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Journeyman Distillery blazes ahead with big expansion
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Journeyman Distillery blazes ahead with big expansion

Journeyman Distillery, an artisanal organic distillery that Valparaiso native Bill Welter opened just across the Michigan state line four years ago, is graduating to the next level.

The craft distillery in Three Oaks, best known for its fine whiskeys, has quadrupled its production capacity, opened a 500-person event space for wedding receptions and other gatherings, and launched the Staymaker Restaurant.

The new 125-seat full-service restaurant in a historic buggy whip and corset factory at 109 Generations Drive offers gourmet fare that includes locally grown kale salads, mussels steamed in an apple cider liqueur, and gourmet bison burgers.

Many of Journeyman's customers drive in from Northwest Indiana and Chicago, often stopping at nearby Greenbush Brewing Co. and area wineries during the trip, marketing director Nick Yoder said. They have long clamored for more on the menu than just soup and sandwiches.

"The restaurant greatly expands our dining options and allows us to push our cocktail innovation even further," Yoder said.

A staymaker is a person who made corsets, and the restaurant's name is a nod to the history of corset-making at the Featherbone Factory in downtown Three Oaks, which was, perhaps ironically, owned by a prohibitionist who bought up all the liquor licenses in town to try to make Harbor County dry.

"People have long told us of the need for a full-service restaurant here at the distillery," Welter said.

"With production currently at capacity on our original still, we immediately jumped at the opportunity when the northern half of the building became available last year. Using the space as both a way to add expanded dining options and more production capacity just made sense."

Craft distilleries are still nowhere near as popular as their craft brewery brethren, but they're undergoing a boom as consumer tastes evolve. Recent openings include Frankfort Spirits in Frankfort, Ill., the Indiana Whiskey Co. in South Bend, and Hotel Tango Whiskey in Indianapolis. Three new craft distilleries are looking to open in Kalamazoo, Mich.

"It's kind of piggy-backing off the craft beer," Yoder said.

"It's kind of the next step in the process. There's not as many doing craft distilling, so people are doing that now. Society has turned much more toward wanting artisanal handcrafted foods, knowing where it comes from, seeing where it's made. You even see a lot of the big guys trying to take that same approach, trying to seem smarter and more artisanal."

Journeyman Distillery, which uses only organic Midwestern grains, has been making about 2,500 bottles a week of kosher-certified gins, liqueurs and spirits that are now distributed in more than a dozen states. Popular items include Featherbone Bourbon Whiskey, Last Feather Rye Whiskey, Buggy Whip Wheat Whiskey and Three Oaks Single Malt.

After the expansion, the distillery will be able to produce about 12,500 bottles a week, which should allow it to grow its footprint and be more experimental, Yoder said. Journeyman, for instance, recently tried making an all-corn whiskey and a 100 percent rye.

"We'll play around with the grains a little bit," he said.

Staymaker’s rustic dining room, which extensively uses repurposed wood, looks over the towering, two-story stills.

The old tasting room had a limited menu, but the new restaurant offers gourmet food such as crisp pork bellies, shisitsu peppers and roasted root vegetables that can be savored with craft cocktails with names like Cable Car and Winter is Coming.

"I'm beyond excited to make use of our brand new kitchen," head chef Luke Caenepeel said. "The new equipment and expanded space will allow us to create dishes we could only dream of in the past."

His menu draws heavily on local and house-made ingredients. There's a focus on Detroit-style pizza, a square deep dish with crusts made from the same grain that goes into the whiskey. The olives are brines with the same botanicals that go into the gin. The locally sourced sausage is ground in-house.

"Each of our dishes has been constructed with the distillery in mind," Caenepeel said. "Just like our spirits, the food is small-batch and artisanal."


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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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