Taking the Long Road Home, New Distillery Opens

By Jane Whitttington on February 19th, 2016 / Comments

We know that Grand Rapids is “Beer City”, at least that’s what the readers of USA Today decided in a 2013 survey. Now Long Road Distillers owners and founders Kyle Van Strien and Jon O’Connor are adding other adult beverages to the long list of artisan alcohol products in their city. At their recently opened (May of 2015) distillery on Grand Rapids’ Westside, they are crafting their own unique versions of vodka, gin, rye whiskey, aquavit and other liquors with carefully chosen and mostly local ingredients.

Van Strien says, “We are Grand Rapids’ first distillery. It took us about 18 months from idea to opening day. We had purchased a vacant storefront, which had fallen into disrepair over the years it was standing empty. Our first idea was to just have a production and distribution facility, but as we went forward, we realized that we needed to have space for tastings, and that just evolved into opening as a full-service, sit-down restaurant and bar. We have four stills, and our production space is behind a glass wall, so it’s all open to the public eye.”

He continues, “We now have a bar and restaurant area with 90 seats downstairs, and a larger event space upstairs with 160 seats. At this point, we have about 20 employees.”

Why Long Road? First of all, the road where it is located is a long road. Leonard Street runs all the way from Grand Rapids to the Lakeshore. But it’s a metaphor, too. As their menu says, “Honor the journey. Take no shortcuts.” Long Road Distillers takes the time and makes the effort to insure that their products are made with the best ingredients and with meticulous care. Nothing is hurried. Nothing is compromised. They say, “Every distillery has a path. We chose to take the long one. You won’t see the difference, but you’re certain to taste it.”

Van Strien and O’Connor prepared for the journey with help from Kris Berglund of Michigan State University, Professor of Food Science and Chemical Engineering, and a well-known expert in the art and science of artisan distillery who teaches both at MSUs and in Sweden. They purchased the best equipment from around the world and hired the best distillers available. The three men they hired all came with the experience that Van Strien and O’Connor didn’t have and brought their skills together to create an exceptional product.

They offer a wide variety of offerings, including flavored vodkas, rye and corn whiskey, gin and aquavit, a Scandinavian drink with caraway and dill. They continue to bring out new products and also offer a wide range of mixed drinks in their bar and restaurant, all with evocative names that are just fun to order (Ending the Distance, The Machine, Hammock over Quarry and Nordic Sunshine, to name a few). In their restaurant, they present a small menu of snacks, starters, sandwiches, salads, soups and desserts. Like their liquid products, the ingredients for their menu are locally sourced and seasonal.

The venue also offers music both on vinyl and live every week with two larger concerts twice a month. Their website lists artists who will be appearing.

With its blend of rustic and urban elements, its gleaming distillery equipment and friendly atmosphere, it’s a perfect place to spend time with friends and family in the comfortable confines of Long Road Distillery.

For more information on Long Road Distillery, visit www.longroaddistillers.com.

About the Author

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Grand Rapids. A Michigan native and Michigan State University grad, she enjoys reading, travel, politics and volunteering.