November’s scarce daylight and insinuating chill demands that we stoke the wood stove, don the flannel and get down to the business of Northern Michigan whiskey. First fermented for medicinal use in medieval monasteries, this manifold elixir can be a singular or blended distillate of rye, wheat, corn or barley, each of which bestows distinct layers of flavors to the resultant hooch. Whiskey’s aging regimen in toasted oak barrels determines color and texture and lends dimension to flavor compounds derived from the grains. Longer cask exposure makes for smoother, more textural whiskeys, and, in the cooperage, everything from sherry barrels and Sauternes barrels to heavily charred Missouri oak is deployed.

With a proliferation of boutique distilleries and a craft cocktail culture to support them, whiskey is having its heyday. Read on as we sip our way through six locally distilled whiskeys to stash in your cabinet, originally published in the November 2015 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.

Grand Traverse Distillery, Ole George Straight Rye Whiskey
Bottled at a burley 93 proof, Ole George is a spicy iteration of straight rye with vanilla and toffee underpinnings. Sip it straight or in classic rye cocktails like the Sazerac.

Traverse City Whiskey, Company Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Distilled, aged and bottled right in downtown Traverse City, this Mitten-born straight bourbon has signature sweet caramel notes from its distilled corn and séjour in toasty American oak. Mix it up in one of the Whiskey Company’s New Fashioned cocktails.

Northern Latitudes Distillery, Deer Camp Whiskey
Northern Latitudes crafts this deceptively smooth bourbon from a mixed mash bill. Best served straight up in an old tin cup nested among poker chips and spent shell casings. (Only available at the Lake Leelanau tasting room.)

Civilized Spirits, Single MaltCivilized distills a malted barley homage to Scotch, the Celtic king of whiskeys. Sophisticated and, well, civilized, with a touch of smokiness, it should be sipped on the rocks or with a small splash of water.

Northern Michigan Whiskey Cocktail Recipes:

Grand Traverse Distillery Smoked Honey Whiskey Sour 

  • 2 ounces Ole George Rye Whiskey
  • 2 ounces Bittermilk Smoked Honey
  • Whiskey sour mix
  • Lemon twist garnish

Combine ingredients, shake, pour over ice.

Traverse City Whiskey Company The New Fashion

  • 2 orange wedges
  • 2 dashes of bitters
  • 2 ounces Traverse City Whiskey
  • 1 slice of lemon
  • Large ice cubes
  • Splash of seltzer

In a rocks glass muddle the orange wedges and bitters, add the whiskey and ice cubes, stir then top with seltzer and garnish with lemon slice.

More Northern Michigan Spirits:

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Photo(s) by Dave Weidner