GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN CRAFTING A SPIRITED COCKTAIL CULTURE WRITTEN BY DIANNA STAMPFLER PHOTO BY DREW DAVIS, FUTUREGRAFFITI
istilled spirits in Michigan date back to the earliest
Ventures (owners of Stella’s, Grand Rapids Brewing and HopCat).
explorers, who traversed the vast open lands in search of
“Unfortunately, a little before its time,” says Garry Boyd,
new frontiers in the years before statehood in 1837. Whiskey
Ringleader and VP of Food, Beverage & Cultural Innovation
was a commodity sold and traded to Native Americans. By the
for BarFly Ventures. The Viceroy lasted just two years before
mid-1800s, the first distilleries were established to craft spirits
the space was merged into the Stella’s Lounge, another BarFly
here in the Great Lakes State.
In 1873, a young German immigrant by the name of William
Since 2012, Grand Rapids has been recognized as Beer
Peter Drueke arrived in Grand Rapids and began building a
City USA. It’s also regarded as one of the state’s top foodie
future for himself, quickly becoming a leader in purveying good
destinations. Now, Michigan’s second-largest city is shaking
whiskey. His company would last until 1918 when Michigan
things up on the cocktail side of things.
became the first Midwest state to vote in statewide Prohibition— two years before it became a national law.
“Grand Rapids has nurtured craft beer lovers for around a decade now, calling all types of beer drinkers to appreciate the
During those 15 Prohibition years in Michigan, the bootlegging
subtlety of just four ingredients,” says Lyndsay Israel on the
industry was alive and well with rum runners transporting liquor
Experience Grand Rapids blog (experiencegr.com). “Breweries
between Canada and Detroit, and a thriving gangers industry in
have covered the region and bolstered the tourism and restaurant
Chicago just a short drive into southwest Michigan. Ironically, it
industries immeasurably. Now, the spotlight turns to the next
was during the mid-20th Century that Michigan’s spirit industry
tier of craft beverage production. This is an exciting step for
all but dried up in the wake of Prohibition. It’s only been in
Grand Rapids and it’s great to see this city take that step from
recent years that the industry has come back to life, with vim
brew culture to craft culture.”
and vigor. The first experiment in the craft cocktail culture in Grand Rapids was The Viceroy, which was opened in 2010 by BarFly
Building on a growing interest in craft and locally-sourced ingredients, the GR Cocktail Guild (grcocktailguild.com) was formed in January, 2015.
The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.