The distillery equivalent to grower wines, “farm distilleries” or “estate distilleries” focus on growing the raw materials used to distill spirits.
Yet, this represents a relatively small percentage of distilleries. A number of states offer licensing and tax breaks for “farm distilleries” that work with agricultural products sourced from local growers. However, only a handful start with hands in the dirt themselves.
“I think the easiest way to describe it is: If a farmer in Pennsylvania in 1750 would recognize your business model, you’re a farm distillery,” says Mike Swanson, co-owner/head distiller of Far North Spirits in Hallock, Minnesota.
The advantage for a distillery is absolute control over the crops that are grown. Far North has experimented with growing and comparing microvarietals of rye.
Meanwhile, at Iron Fish Distillery in Thompsonville, Michigan, the producers use organic farming methods and conserve the local water supply through responsible environmental practices.
“In our own hearts, we know what we’re doing with the land, and those things are important to us,” says David Wallace, owner/partner at Iron Fish.
These four distilleries give new meaning to the “ground-to-glass” movement.
Far North Spirits
Though he grew up in a multigenerational farming family, Swanson took detours through the healthcare industry and corporate world. He returned to farm life in 2012, after his father began to talk about retirement. “You can take the boy off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy,” he says.
Today, Far North grows 100 acres of rye and 10 acres of corn used to make whiskey. Its flagship is Roknar, a robust Minnesota Rye with plenty of orchard fruit and spice. The distillery crafts other spirits like a single-estate vodka.
One of the advantages of a farm, for a producer, is that it can grow and experiment with multiple varieties of a crop. Swanson did just that with 15 varieties of rye.
After he analyzed the grains (a study of his findings will be released this summer), Swanson used some of the greatest successes to distill a limited-edition Roknar Seed Vault Series. The first round sold out quickly. A second batch is planned for fall.
Try this bottle: Roknar Minnesota Rye Whiskey
“You gotta roll with the punches. It’s all Mother Nature at the end of the day.” —Gabriella Purita, head distiller, Greenport Distilling
Long Island’s North Fork is known for its picturesque vineyards. But distilleries are a growing part of the scene here, too.
Built on the site of a former dairy farm, Whistlepig specializes in rye whiskey. Its rye crop covers 220 acres of the 500-acre farm.
“[We’ve] tried a little bit of everything,” says Emily Harrison, the distillery manager. This includes different types of wheat, heirloom rye and corn, even Dent #2 commodity corn. “What we make depends on our harvest,” she says.
Among its bottlings is Farmstock Rye. The long-term goal is to create a whiskey made entirely with grain grown on the farm. Its first three releases have been made with a small percentage of Whistlepig’s own rye, which has increased with each bottling.
The first release included 20% homegrown rye, with the rest based on more mature whiskeys sourced from Indiana and Canada. The second contained 32% of its own rye, and the third, a complex bottling that bursts with candied ginger and baking spice, increased to 52%.
A fourth edition is in the works. “It’s been the plan from Day One to do farm-to-glass,” says Pete Lynch, Whistlepig’s master blender.
Try this bottle: Whistlepig Farmstock Rye Crop 003