Michigan Mule but, when you put quality over everything, it is a must. Utilizing the freshest grain Michigan has to offer, Long Road puts an emphasis on locally sourced agriculture whenever possible. Red winter wheat, for example, is a staple ingredient for the distillery. Long Road utilizes the wheat in several of its products. It is sourced from Heffron Farms in Belding, Michigan, just 25 miles from the distillery.

“It’s in our name. We wanted to make the best locally-sourced product we could with no shortcuts. From our grain to the malt to even the fruit we use for our seasonal limited releases, it all comes from local farms. When we set out to build the distillery, our main objectives were to one, produce world-class, quality spirits that were world-renowned, and two, locally source every ingredient it takes to make those spirits,” Van Strien explains.

Kalamazoo-based Imperial Beverage is fairly new to spirits distribution. Obtaining its ADA (Authorized Distribution Agents) certification in the spring of 2017, its portfolio has grown into a craft-centric powerhouse. Long Road was recently added to that ever-evolving portfolio, making the distiller’s products available statewide for all connoisseurs of locally-sourced spirits in Michigan to enjoy.

“Working with Long Road has been an absolute pleasure,” says Loughmiller. “Its commitment to sourcing ingredients, not spirits, and its dedication to utilize as many local ingredients and farms as possible sets it apart from your everyday distillery. The team there is dedicated, hardworking and goes above and beyond to produce its products. Jon and Kyle have been instrumental in helping our team understand spirits and how to go to market with them. They are truly great partners and friends!”

The results have been worthy of celebration. Long Road has seen early success with the transition to Imperial Beverage, achieving a growth in sales since making the move in spring of this year. The sales team at Imperial works hard to ensure that Long Road products are widely available across the state and is committed to getting their craft into your glass.

Long Road Distillers Fall Cocktail Recipe; Make it at home!

2 ounces – Long Road Distillers Rye Whisky

0.5 ounces – Long Road Distillers Nocino Walnut Liqueur

0.5 ounces – Sweet Vermouth

2 dashes – Bitters

Chaz Parks is Donations and Special Events Coordinator at Imperial Beverage, a long-standing member of the Michigan beverage distribution community. Established in 1933 after the repeal of prohibition and purchased by Kalamazoo’s Cekola family in 1984, Imperial has grown from a one county beer distributor to a top 10 statewide beer, wine & spirits wholesaler. With 330 employees and four locations in Kalamazoo, Livonia, Ishpeming, and Traverse City, Imperial provides statewide coverage that serves every Michigan County, every week, all year long.

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