Autumn Spirits

October 2017 View more

By the first day of fall, my taste buds are already weary of pumpkin-spice anything. Such mass-produced drinks leave me longing for something pure and authentic, which could explain why small craft distilleries are having a renaissance in the American Midwest. Although the Kentucky Boubon Trail may be better known, Chicago’s western suburbs have not been left behind; in fact, area distilleries are at the vanguard. Locally grown corn, rye, hops—and even apples—yield to fermentation and distillation in beautiful expressions that will make you think about the fall harvest in a whole new adult way.

My recent visits to several facilities left me fascinated (and a little tipsy) by the passion, knowledge and hospitality of their owners, bartenders and makers. So skip the pumpkin farm and instead plan a short road trip to all or any of four establishments offering locally crafted spirits. We threw in two Naperville-based manufacturers—a cidery and a brewery—for cost-effective Uber jaunts. Designate a driver, take a tour and enjoy a few ounces of a fabulous farm-to-bottle brew—truly the best way to celebrate the season.

2 Fools Cider (est. 2016)
Naperville  |  Cider

Keep your doctor away in this unencumbered, friendly nook enjoying fabulous craft ciders milled from Michigan apples. The Hopped Cider is a crowd-pleaser with its dry bite and crisp fruit, but with ten ciders on the menu board, there’s something for everyone. I dare you to resist the charm of the Pinehopple and the grown-up Cherry Slushee.

Black Dog Distillery (est. 2015)
Plainfield  |  Vodka

Craft vodka purists who avoid flavored spirits will be converted by Black Dog Distillery. Its award-winning lavender- infused vodka lemonade makes the drive to this charming and whimsical distillery worth it. While you’re there, admire the hand-painted signs quoting barroom sages. If you like a little heat, do not miss the bloody mary. Black Dog makes and bottles its own Serrano bloody mary mix and it’s a spicy cure for whatever ails you.

Fox River Distilling Co. (est. 2014)
Geneva  |  Bourbon, Gin, Vodka, Whiskey

If your modern American history professor skipped over the colorful history of distilleries in the US, the owner of Fox River Distillery will hold you spellbound with his prodigious knowledge on the making of spirits; and he pours every bit of knowledge into his oak barrels. I’m not someone who drinks liquor straight, but the Bennett Mill Single Barrel Straight Bourbon made a woman out of me. Its smooth taste won a Gold Medal, Best of State and Best of Show awards in the American Craft Spirits Association Heartland Whiskey Competition.

Solemn Oath Brewery (est. 2012)
Naperville  |  Beer

This award-winning craft brewery specializes in West Coast, Belgian and barrel-aged beers. The high-energy taproom will transport you back to your younger days, but now you have better taste and more money. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the Man vs. Internet vs. Mothra, a bourbon barrel-aged double red ale: it looks like beer and tastes like an after-dinner drink. With an impressive menu of intriguing brews, a tasting flight is your best option.

Tailwinds Distilling Co. (est. 2012)
Plainfield  |  Blue Agave Spirits, Rum

If raking the fall leaves is getting you down, spirit away to Plainfield for a taste of warm, tropical days. Tailwinds specializes in craft rums and liquors distilled from agave in a laid-back, intimate tasting room; it’s the perfect place to slip into a Hawaiian shirt and sip a Taildragger Mai Tai before heading out to dinner. If you’re feeling bold, try the nuanced Taildragger White Rum neat or the
super-smooth Taildragger Coffee Rum.

Whiskey Acres  (est. 2014)
Dekalb  |  Rye, Whiskey, Vodka, Bourbon

The fields of grain at Illinois’ first estate distillery are transformed into award-winning spirits. Folks at this fifth-generation family-owned farm are rewriting the rules on making spirits: “Great whiskey isn’t made, it’s grown.” The tasting in the rackhouse, surrounded by aging barrels of fine whiskey and the aromatic sweetness of the “Angel’s share,” is a singular experience. T ry the Midwest Mule or the Bourbon Slush.