The Rapidian

Long Road Distillers advocates west side revitalization

The first craft distillery in Grand Rapids will be opening on Leonard Street this coming fall, with licensing that includes distribution, sales and tastings.
Jon O'Connor and Kyle Van Strien

Jon O'Connor and Kyle Van Strien /Eric Tank

Underwriting support from:

Location

537 Leonard NW between Quarry and Gezon Avenues 

Storefront

Storefront /Eric Tank

Interior renovation in process

Interior renovation in process /Eric Tank

This fall Long Road Distillers, Grand Rapids' first and only craft distillery, will join the ranks of established and upcoming businesses peppering the Leonard Street corridor. 

The two story brick building, a former clothing store at 537 Leonard Street NW, is currently under renovation to house Long Road, which the entire operation- from milling the grain to pouring cocktails- will function. At approximately 8,000 total square feet, about 1,500 feet on the north ground level will be used for production space with the remaining 2,500 feet of space on the ground level dedicated as the cocktail lounge, seating up to 80 people. 

The north end of the lounge will feature a glass wall encasing the 14 1/2 foot still that will be erected through the ceiling into the second floor. A second, narrower 25 foot still will be added within the first year. The 14 foot, 300 liter batch still is capable of producing 7,500 cases per year. With the second still added the total production will max out at 20,000 cases per year. 

The second level will have a more laid back feel, with foosball and other games, and be amenable for group events with seating up to 120 people. 

Production will start with red wheat vodka, which will serve as a base for flavored vodkas. A couple of varieties of gin from dry to citrus and floral, white whiskey, aged bourbon and rye bases will fill out the menu. Long Road is working with a local farmer to source red winter wheat, rye and corn. 

"We're selling you a craft product that we hope and we believe will be as good as any product you can buy anywhere in the world," says co-owner Jon O'Connor." "It's a little more costly for us to do that, so we want to make sure that we can have that consistently high quality product that people will understand and appreciate and pay the premium price for."

Their licensure allows Long Road to distribute, sell bottles out the door and do tastings. 

"Initially our goal is to do everything we can right here and sell out the front door and in cocktail form whatever we can because we want to make sure that we can meet local demand and we're not running out," says co-owner Kyle Van Strien. 

"We're in the spirit business," says O'Connor. "We're not trying to get into the food business. But we know that when you have a cocktail you want to have something good to munch on along the way." 

To meet that need, the distillery will serve light dishes such as cured meats, cheeses, veggies, dips, sandwiches and desserts.

For patrons inclined more towards other alcoholic drinks, Long Road is applying for a microbrew license to provide at least one of their own beers on tap as an alternative. Adding to the variety will include ciders and possibly wine. 

Both Van Strien and O'Connor have been west side residents since their college days nearly ten years ago. The two initially met while serving on the West Grand Neighborhood Organization board of directors. They collaborated to start the WelcomeWest non-profit that hosts the annual WinterWest event. 

Their commitment to the West Side is why Leonard Street is the perfect place to open the distillery.

"That's why we're here, because everything we've done in our spare time for the past 10 years has been for the West Side and in the West Side," says Van Strien.  

"We've been preaching the merits of the West Side since we've been in town," says O'Connor. 

Long Road hopes to be open by late Autumn 2014.

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