Explore, Experience, Enjoy

Wine, Beer and Spirits beckon Visitors to Experience Beautiful Benzie County in 2016

April 7, 2016

Source: Sally Littlefair Zarafonetis
Job Title: Media Consultant
Department: Benzie County Visitors Bureau
Phone: 616-656-5885
Email: szarafonetis@gmail.com

Benzonia, Mich. (April 7, 2016) Three unique beverage producers are excited to share their products with visitors to Benzie County this coming spring and summer. The already popular Stormcloud Brewing Company in Frankfort, which offers their own unique award-winning selection of Belgian-style craft beer, and St. Ambrose Cellars in Beulah that offers award winning wines and meads are being joined by a third producer "Iron Fish Distillery" in July 2016. Iron Fish Distillery in Thompsonville will be Michigan s first dedicated full line distillery located on a working farm offering a full line of locally produced spirits made from grains grown on 119 acres adjacent to the distillery, and fruit and grain from other farms in Northern Michigan.

All three beverage producers welcome Benzie County visitors to stop by their operations to sample and taste their unique products. Visitors to Benzie County will have the fun of making the rounds to taste Stormcloud's craft brews in their Frankfort pub, enjoy samples of wine and meads at St. Ambrose's new tasting room in Beulah, and try spirits samples and signature cocktails at the new Iron Fish Distillery in Thompsonville.

Iron Fish Distillery will also be offering farm and distillery tours to visitors who want to see how spirits are produced. Stormcloud Brewing Company offers a creative food menu, while Iron Fish Distillery will offer snacks on site. All three, Stormcloud, St. Ambrose and Iron Fish have outdoor spaces for visitors to experience Benzie County s beauty and relaxed vibe during the warmer months while tasting their products.

Note: As in any alcohol tasting a designated driver should be chosen if visitors are traveling from one site to another to experience these products. The Benzie County Visitors Bureau also has information about group transportation for visitors by calling them at 800-882-5801 for more information.

For a list of lodging properties for a spring getaways to Benzie County and to learn more about seasonal activities and events, contact Benzie County Visitors Bureau at 1-800-882-5801 or see www.visitbenzie.com.

Iron Fish Distillery
14234 Dzubaniek Road in Thompsonville, 1 mile from Crystal Mountain
Opening in July 2016
Hours: Check Iron Fish Distillery's website at www.ironfishdistillery.com for seasonal hours

The family owned Iron Fish Distillery will become Michigan's first dedicated full line distillery located on a 119 acre working farm. All of the ingredients used in their products will be sourced from local farmers or grown on fields adjacent to the distillery.

Their production operation will include milling, mashing, malting, fermenting, distilling and bottling a full spirits line. Initial production will feature vodka; gin and barrel-aged gin; and sourced bourbon whiskey. Over time, more estate-grown spirits and selected releases from partner farms will be produced including small batch runs of wheat, rye and blended whiskey; rum; as well as, fruit based liquors and gist brandies.

Iron Fish Distillery Co-Owners are sisters Sarah Anderson and Heidi Bolger and their husbands Richard Anderson and David Wallace. Both Sarah and Heidi have been long time visitors to Benzie County, since they were children. Their mother was born and raised in Benzie County and their aunt Beulah, who was a Benzie County resident her entire life, was Executive Director of the Benzie County Chamber of Commerce and a guiding force on the Animal Welfare League for Benzie County. Joining the business as Head Distiller and Partner will be Charlie Merrill, currently a long time distiller for a Pacific Northwest craft distillery.

According to Iron Fish Distillery Co-Owner Sarah Anderson, "We are now coming back to live in a place that we have loved our entire lives. And we are excited to add a new dimension to the local food and beverage movement in Benzie County by offering visitors tastings of our products and a tour of the production facility and our working farm. We want people to be able to see the step-by-step process of making spirits. The tasting room will not only offer small tastings of the products, but will also feature a full menu of signature cocktails, non-alcoholic beverages and light snacks."

She says that Iron Fish takes its name from the popular Steelhead, which are abundant in the Betsie and Platte Rivers in Benzie County. She states, "Steelhead are very prehistoric looking, powerful and a beautiful fish. Through our name and our farming practices, we want to honor the spirit of the Steelhead and the quality of the watershed that they rely on."

Iron Fish Distillery is also planning an events space within their historic barn that will be rented for weddings, family reunions and corporate events for up to 175 people. There will also be a VIP space in the barn s mezzanine (40 seats) for private dinner parties, meetings and corporate retreats. The tasting room will also be rentable during times that the tasting room (50 people capacity) is closed to the public.

Anderson states, "We are all passionate about river and trail advocacy. We look forward to becoming involved in the community as we grow Iron Fish Distillery according to the standards of MSU's Michigan Environmental Assurance Program."

