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Journeyman Distillery made 100 cases of Field Museum Gin in a collaboration with the iconic natural history museum in Chicago earlier this year, not anticipating how strong the demand would be.

The gin, made with botanicals and plants housed within the Field Museum, sold out within a week.

"We've made it six or seven times since then," lead distiller Matthew McClain said. "If we had actually known it was something that would sell so well, we would have made it easier to make. It's a fairly intensive process."

The distillery just across the state line in Three Oaks, Michigan, which has been planning a second location in downtown Valparaiso, was given a list of the 1,500 different historical and unique botanicals and plants in the Field Museum's extensive collection, dating back to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and narrowed it down to 27.

"It was a lot of fun," McClain said. "It was like being back in school. We researched many we never heard of before. We looked at some with cool names only to discover they were poison. We had to work through which would work well together. Many came from different parts of the world, and some are probably still stranded in the air that never made it here."

The resulting gin contains many botanicals rarely, if ever, used in liquor, such as Valerian and marshmallow roots and horehound and prickly ash herbs.

"I've never seen those in a spirit," McClain said. 

The Field Museum Gin ended up with about three times as many botanicals and herbs as Journeyman's regular gin, resulting in a lot of complexity.

"It's lavender in the front but kind of a roller coaster of different flavors," McLain said. "It moves on to a dark, deep fruit type flavor and then a black licorice or anise. We didn't want anything super-straightforward. It's a journey for your palate."

Journeyman and the Field Museum teamed up to produce special turn-of-the-century gin, rye and vodka to celebrate the museum's 125th anniversary. The rye is sweetened with Black Mission fig while the vodka is gluten-free and made with organic heirloom "bloody butcher" red corn that evokes the terroir of Illinois.

The idea was to use ingredients that were displayed at the 1893 World’s Fair, the year the museum opened.

“This is an incredible opportunity," Valparaiso native and Journeyman distiller Bill Welter said. "We’ve done collaborations with other distillers, bars and restaurants, but never with what I consider an American icon."

The Field Museum has previously partnered with Off Color Brewing and Two Brothers Brewing Co. on craft beers that are served at the bar in the museum. Journeyman marketing manager Sandi Weindling said co-owner Johanna Welter had a personal connection at the museum that resulted in the latest collaboration.

"It's carried in Chicago at Binny's and here in Three Oaks," she said. "It's been very popular this holiday season. The bottles are lovely, and it appeals to folks interested in Chicago history, historical references or the Field Museum. A portion of the proceeds benefit the museum."

The spirits use such obscure ingredients that Journeyman actually had to prove to federal agencies for the first time that several were Generally Recognized as Safe, getting them GRAS designations for distilling for the first time.

"We had to drop three of the ingredients because we couldn't get them approved and it was too much of a hassle," McClain said. "It is very different from a normal gin."

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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.