Grand Traverse Distillery: Kent Rabish

The different grains, the different types of smoke, the different mashbills. It is like the music of the 60s and how they changed the way we listen to music, the same is happening now in whiskey.

Can you give us a bit of background about yourself and how you started in the whiskey industry?

My wife & I were visiting friends back in 2001 in Bend Oregon, when it was suggested that we stop off at the Bend Distillery tasting room for a drink. I was blown away by the quality!  Here was American made product – vodka, gin, whiskey!  It took me 3 years before I got things going, but were up & rolling in 2006, with a licence to distil in 2007. Before that I was a pharmaceutical rep, with a degree in biology & chemistry, plus worked my grandfather’s farm. He was named George Rabish, so we called our vodka Ole George. We are also of Polish descent so we love our vodka.  We love supporting the local farmers growing American grain.

Can you tell us about your distillery, and what makes it unique?

#1 We are one of the very few that is grain to bottle. Everything is in-house!

#2 We are the oldest craft distillery in Michigan.

#3 We are a father & son operation, which is rare these days.

Are there any little ‘distilling’ secrets you can let us in on?

We have played around with the length of our fermentation, as well as the cuts to our heads & tails. We like to do stuff the way we do it.  Not sure if that is an actual secret, however.

We played around with 38 different recipes for our gin before settling on our final design.

Whiskey has been phenomenally successful in the United States and around the planet, why do you think this is compared to other spirits?

You have vodka as a category, and there is varying quality, but there are more similarities than differences.  But when it comes to whiskey, the differences are numerous!  What kind & size of barrels are you using?  What time of year are you making it?  So many different mashbill combinations. There really is something for everyone! There are just so many different flavors of whiskey, thus more for palates to pickup.

In your years in the industry, what have been the biggest surprises you have faced?

What the markets have turned into as far as craft distilleries are concerned.

For instance, are the distillers authentic?

This is why we try to educate the public as much as we can on authenticity, and how to read a label so that they can see if the distiller is actually making what that person is drinking.

What are the big trends that are affecting the whiskey industry at the moment?

The creative aspect of the different mashbills that you see worldwide.  How distillers are smoking their grain, or seeing smaller batches that are experiments. We ourselves produced a peated malted barley/rye and are continuously experimenting. Folks really are producing great stuff all over the world these days.

Are there any interesting stories from your time in the whiskey industry that you could share?

About 3 years ago, we had a Scottish family stop into the distillery.  The father asked what is your oldest, which was only 4 years old.  He said he only drank whisky that was at least 10 years old.

His kids convinced him to taste it, so he did, and then he discovered that he really liked it.  It was great to open his mind up to an American whiskey!

What developments in the whiskey industry most excite you?

The creativity of new whiskey.

The different grains, the different types of smoke, the different mashbills. It is like the music of the 60s, and how that music changed the way that we listen to music.

That same thing is happening now in whiskey.

I would also like to see the category of American single malt become a reality.  Why not?  It would be great!

What do you see as being the future of whiskey in the short term?

I am hoping that everyone survives this current situation.

I think there will be a lot of craft distillers & craft brewers going out of business.  We have a very creative industry and they keep on pushing the boundaries of what can be done, it would be great to see that continue.

Why do you use the Glencairn Glass in your business and what makes it so special?

For us & for me, it is the perfect glass to drink spirits.  It is the gold standard!  It’s perfect for nosing & drinking.  We sell a lot of them out of the tasting room, plus I have loads around the house that I always pull out to test friends out on whiskeys. It is just the perfect whiskey glass!

I really love the (Canadian) Mixer Glass as well.