Michigan has quite a bit in common with Scandinavia: peninsulas, water, fishing, cold winters, and now highly acclaimed versions of Aquavit, thanks to Long Road Distillery. The Grand Rapids-based company’s version of the popular Scandinavian spirit recently earned Best in Show honors at the American Craft Spirits Association (ASCA) Annual Distillers Convention and Vendor Trade Show in Nashville, Tennessee.
If you’re not familiar with this unusual libation, it’s a relatively neutral spirit distilled from grain or potato. It is somewhat similar to vodka, except that it is most commonly flavored with caraway as its dominant spice. Some versions also include dill, fennel, coriander, citrus and anise.
Aquavit is derived from the Latin aqua vitae, meaning “water of life.” It’s said that in the 1300s, a Spanish alchemist believed he had discovered a healing liquid after distilling a batch. The spirit supposedly helped ward off disease and old age, and was apparently commonly used as medicine during the Black Death period. Believe it or not, in the 15th century it was even considered to be a cure for alcoholism. Today it’s still believed to help digest rich food, and makes an interesting substitution for vodka in Bloody Marys and Martinis.
Arguably the best place to try this award-winning spirit is to visit Long Road Distillery in person. The bar and restaurant are open Mon-Thu 4PM-Midnight; Fri-Sun Noon-Midnight; and Sun Noon-9PM. Tours are also available periodically, and a schedule is available online.
In addition to Best in Show honors for Aquavit at the ASCA show, Long Road also racked up medals for its Gin and Cherry Brandy. Though they are not the only Michigan distillery to fare well. In all, seven of the state’s craft distillers brought home a collective total of 18 medals.
The winners were hand-selected among a record-breaking pool of more than 550 entrants from 39 states. Michigan medals include:
- Gold: Arbor Fall Gin from Ann Arbor Distilling Company in Ann Arbor
- Silver: Long Road Gin from Long Road Distillers in Grand Rapids
- Bronze: Arbor Winter Gin from Ann Arbor Distilling Company in Ann Arbor
- Bronze: Barrel Finished Hopped Gin from Gray Skies Distillery in Grand Rapids
- Bronze: Knickerbocker Gin from New Holland Artisan Spirits in Holland
- Bronze: Knickerbocker Barrel Gin from New Holland Artisan Spirits in Holland
- Bronze: Long Road Cherry Brandy from Long Road Distillers in Grand Rapids
- Bronze: Freshwater Michigan Rum from New Holland Artisan Spirits in Holland
- Silver: Apple Sauce from Motor City Gas in Royal Oak
- Bronze: Butcher’s Cut Bourbon from Detroit City Distillery in Detroit
- Homegrown Rye Whiskey from Detroit City Distillery in Detroit
- Royal Oaked Rye from Motor City Gas in Royal Oak
- Zeppelin Bend from New Holland Artisan Spirits in Holland
- Zeppelin Bend Reserve from New Holland Artisan Spirits in Holland
- J. Riddle Peated Bourbon from Two James Spirits in Detroit
- Catcher’s Rye Whiskey – 100% Michigan Rye from Two James Spirits in Detroit
- Gold: Long Road Aquavit from Long Road Distillers in Grand Rapids
- Bronze: Clockwork Orange from New Holland Artisan Spirits in Holland
Michigan’s craft distilling industry is growing at a rapid pace, ranking 11th in the nation in terms of overall number of distilleries, and clearly the quality is growing as well.