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West Michigan distillers earn plaudits from national competitions

New Holland and Long Road bring home medals for a variety of spirits.

March 11, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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Long Road whiskey
Long Road’s version of a white whiskey aged in oak barrels for six months was released last week. Photo by Pat Evans

Two West Michigan distilleries performed well at the American Craft Spirits Association Judging Awards last week in Chicago.

New Holland Artisan Spirits and Long Road Distillers both brought home multiple medals from the competition based on panel judgments of spirits submitted by distillers across the country.

In addition to three medals from the ACSA event, Long Road has received several other positive reviews in recent weeks for its spirits. The three silver medals at the ACSA, however, were special to Long Road’s team because of the judging panel comprised of fellow distillers.

The panel awarded the medals to Long Road’s vodka, aquavit and Wendy Peppercorn vodka.

“We’re proud to have been open only nine months and to have been recognized by a distinguished panel of our peers for our vodka, Wendy Peppercorn and aquavit,” Long Road co-owner Jon O’Connor said.

The aquavit was the highest scoring aquavit at the competition and, as far as Long Road can tell, Wendy Peppercorn is the only red peppercorn vodka in the world, according to O’Connor.

New Holland’s gins fared extremely well in Chicago, with both Knickerbocker Gin and Knickerbocker Barrel Gin taking home gold medals. Knickerbocker Barrel Gin also won Best in Class in the gin category, the second consecutive year it has earned that distinction.

“It was great to be in Chicago with so many craft distillers we respect,” said Rich Blair, New Holland national spirits sales manager. “We’re thrilled to see our spirits get such tremendous recognition from a peer-based judging and amongst such great company. We’re particularly proud — two years running — to claim the Best in Class award for our Knickerbocker Barrel Gin. It’s an amazing spirit.”

New Holland won silver medals for four other spirits: Zeppelin Bend Single Malt Whiskey, Cask & Smoke Whiskey, Pitchfork Wheat Whiskey and Freshwater Michigan Amber Rum.

The Holland distillery, a part of New Holland Brewing Co., celebrated its 10th year of operation recently.

“It’s really amazing to be recognized with these six medals from ACSA,” said Brett VanderKamp, New Holland co-founder and president. “Our distilling team is a passionate, creative, talented bunch, and this hardware proves it.”

Long Road celebrated several other distinguished reviews in recent weeks.

Long Road Vodka was given a 93-point “exceptional” rating from the Beverage Testing Institute’s, and in its March issue, Tasting Panel Magazine gave Long Road Gin a 92-point “outstanding” rating. The Grand Rapids distillery’s un-aged white rye whiskey won a gold medal from

A version of the white whiskey that was aged six months in oak barrels was released last Wednesday, which marked the distillery’s first aged whiskey release since its inception. The Wayfarer’s Whiskey series of small batch whiskies will have several more iterations in the coming months, including a single-barrel cask strength rye whiskey, 100 percent wheat whiskey, Irish-style whiskey and several variations of bourbon.

Normally, aged whiskeys take several years to mature, but by using 30-gallon barrels and the right spirits, Long Road was able to hasten the process, co-owner Kyle VanStrien said.

“We taste the whiskey a lot during the process, and once it was ready, there was no sense in letting it go because it’s not going to get better,” VanStrien said. “What we found was by using a little bit smaller barrel and meticulous cuts, six or seven months was perfect for the taste we wanted.”

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