With whiskey distilleries located in every state in the nation, it should come as no surprise that Traverse City, a scenic town in central Michigan, boasts an eponymous distillery. But unlike most of the wave of new, ambitious distillers, Traverse City Whiskey Co traces their love of whiskey back three generations. Founder Chris Fredrickson discovered a set of distilling patents filed by his great grandfather while exploring the family farm, which inspired him to establish a micro-distillery in 2012, located in an old power station. Stillhouse Cocktail Bar in downtown opened two years later, where they now sell hand-craft small-batch spirits made from the same techniques pioneered by his great grandfather.
But Traverse City Whiskey Co. benefits from more than simply heritage. The town sits on the 45th parallel—literally lining up with the most prized wine regions of Europe, a rich climate that produces a bounty of key ingredients like wheat, corn, and barley on area farms. The latter two ingredients join forces with rye in the distillery’s signature XXX Straight Bourbon, which ages for four years in new American white oak barrels sourced from coopers in Kentucky and Tennessee, made with a lighter char to deliver hints of warm vanilla and a bite that’s strong enough to not get lost in boozy-forward cocktails. They also produce a Barrel-Proof Bourbon, a North Coast Rye, and a bourbon finished in port barrels.
But their American Cherry Edition bourbon lets them fully express the bounties of the region, which is often dubbed “The Cherry Capital of the World.” They macerate 10 pounds of Montmorency cherries grown on their own family farm and add them to the already-aged XXX Straight Bourbon and let the fruit do its magic for 10 days, which lends a complex flavor profile that’s a bit sweet, a touch sour, and a far cry from any expectations of an over-sweet or over-fruity spirit (read: it ain’t a cherry version of that horrible Fireball cinnamon “whiskey”). Using the American Cherry Edition Bourbon in a Manhattan takes that classic cocktail to the next level, adding floral, fruity notes without descending into cloying sweetness. In addition to the regular-release American Cherry Edition, the distiller has tapped into other Michigan ingredients like apples and maple syrup in limited-edition batches that are often only available at the Stillhouse in downtown Traverse City. And hopefully there won’t be a surge in cinnamon growth nearby.