An hour after our release, we had 800 people lined up down the road, sold out the food truck and thought we were going to drown in guests. After that, I couldn’t wait to do that again.
Can you give us a bit of background about yourself and how you started in the whiskey industry?
I am a 5th generation farmer and have a degree in agriculture. My partners Jamie Walter & his father Jim are also 5th generation farmers with a farm 60 miles west of Chicago.
We share the passion of creating a high-quality whiskey experience that showcases our roots in agriculture.
Can you tell us about your distillery,
and what makes it unique?
Whiskey Acres is Illinois’s first estate distillery and was the second ADI certified estate distillery in the United States. We grow all of our own wheat, corn & rye and soon all our own barley. We have total control of everything that ends up in the bottle.
We may be the only folks who grow rye in Illinois for distilling. We are definitely the only distillery that has an awarded Master Farmer on the team (Jim).
Are there any little ‘distilling’ secrets you can let us in on?
I can tell you that varieties of grains matter. It is a missed opportunity to overlook this.
To oversee the expressions of a specific varietal of grain is extremely important.
Whiskey has been phenomenally successful
in the United States and around the planet,
why do you think this is compared to other spirits?
Grain for whiskey can be grown more places than fruits such as grapes or apples, which makes whiskey more common globally.
Distilleries across the world have taken those grains and turned them into unique expressions that drive consumers wanting more.
In your years in the industry, what have been the biggest surprises you have faced?
I’ll give you good & bad. The most unpleasant surprise I have seen is the competition for shelf space in the on-premise. The amount of work to do to maintain a placement is more than I imagined.
The good surprise is how much interest there is from people to come and visit us. We have had over 30,000 people come thru our visitor center with people from every continent.
What are the big trends that are affecting the whiskey industry at the moment?
What I think I’m seeing is that whiskey is following the craft brewing industry in that people are following their local brands and trusting them more.
You are also seeing older, more mature spirits that will attract more consumers. The more they try the little guys the more they can trust the quality.
Are there any interesting stories from your time in the whiskey industry that you could share?
On the day we released our first Bourbon expression thru the front door of our tasting room, we had every family member on site to handle the business. An hour after our release, we had 800 people lined up down the road, sold out the food truck and thought we were going to drown in guests. After that, I couldn’t wait to do that again.
What developments in the whiskey industry most excite you?
I’m excited to see what happens to our product as well as other small brands as they grow up and establish ourselves. We have interesting barrel programs and single varietal grain expressions that we are loving watching them mature.
What do you see as being the future of whiskey in the short term?
I think once the government starts to unleash people back into society, people will embrace small distillers for all that they did to try and help during the quarantine in 2020.
Why do you use the Glencairn Glass in your business and what makes it so special?
Glencairn just showcases quality. It’s fun to look at, fun to taste from, fun to nose. We love serving our whiskies in those glasses!
Hear from other whisky distillers
“When the family business was sold in 2006, I decide to pursue my own business, which eventually resulted in Journeyman Distillery in 2010.”
“Everyone in this industry needs to remember that we are doing way more than whisky, and other people are incorporating what we make into some of the most important moments of their lives.”
“I wanted to do something with the family farm and it is true that you can take the boy off the farm, but can’t take the farm out of the boy! While thinking of what we could do with the family farm, I was drinking a whiskey. It then dawned on me.”