Both Brandon Voorhees and Steve Vander Pol have parted ways with the Mitten State since graduating from high school at Tri-Unity Christian, yet Voorhees says, somehow, they always find their way back home.
“Growing up, Steve and I have always been close friends and we always kind of knew we wanted to get into some kind of business that we could call our own here in our favorite city,” says Voorhees, who alongside Vander Pol is co-founder of Gray Skies Distillery
,which officially opened the doors to its 10,000-square-foot North Monroe distillery and tasting room on St. Patrick’s Day last week.
Voorhees and Vander Pol initially launched Gray Skies Distillery in 2014, spending the last couple of years brushing up on crystallization and fermentation techniques and securing the once dilapidated warehouse space at 700 Ottawa Ave. NW.
“We both just had a passion for (distilling) instantly, and the last couple years have been just planning and getting the right space, creating the right plans to move forward and create spirits that our city can be proud of,” Voorhees says.
Alongside a rum spirit, Voorhees is most excited about Gray Skies’ Barrel Finished Hopped Gin, with its Citra hops ingredient being a nod to Grand Rapids’ reputation as Beer City, USA.
“It’s been quite well received in the marketplace so far, and we’re excited about what could happen with it,” he says. “… Everybody wants to use this awesome agriculture we have around us, and we thought this would be an awesome thing that would be well received here.”
Furnished with repurposed mid-century pieces around a bar crafted from wood and metal, Voorhees says the goal with GSD’s interior renovation was to create a tasting room space in what was clearly and primarily a distillery, with big glass windows allowing patrons a look into the massive vats filling its fermentation room.
“We definitely had a plan for Gray Skies — we were going to be a manufacturing and distribution plant. We want to get our products on the shelves of our favorite bars and restaurants, as well as in our tasting room,” he says. “We didn’t try and create a restaurant. ...It’s an interesting space, it’s a cool space, but the one thing we want people to feel like is, ‘I’m in this bar, but I definitely know there’s a distillery right on the other side of the door.’”
Currently, GSD is offering free tours of the distillery, complete with complimentary tastings for three different times slots every Saturday and Sunday, with a reservation form available on the website.
“We want everybody to feel welcome to come in, let us explain how we make the products, give you a taste of them and bring you on a tour,” Voorhees says. “It’ll be fun for people to come on in and see, ‘Alright, these are the grains you’re bringing in from West Michigan farmers, and this is how you turn them into some of the things we’re drinking. We don’t want anyone to have any excuse not to come in.”
To learn more about the new Gray Skies Distillery or to book your free tour and tasting, visit www.grayskiesdistillery.com or find Gray Skies Distillery here on Facebook
Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Gray Skies Distillery