Eastern Kille's Big Move

A move years in the making, Eastern Kille Distillery has officially joined the Rockford community with an ample tasting room, brand new kitchen, enhanced production capabilities, and acres of outdoor space.

Initially opening in 2016 on Ottawa Avenue, amid the heavily industrial Monroe North neighborhood, Eastern Kille started out with a commitment to creating high-quality, small-batch, yet versatile and unpretentious spirits—with a craft cocktail experience to match. The Barrel-Finished Gin quickly became a favorite, and the years have given time to produce beautiful aged spirits like Michigan Straight Bourbon, Michigan Straight Rye, and Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon.


After a few years, they began to outgrow the building. And as much fun as they (and I) had with parking lot parties, the next goal was to create an intentional space, inside and out, that would act as a unique destination. Owners Brandon Voorhees and Steve Vander Pol sought out a spot with multiple acres, not too far from Grand Rapids, with a great community. Months of searching and walkthroughs finally landed them at 7755 Childsdale Ave. NE, just down the road from Third Nature Brewing Co.

Now, they have 16 acres, home to a gorgeous new building that makes great use of wood, natural light and the surrounding woods—including a short pathway that connects directly to the White Pine Trail. Voorhees said the intention was to “let nature do most of the talking,” and the new building’s beauty lies in its simplicity. As the weather warms up, there will be outdoor seating, live music, fire pits, games for all ages, and a variety of events to keep an eye on.

The new space also allows for enhanced production capabilities, such as a 1,000-gallon stripping still and a larger mash kettle. “Those two new pieces of equipment alone, we can increase production by three to four times without adding any extra shifts,” Voorhees said, adding that the greater capacity for barrels should allow for more creativity down the line.


Neither the former Ottawa location nor the current Wealthy location have had a kitchen, due to space and a desire to make sure Eastern Kille was nailing the spirits and cocktails. In adding food to the experience, they remained concerned about not lowering those standards.

Voorhees, Vander Pol and their general manager spent years leading up to the new location researching, checking out different equipment, visiting restaurant and pizza expos, and interviewing 20 great candidates for the head chef position. They landed on Stephen Kolavo, who’s worked in Chicago as well as Anemel in Benton Harbor, and he in-turn brought on an excellent kitchen crew.

The end result is a full-service staff that works excellently together and cares deeply about producing the quality Eastern Kille is known for. The menu itself is not too large, as they don’t want to overcomplicate things and lower standards. Instead, they focus on incredible pizzas that highlight top-tier ingredients.

“It’s not complicated, but it’s not simple, like bourbon, at the end of the day,” Voorhees said.

Just as bourbon is simply corn, water and yeast—but can produce a complex and beautiful final product with the right ingredients and techniques—pizza can do the same. For instance, the oven makes use of relatively new technology: a refractory stone conveyor. It allows for the speed, convenience and customization of a conveyor oven with the consistency and lovely charred crust of a stone deck or wood-fired oven. 


It shouldn’t take you too long to navigate Eastern Kille’s menu, which features starters like marinated olives, focaccia and salad selections, plus 8 or so pizza selections, and a handful of desserts. Fan favorite pizzas so far include the Pepperoni, Honey & Thyme; the sausage, pepperoni, mushroom, onion and red chili (essentially a supreme pizza); and the classic Sausage & Onion, which I personally tried.

The kitchen makes their own sausage, then pickled red onions and diced white onion add a layer of zest and umami respectively, plus a bit of fennel herb for color and freshness. With Eastern Kille’s pizza, the toppings are really allowed their time in the sun, supported wonderfully by the thin, charred crust, and just the right amount of sauce and cheese. It’s the kind of pizza you make when you know you’re working with high-quality ingredients, from the dough to the sausage to the herbs. It’s not complicated, but it’s not simple.


Two things Eastern Kille doesn’t see the need to change much are the spirits portfolio and cocktail program, which have developed a strong reputation over the past 8 years. At the Rockford location, expect to see the staples and fan favorites you’ve come to know and love, such as the Doctor’s Orders: barrel-finished gin, ginger, honey-sage, lemon, and lapsang. If you’re eager to branch out and try lots of new things, head to the Wealthy Street location, which is a smaller cocktail lounge with lots of creativity and experimentation.

However, you can expect to see new spirits coming out, such as the brand-new Cask Finished Series. These take a nearly 5-year-old bourbon base and finish it in five different unique European casks for 8 more months of aging, adding another level of flavors. The Vermouth and Cognac finished bourbons are out now, with Apricot Brandy, Tawny Port and Sherry on the way.


Eastern Kille is up and running, and ready for you to come visit. It’s a short drive up the highway or East Beltline from Grand Rapids, and you’ll find yourself in a beautiful location with delicious pizza and award-winning drinks. 

While you’re in the area, you can walk right down the road to Third Nature Brewing, and even take the White Pine Trail less than 1.5 miles up to Rockford Brewing—not to mention everything else the town has to offer. 

Bring your friends, bring your kids, and most of all, bring your appetite. 

Eastern Kille Distillery
7755 Childsdale Ave. NE, Rockford


Photo Courtesy of Eastern Kille Distillery.