Economic Development, Food Service & Agriculture, and Retail

Distillery sets sights on west side

Long Road Distillers is expected to open to the public in the fall.

April 11, 2014
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The city’s west side is about to get a craft distillery.

The Grand Rapids Planning Commission approved Long Road Distillers last month, and co-owners Jon O’Connor and Kyle Van Strien said work is underway to rehab the distillery’s future home at 537 Leonard St. NW.

The 8,000-square-foot space will be renovated to include a retail space, cocktail lounge, kitchen and bar, overflow seating and the on-site distillery.

The floor plans have yet to be finalized, but Van Strien said he wants to make sure patrons have the opportunity to view the distillation equipment and be able to ask questions and learn about the process.

He estimated the initial investment to get the business up and running will be at least $750,000.

Nate Willink of Willink Construction will serve as the project’s general contractor; Neale Bauman of The Design Forum is the architect.

O’Connor and Van Strien expect to open to the public in mid- to late fall.

The pair said their products will not go into distribution right way, but they expect that to happen somewhere down the road.

“We want to be able to sell out the front door and meet the demand locally,” Van Strien said.

Long Road Distillers will start production with vodka and gin, adding white whiskey, whiskey and malted gin later.

All of the spirits will be “grain to glass,” meaning Long Road will start with grain purchased from area farms and distill the spirits on site.

“It’s very important to us, and we will be the only West Michigan distillery that is doing clear spirits from grain,” Van Strien said.

O’Connor said grain-to-glass production is both costly and time consuming.

“In order to get to the point where you can make vodka, per se, from grain, it has to go through a certain number of rectifications to get to a certain alcohol percentage,” he explained. “Most people don’t have the equipment capable of doing that.”

All of the distillery equipment is coming from Germany where it is made by hand, requiring a seven- to nine-month lead-time.

Once it is up and running at full capacity, the distillery should be able to produce 6,000 to 7,000 12-bottle cases annually, Van Strien said.

“With the addition of a new pot, we could significantly increase that,” he added. “In our first year or two, we will definitely be looking to expand our production capacity because we anticipate there will be demand for the product in the market and particularly when we want to go to distribution. We’ve had a couple of conversations with distributors and we expect that we will want that ability to make more and more.”

Pricing has yet to be determined, but the spirits will be in the premium category.

O’Connor and Van Strien agree the craft beer scene in West Michigan has laid the foundation for the introduction of grain-to-glass spirits using local ingredients.

“Founders and Bell’s have laid the foundation for the craft brew movement, and now Harmony and The Mitten and other local breweries have really helped bring people’s awareness to the local craft alcohol industry, so we think the market is primed for a craft distillery in Grand Rapids,” O’Connor said. “People have a real understanding and appreciation for wanting to know where their products come from and, hopefully, we can capitalize on the knowledge base.”

Long Road Distillers plans to work with area farms to source ingredients locally.

“We want to support West Michigan farmers and growers, and by doing this, we are actually going to be able to highlight the characteristics of the products that we are going to use to make our spirits,” O’Connor said.

The pair chose to become neighbors with The Mitten Brewing Co. in hopes of creating a synergistic experience. They don’t think it will be a competition as much as a complementary opportunity, giving patrons two great establishments next door to each other.

“It will be a real vibrant corner over here. It can be a destination,” O’Connor said.

The two men are west side residents and said they didn’t even consider locations other than on the west side, which they are excited to see finally receiving the attention it deserves.

In addition to spirits, Long Road Distillers will offer a small plate menu and a coffee and dessert menu.

The new business will employ between 20 to 25 people.

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