Traverse City’s winemakers, brewers and distillers are winning international awards for a wide array of craft brews, wines and spirits by expressing the area’s freshness, beauty and sense of fun in every bottle they make.
Traverse City, MI - February 05, 2013 - The Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau has just released a new guide to the community's prolific wine, beer and microdistillery scene, highlighting what has become one of the most dynamic small industries in the country.
USA Today and TripAdvisor have both listed Traverse City as one of the Top 10 wine destinations in the United States. The Travel Channel and Draft Magazine have both listed it among the nation's top beer destinations.
What's going on in this little Michigan resort town? Plenty, says Mike Norton, author of "Spirits of Traverse City," which is being published this month.
"A Traverse City wine shouldn’t taste like a California wine," he says. "A Traverse City beer shouldn’t taste like a Milwaukee beer. And whiskey made in Traverse City shouldn’t taste as if it came from Tennessee."
The uniquely fresh, clean and intensely aromatic wines grown on the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas have won the loyalty of delighted customers and the respect of wine critics. Thanks to the region’s unique glacier-sculpted landscape and the cool blue depths of the waters that surround it, Traverse City’s unique combination of climate, topography and soils – its terroir, as the French say – is producing wines that taste like, well, like Traverse City.
Few wine-growing regions are located so far to the north, and strangely enough, it’s that “northern-ness” that makes the wine so good. The region’s warm days and cool nights gently balance the acids in the fruit and prevent the vines from metabolizing the sugars they’re busy making during the daytime, which makes grapes sweeter and more flavorful than they would be if grown farther south.
Occasionally, vintners will go a step further by adding distinctively local flavors (especially juice from the region’s famed cherries) to their wines. But nobody takes this approach more enthusiastically than the area’s brewers, who love to add local flavorings to their beers and ales.
Traverse City now boasts nine microbreweries, brewpubs and craft brew taprooms – three of them added in the past year – with three more scheduled to open this summer. The region’s orchards and vineyards have been joined by acres of hopyards. Grown on enormous 15- to 20-foot trellis systems, hops provide one of the key flavorings in beers and ales.
“We could use local hops in all our beers if there was enough production to meet our needs – and I think there will be,” says Mike Hall, master brewer for Northern United Brewing, which creates the beers for Traverse City’s North Peak Brewing Co. and the Grizzly Peak Brewing Co. of Ann Arbor, as well as the Jolly Pumpkin family of microbreweries.
But “terroir” is not limited to beer and wine. The distilled spirits produced by Traverse City vintners and microdistillers also carry distinctive flavors – from the fruit brandies produced by local wineries (try the cherry eau de vie at Black Star Farms or the delightful Cinq a Sept brandy at Chateau Chantal) to the small-batch vodkas and whiskeys made by Grand Traverse Distillery in Traverse City and Northern Latitudes Distillery in Lake Leelanau.
Grand Traverse Distillery is Michigan’s largest microdistillery, and their True North Vodka is distilled from locally grown rye (“the finest rye in the world”) and the region’s sweet glacial water. They also make a True North flavored with a hint of Traverse City cherries, a wheat vodka made from Michigan wheat, and a 93 proof straight rye whiskey called Ole George.
Meanwhile, Hall and his crew at Jolly Pumpkin have created a wide menu of “Civilized” spirits at their own microdistillery – almost all of them compounded with local ingredients: a vodka made from local Riesling grapes, a cherry vodka called Sakura, a gin made with Old Mission juniper berries, and whiskeys made with local rye and wheat.
Northern Latitudes Distillery opened its doors in early 2012, creating whiskeys that use locally-grown corn, rye and wheat (though, like the brewers, they still have to import barley from nearby states), vodka produced from Michigan wheat, corn and sugar beets – and one flavored with locally-grown horseradish -- as well as gin flavored with local juniper and other botanicals.
“Utilizing local products in our distilling gives visitors an opportunity to take home a ‘piece’ of the area,” says owner Mark Moseler