West Michigan Whiskey 101
Saint Pat himself might not have been going out on weekends and knocking back whiskeys at the pub, but his Irish kinsfolk have since developed a reputation for turning way, way up, and Saint Patrick’s Day is all about celebrating that.
The name 'whiskey' comes from the Irish Gaelic uisge beatha, meaning “water of life,” which says a lot right there. With its soothing warmth and courage-inducing powers, Irish whiskey used to be the most popular drink in the world.
"Just about every spirit had its day in the sun, so to speak, and right now we get to bask in the glory of whiskey’s ray of light,” said Kevin Stanley, bar manager at Stella's Lounge, which boasts an extensive whiskey menu.
Nowadays, with bourbon, rye and wheat on the market, there’s more options than most people know what to do with. Although there's an existing culture around whiskey that could potentially scare off newbies, fans of the libation can be extremely welcoming.
“Taste is in the beholder of the palate,” Stanley said.
Lucky for us, West Michigan has a growing craft distillery scene.
"[Whiskey has] flavor, distinction, fun, longevity, availability and a following,” said G. Foster II, a bartender at Stella’s Lounge.
For those who’ve already mastered the nuanced art of drinking beer, New Holland Brewing’s taproom could provide the next step. Their distilling began side-by-side in the brewery 10 years ago. A natural drink evolution for the owners, there are multiple whiskeys inspired by New Holland beers. After aging for three years, the spirits were made available at the taproom and were soon distributed. Their Beer Barrel Bourbon pulls much of its flavor from the oak barrels that shelter the warm, malty Dragon’s Milk Stout, and vice versa. The Hatter Royale is laced with citrusy Centennial hop goodness, a perfect intro for IPA-lovers. There are also plenty of straight whiskey as well, if that's more your taste.
Take a trip South, and you'll find Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks.
“Everything we do here is built around education,” said Bill Welter, Journeyman founder.
Floor-to-ceiling glass allows patrons to watch the entire process. The mash tank, the aging barrels and the still, a massive machine dubbed Willy Wonka, are all visible from the tasting room. In-depth tours take place every weekend and tasting flights with detailed flavor descriptions are available every day of the week.
Journeyman's Buggy Whip Wheat is meant to be perfect for newcomers, and it is, but like the enthusiasts at Stella’s, they won’t tell you what to drink or how to drink it.
“What makes a good whiskey is something you enjoy drinking. It’s a personal experience,” Welter said.
Whatever you fall in love with there, it’s up to you. While it might take some time, the trip to Journeyman is worth the drive. That’s the beauty of whiskey itself.
“It develops over time and creates a story,” Welter said.
In addition to West Michigan distilleries like Coppercraft in Holland and "barstillery" Flat Lander’s in Grand Rapids, there’s a healthy offering of bars in West Michigan with big, beautiful whiskey menus for the veteran and rookie alike. In Grand Rapids, Stella’s Lounge is home to more than 250 whiskeys from every corner of the world and H.O.M.E. at The B.O.B. hosts a “limitless” Bourbon Bar, both of which have local whiskeys available.
If you’re ready to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with some water of life then Hennessy’s Irish Pub & Restaurant in Muskegon, Curragh Irish Pub in Holland and the London Grill in Kalamazoo are all providing some exciting holiday festivities with cornucopias of quality whiskey. Don’t be afraid. Anyone can drink whiskey, it just takes lots of practice.


The Taxonomy of Whiskey

Bourbon – This is America in a bottle. Made from corn, a good bourbon will have a subtle sweetness, a soft burn and a fruity, patriotic aftertaste. A bad bourbon will taste like the Cinnamon Challenge.

Rye – Characterized by a burn from literal hell, but some people like that. Ryes are a great way to keep warm and eliminate unwanted taste buds.

Scotch – Smoke, swimming pools, shoe stores, peat moss, leather and woodshops all in one sip. Renowned for its complexity, there’s a reason scotch is known worldwide for being really dang good.

Irish – Always triple-distilled, once more than most, they’re smooth, coppery and distinctly smokeless, making this one of the most drinkable choices available.

Wheat – Rare, but tasty, wheats are slightly sweet, grainy on the palate and sway back and forth in the soft summer breeze. Refreshing!


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