Expanding my knowledge about the growing number of craft distillers in the Midwest is one of my little passions. And I learned enough about Journeyman — a promising producer that opened for business last October — at Chicago Whisky Fest in March that I decided it would definitely worth the 80-mile drive to visit the distillery.
The trip Barb and I took Friday to Three Oaks, a tiny town in southwestern Michigan just a few miles over the Indiana border, would have been a pleasure just for the opportunity to spend an hour or so chatting with Bill Welter. The youthful founder and owner of Journeyman, Welter lived in Scotland for a couple of years to pursue his passion for golf and came back with a passion for making whisky.
He also came back with a vision and a plan. Through a cooperative arrangement with Koval, a pioneering microdistillery in Chicago, Welter apprenticed while producing a small batch of rye whisky that he labeled Ravenswood (after the neighborhood in Chicago in which Koval is located). That is why Welter had a barrel-aged whisky to sell when Journeyman opened its doors to the public last fall, along with the unaged clear spirits, such as gin, vodka and white whiskey, that are the typical entry points for start-up distilleries.
There is a dedication to quality that shines through in each of the products we sampled (in appropriate taster-sized portions, because we also had to drive the 80 miles back to Chicago that afternoon). The wheat, rye and corn that are the major grains used here are organic; much of it is sourced from Michigan, and most of it comes from somewhere relatively nearby in the Midwest. The grain — including the 10 tons of wheat that was being noisily delivered during our visit — is ground on-site in a device that looks a bit like a mini wood chipper…
And the fermenters and stills are top of the line, new, German-made equipment.
The Journeyman site also was designed to be a destination as well as a factory. The bar is open weekend evenings, serving designer cocktails, with a food menu to be added soon. And even if you don’t take a tour, you can get a good sense of how booze is made, as the distillery and barrel racks are in full view through floor-to-ceiling glass.
Journeyman products are currently in limited distribution at the distillery and at retail shops and bars in Michigan, Chicago and northwest Indiana. If you happen to run across a bottle and want to see how their craft-distilled product compares to what you’re used to drinking, it is definitely worth a try.