After earning a degree from the University of Missouri on a full golf scholarship, Bill Welter, a graduate of Valparaiso High School, says he went to Scotland with the goal of earning a PhD in golf. But his passion for playing the links was soon equaled by the taste and history behind distilling single malt whiskeys.
Back in the U.S. Welter worked at his family owned First National Bank of Valparaiso, where his father, Chuck, was president. Instead of pursuing banking though, he decided to buy a 70,000-square-foot abandoned Featherbone factory in Three Oaks, Michigan.
Welter named his business Journeyman and began distilling an organic, kosher rye whiskey.
For years the old manufacturing plant had stood empty just a block west of downtown Three Oaks, which is on the Indiana border.
Business is very good at Journeyman, and they now produce more than two dozen different spirits.
A couple of years ago, Journeyman Distillery and The Field Museum partnered on the creation of a Field Gin. Field Rye and Field Vodka followed. Beginning last month, the spirits are now available in a three-pack featuring 200 ml bottles of each. They are currently being sold at Journeyman Distillery, The Field Museum and select Chicago retailers.
Welter's interest in history made it a natural fit when Megan Williams, Director of Business Enterprises for the Field Museum, contacted him a couple of years ago to talk about spirits.
Back in 1893 the World’s Columbian Exposition drew 27 million people to Chicago and introduced such new products as Cracker Jack, diet carbonated soda, Aunt Jemima syrup and pancake mix, and Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum.
Much less famous exhibits included the 1,500 botanicals – a term used to describe seeds, berries, roots, fruits, herbs and spices – brought from around the world to the Field Columbian Museum (now the Field Museum). Among the 40 million objects belonging to the museum – only 1 percent of which are on display – a majority of these botanicals remain. Williams, who started a beverage program around seven years ago in celebration of the museum’s 125th anniversary, wanted Welter and Journeyman’s lead distiller Matt McClain to make spirits from the botanicals as a way of connecting the museum’s past and present.
“I want to educate people through the taste and smell of something that has a historic significance,” she says. “But we wanted to take it another step further, working with people who have a passion and understanding of the museum’s language and mission.”
After meeting with Williams and seeing the botanical collection, Welter and Matt McClain, Journeyman’s lead distiller began whittling the list down to what they thought would be best for creating a vintage gin, vodka and rye whiskey.
“We first focused on selecting botanicals that wouldn’t kill us,” says Welter, noting that health regulations were a little less strict a century ago. “Then we narrowed it down to what was commercially available and then finally to what tasted great.”
It wasn’t as easy as it sounds.
“A lot of botanicals that look and taste good, don’t work when you put them in in alcohol, others that I wanted were hard to get,” says McClain, noting they used other criteria as well in the selection process. “Bill and I wanted the gin to be lavender focused. Obviously gin also has to have a heavy juniper taste as well and we wanted it to have tropical undertones and had to figure out those as well.”
For their Field Rye Whiskey, the two experimented with several varieties of figs—the world’s oldest sweeteners--before deciding Black Mission figs, soaked in alcohol for three months to bring out their natural banana, sweet melon and strawberry flavors, worked best.
Welter says the spirits do connect him with a time long ago.
“When I sip Field Gin, my mind wanders back to the 1893 Exposition,” says Welter. “The gin has a whimsical taste and the exposition had a whimsicalness to it as well.”
The following recipes are courtesy of Journeyman Distillery.
Journeyman Fig Old Fashioned
1.5 ounces Field Rye
0.5 ounce fresh orange juice
0.25 ounce Journeyman Bourbon Maple Syrup
Dash of Journeyman Barrel-Aged Balsamic Vinegar
Dehydrated orange wheel or orange slice
DIRECTIONS: Stir ingredients and pour into a rocks glass, over ice. Garnish with dehydrated orange wheel.
Field Vodka Gimlet
1.5 ounces Field Vodka
.75 ounces fresh lime juice
.5 ounces simple syrup
Fresh Lime Wheel
DIRECTIONS: Shake ingredients well and strain into a tall glass over ice. Garnish with a fresh lime wheel.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
DIRECTIONS: In a medium saucepan combine sugar and water and bring to a boil. Stir frequently until sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool.
The Journeyman donates five dollars of every bottle sold to the Field Museum. Their spirits are available in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. For more information, visit journeydistillery.com
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