TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – Some of the purest Michigan spirits are produced out of Traverse City.
Grand Traverse Distillery was one of the first distilleries in Michigan. Founded by Kent Rabish in 2005, Grand Traverse Distillery was the 35th craft distillery in the United States when it became an LLC.
While the distillery has been producing more bourbon and whiskies, the Michigan company didn’t start with those two spirits at the beginning of its liquor journey.
“When we started, we were doing vodka and gin because I could get revenue early on as a business,” said Rabish. “And we were very fortunate when we started. We were the only distillery in Michigan at that time.”
When starting, the distillery could turn out vodka within 6-8 weeks, compared to whiskies, which needed time to age.
“It’s a market that’s very crowded, but we were the first Michigan brand out there. I mean, we were in 1,500 stores within six months,” exclaimed Rabish.
Rabish got his Michigan distiller license in January 2007, and within that month, the company was off and running. They built their production facility in 2005 and established the LLC in 2005.
While the company started production in 2007, it opened up its first tasting room in Frankenmuth in 2010. Afterward, it opened a tasting room in Downtown Traverse City on Front Street. The Traverse City and Frankenmuth tasting rooms are open all year, while the Leland and Mackinaw City locations are seasonal.
“I say 99.99% of everything we do here with whiskey, gin, vodka, is Michigan grain.”Kent Radish, Grand Traverse Distillery
Distilling in Northern Michigan has its perks, as many areas are huge agricultural tourism spots. From wineries to farms, Northern Michigan businesses seem to have a confident stature when it comes to supporting each other.
Rabish said that there is about 16% of protein leftover from the alcohol that they make. They have a relationship with Moomers, where they give all the leftovers that cannot be used for products to dairy cows to give them more protein. Because with the more protein cows have, the more milk they can produce.
Grand Traverse Distillery is known for having partnerships with Michigan companies. So much so that there are “Pure Michigan” labels on their products to show that a large percentage of the ingredients used in their products are from Michigan companies or are Michigan grown.
“All the grain is local. All the corn, wheat, and rye,” said Rabish. “The only other products that we have that I have no [Michigan] source for what we do is rum. I buy Caribbean molasses. It’s the best molasses you can get.”
So how did the Rabish family get involved in distilling? The owner said he worked at a pharmaceutical company for over 25 years until he got tired.
“After about 20 years, it’s for your mental health. It’s probably good to start over and do something different,” said Rabish. “I know a lot of people, that’s when you get to build your salary up and all these other things, where you’re probably making most of your earnings at that time, but you’re bored to death.”
While the company has gone through recessions and a pandemic, it has survived through some tough economic times.
“Even though times got tough, and things were harder out there, there’s always someone who has the capital to buy a $30 vodka or a $50 whiskey,” stated Rabish.
The distillery is open seven days a week, starting the party at 11 a.m. daily. Click here to find the nearest store to you that sells their products.