Distilleries are popping up everywhere these days. They are joining the movement that includes micro breweries and local wineries. Yes, even here in the Midwest, we have a wealth of choices when it comes to ” Artisan Alcohol.”
Several years ago you could count on one hand the number of local breweries that were around. Now, you need an App to keep track of them all, (and yes, there’s an App for that, in fact there are several). We have spent many a Saturday afternoon checking out the suburban brewery scene; going to industrial parks, old store fronts, and state of the art facilities. The adventures have been many and some of them will appear here in the future. This however, is about distilleries.
Distilleries, while not as plentiful, are opening around the area and as it turns out in some pretty unusual places. Take the case of Whiskey Acres: This distillery has been open for just over a year. and to say it’s off the beaten path is a huge understatement. It is along a country road nestled in the corn fields of DeKalb County. In fact it is located on a working farm. That seems odd until you think about what whiskey is made of. That’s right, corn and other grains are the main ingredients needed to produce distilled spirits and farms, especially farms around here have plenty of corn.
This is a small operation producing bourbon, whiskey, and vodka in small batches. It is one of only two “Estate Distilleries” in the country. What this means is that “from seed to spirit” all the ingredients are grown on the farm. The water used in the distilling also comes from the farm’s well.
Distilling is a labor intensive act of love. From mash to the still, barrel, and ultimately into the bottle can take years. The bourbon here is very young, but has a flavor that will only get better through the years. It has even won several awards. The “rick house” holds many barrels in different sizes all of them filled with bourbon and rye in various stages of reaching perfection.
The vodka is made entirely from corn and has a subtle sweetness and character that would make a pleasant cocktail but could stand up in a martini as well. Vodka isn’t aged, but it does go through the distilling process twice. Again, time and labor intensive. This “hybrid still” is responsible for creating this and all the other tasty spirits.
This small operation isn’t going to limit itself to the typical spirits. There is some serious experimentation afoot. Whiskies made from Red Corn , Blue Pop Corn, and Heirloom Oxacan Green Corn are aging in the barrels as I write. There are also a few novelty spirits including an Apple Infused Whiskey and an “age it yourself” corn whiskey that comes with an “oak infusion spiral.” You won’t get the depth of flavor that comes from years in a barrel, but it is a fun gift to give or receive.
So our afternoon in the country was worth the trip. We took the tour (very interesting and well done); we sampled the spirits and had a cocktail (an Old Fashion that was quite tasty). In case you want to make a day of it , you can also visit a winery (Prairie State) and a brewery (Cademon) both of which are in Genoa just a few miles up the road. There’s even a throwback restaurant in Sycamore (Sorrento’s) complete with a relish tray, a basket of crackers and enormous prime rib.
Northern Illinois has some of the richest soil in the country. While some of the corn fields are giving way to the suburban western migration, there is still plenty of farm land. There are still small country towns that have the simple charm of a bygone era with touches of the city that make them a lovely place to visit. Check them out.