Stormcloud Brewing Company
303 Main Street in Frankfort, next to the Garden Theater
Opened in 2013
Stormcloud's pub hours vary by season. Check www.stormcloudbrewing.com for current hours or call 231-352-0118

On June 20, 2013 Stormcloud Brewing Company opened to the public. Ever since that time, this new and ever growing brewery in Benzie County has been on a fast track. According to Co-Owner Rick Schmitt, "On the day we opened there was a line of people out the door and it has hardly ever stopped." Stormcloud's beer is now on the restaurant menus of 50 pubs and restaurants in Michigan's lower peninsula. At their own brewing facility and restaurant / pub on Main Street in Downtown Frankfort, visitors can sample from 16 taps of Stormcloud's Belgian style beers. Locally produced cider and mead are also commonly on tap at the brewery. Three of Stormcloud s most popular brews are the award-winning Rainmaker Ale, Wiled Away IPA, and 228 Tripel, a traditional Belgian beer.

Schmitt says, "We are so excited that business has been great. As we continue to grow and mature, the community has played a big part in our success by spreading the word and becoming regular patrons. We now have over 50 employees, and this fact is astonishing when I think about the changes we've seen over three years. We continue to work on producing more beer selections and creating a broader distribution."

A recent hire for Stormcloud is Executive Chef Joe Meyers. A Michigan native and graduate of the Oregon Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon, Meyers returned to Michigan in 2015 after working as sous chef, house butcher and charcuterie program director at Bar Avignon in Portland. He realized that Northern Michigan was a perfect location for a talented young chef to hone his culinary skills. Now at Stormcloud, in addition to their ever growing creative menu, when the mood strikes, Meyers creates a Grill Out on the patio serving different barbeque delights like grilled lamb chops, pork ribs and other unique and flavorful creations.

According to Schmitt, "We have created a third place here where people of multi-generations gather to enjoy conversation and stay to play chess and dominos and participate in regular events held weekly, such as our Trivia competition on Wednesday night and music every Saturday night. During the summer, more music events will take place during the week to accommodate the bustling business and activity in, what we feel is, the most beautiful port town in Michigan, Frankfort. We have picnic tables outside for that shared experience where, if you are a new visitor, you can meet new people including many of the locals."

Most recently, Stormcloud was voted by Trip Advisor as the #1 restaurant in Frankfort. Stormcloud Brewing Company will have a significant presence at Crystal Mountain's 11th Annual Michigan Beer and Brats Festival on May 28, 2016.

St. Ambrose Cellars
841 South Pioneer Road in Beulah, east of US-31
Tasting Room opened in 2014
Winter Hours: Nov. - May
Sundays Noon to 5pm
Monday-Saturday 12 - 6pm
Summer Hours: June - October
11 - 7 or 8 pm Monday - Sunday

St. Ambrose Cellars has been creating wine and mead for decades, but most recently built and opened a new tasting room so that visitors could enjoy their many wines and meads within a beautiful setting that includes a hand carved wood bar and ornate wood carved design features throughout the tasting room.

Their business began in the early 1980's when they started as beekeepers and opened a business called Sleeping Bear Farms. Over the years Owner Kirk Jones, with the help of local winemakers in the Northern Michigan region, obtained knowledge about good wine making and decided to apply their knowledge to also make mead, which uses honey as a main ingredient. It wasn't long before they were making 100 to 200 cases a year for their beekeeping staff and friends. The idea of starting a commercial winery was entertained and they obtained a license to process and produce wine.

Currently they press their own grapes and fruit, in addition to producing their own honeys in Michigan and Florida. Their two flagship honeys are Star Thistle produced in northern Michigan and Tupelo produced in the panhandle of Florida in the river basins.

Mead is an ancient beverage made with honey and water in its simplest form. In ancient cultures, honey was mixed with water and left to ferment with wild yeasts. The natural pollens in the honey supplied the nutrients required by the yeast to multiply and convert the sugars into alcohol. The resulting meads were most likely drunk while still in the fermentation stage and were slightly bubbly. It predates written history and was the beverage of royalty.

Mead can be expressed as dry, semi, or sweet. Some of St. Ambrose's meads are fermented with honey combined with fruits, herbs, and/or spices. Every honey has different floral and spice notes as every wine grape has different characteristics, which expresses itself in the final product.

When asked about how business has been since the tasting room has opened, Doug Coster, Brand Evangelist and General Manager said, "It's been a dream story, if you build it they will come. Sales have strongly increased continually since the day we opened the doors."

He adds, "What we love is that our tastings are free. We've found that almost everyone buys one of our wines or meads once they've tasted them. We also get a lot of repeat business. I say to our visitors - you have to come back many times to be able to taste all of the different wines and meads that we offer in our tasting room as you can't just do it in one visit, because we have so many to choose from."

According to Coster, St. Ambrose will be obtaining their brewers license very soon in order to offer a new brown mead, called a braggat for production and shipment out. He adds, "Because we'll have a license we'll also offer some beers in the tasting room exclusively for those who stop by who prefer beer over wine or mead."

Some of St. Ambrose Cellar's favorite people's choice wines and meads are Crescendo, a double gold winning red wine from the Finger Lakes International Wine competition in New York, Secret Beach, a gold medal winning white table wine from the Taster's Guild International, and two draft meads - XR Cyser called apple pie in a bottle and Black Madonna, a blackberry sour.

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