Traverse City Whiskey Company
photo by Pat Evans
Whiskey production is spreading across the globe, and is no longer relegated to the U.S., Canada, Ireland and Scotland.
But beyond the new emerging whiskey, or whisky, production countries like Japan, Taiwan, France, Australia and Israel, more states are getting involved into the distilling world. Much like the drive for local in beer, there too is a drive for local in whiskey; just take a gander at the intense and massive movement of distilleries in New York making a return to the state’s rye whiskey heritage with farm distilleries.
A few months ago, I took a reporting trip back to my home state of Michigan and headed about three hours north of Grand Rapids to Traverse City, a resort and tourism town at the tip of the Mitten. There, a distillery called Traverse City Whiskey Company was gracious enough to host me and show me what a small whiskey production outside of Kentucky and Tennessee looked like.
Now, I’ve been to quite a few small distilleries and some of the massive bourbon producers in the Bluegrass State, and TC Whiskey is a nice mixture of the two. The Northern Michigan company differs from other modern startup distilleries by being predominantly dedicated to just whiskey, as the name suggests. Walk into TC Whiskey’s warehouse and it is very reminiscent of a very miniature version of a giant Kentucky stillhouse.
The modern startup distillery industry is also a confusing, clouded place. A lot of the lauded craft whiskey brands on the shelf are coming from the same giant production facility in Indiana. The recipes can differ and so too can the aging processes the receiving distilleries end up doing with the finished product, so it doesn’t take away from a solid product. But for a local-driven product, truth in advertising can be a lot when a distillery is doing it all the right way.
For TC Whiskey, the truth lies in the middle. The company started as a sourcing distillery. To be a whiskey company with little other product in bottles, a company either needs a lot of money to gap the aging time with no revenue or bring in finished product and sell it while it starts to stockpile and age its own collection. They don’t hide their sourcing history but they’re also now making their own whiskey from start to finish.
Now, as the company approaches its seventh birthday, TC Whiskey has made its way across the United States—it’s in 20 states, including Nevada, California and Arizona—with its own whiskey, and it is superb.
The line of whiskey has classic Traverse City Whiskey Co. Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Barrel Proof, Port Barrel Finished and a rye whiskey.
Those are all excellent and can grab the attention of whiskey drinkers, but it’s the American Cherry Edition whiskey leading the way into market. Traverse City prides itself on the region’s cherry production—the city even has its own, massive, annual cherry festival. One of the distillery’s founders, Chris Fredrickson, grew up on a family cherry farm. It’s a true full circle product for the distillery.
The product could be sickly sweet. A lot of hardcore whiskey drinkers are taken aback and figure they’ll hate it. But thanks to the distillery’s infusion process, it smells like sweet cherries but the taste is just in the background as a nice accent. Each barrel of the whiskey is macerated with 10 pounds of local cherries. (The distillery also has an excellent apple whiskey done the same way.)
Traverse City Whiskey’s flavored whiskies are unlike most other flavored whiskies. It’s not a sugary, syrupy mess. It’s a nuanced and complexed whiskey and the background hint of the American Cherry Edition, particularly, makes it perfect for a Manhattan or Old Fashioned.
Nevada has an excellent array of Traverse City Whiskey products available, including the American Cherry Edition. Also available is the North Coast Rye, Port Barrel Finish, Barrel Proof Bourbon and Barrel Proof Rye. An auxiliary product is also available, the brand’s Premium Cocktail Cherries.
As a former Michigander, it’s great to get a taste of home in whiskey form. And visiting made the distillery made it great to see buying the product is supporting a cool company making products true to their local community and a living doing something they’re passionate about.
Walking around their facilities—first their original location, current production facility and soon-to-be massive production facility—the brand is about as true to the rustic and small community that is Traverse City. Some of the spirits are still sourced like many of the whiskies on the market, but then are aged and Michigan ingredients are added, like cherries.
In a world where whiskey brands and beer brands are less than authentic to their communities, Traverse City Whiskey Co. has made its mark in the whiskey aisle with a true Michigan product making its way through the nation. Plus, if you ever make it to Michigan, there’s plenty of great all-Michigan distilled and produced spirits to sample.
Tasting quality products from all of America’s states is the major reason I love this current movement. There are so many awesome regional cultures in this country and it’s a shame to waste it all being too localized or homogenized products.