Ann Arbor Distilling Company: Not your average spirits

Photo: Meredith Bruckner
Photo: Meredith Bruckner

ANN ARBOR – Tucked into the Water Hill neighborhood, Ann Arbor Distilling Company is doing something different.

It crafts spirits completely from scratch, using only locally-sourced ingredients known as grain-to-glass.

Shortly after it opened in 2015, distiller John Charles Britton joined the team and quickly impressed with his experience and commitment to flavor.

"My audition tape was the Arbor Seasonal Gin line," he said. "We started with the fall and from there we just kept building."


(Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

While visiting the distillery, I sampled their Summer Gin. It was a lot more complex than many gins I've tasted, and according to Britton, has undertones of honey, beetroot, fennel, hibiscus, bee pollen, juniper, flowers like rose and lavender, mint, basil and cardamom. 

A classical guitarist by trade, Britton began distilling in California to supplement his 'coffee addiction,' as he puts it, and finds that distilling and music share a commonality.

"In music, you’re trying to capture a feeling or emotion with the fleetingness of sound, essentially," Britton explained. "For me, I’m trying to capture a fruit or a grain until I lose it 'til the next season. So music and distilling kind of went hand-in-hand to me because they’re both these kind of fleeting arts."

He has achieved this essence in their Water Hill Eau de Vie, an un-aged brandy in which he uses whole cherries in the process, which really come through. It won bronze at the American Craft Spirits Association 2018 Awards.


(Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

The Eau de Vie is, admittedly, Britton's favorite.

"If I had my way, and if everybody was just drinking Eau de Vie the way they drink vodka, that’s all I’d make," he said. "(It's) what I was born to distill. I’ve taken for me, what is so intrinsically linked to Michigan, the cherry, and captured it in this bottle. That was, frankly, a little emotional."

So how does he craft the lineup of drinks?

“Essentially, I just follow the fruit and follow the farmers," he said. "It’s not to be pretentious or sell some story. It’s easier, it’s cheaper, it’s sustainable and it’s the right thing to do."

(Credit: Ann Arbor Distilling Company)

Beyond the award-winning spirits and reputation Ann Arbor Distilling Company has built up over these few short years, it has also become a hub for the community to gather.

"We’ve become kind of a cultural center, which has been fantastic," he said. "You can see dogs and babies, octogenarians down to 5-year-old here. That means a lot to me, because, again, being a musician, I had to move around a lot so it's been hard to develop a community when you're living in a condo and you're going gig to gig. It's been really humbling but also awesome to see what a real community is like. 

"We are grateful for every person who walks through the door. Despite the fact that making spirits can be complex, I don’t want anyone to feel like they’re getting in over their head when they (come here). I want it to be enjoyed -- that’s the point."

To learn more about Ann Arbor Distilling Company, visit its website.

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