Grand Traverse Distillery Offers Spirited Date Tours

Men's Dating

Editor’s Choice Award: A Grand Traverse Distillery Tour is a Spirited Date Night Activity

Hayley Matthews
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The Short Version: Grand Traverse Distillery, located in downtown Traverse City, Michigan, makes craft spirits with locally sourced, farm-gathered ingredients. Distillery workers enjoy educating guests on the process of making whiskeys, vodkas, and other spirits. Visitors also get plenty of samples of spirits that they can purchase to sip or use in fancy cocktails on a date night at home. For its commitment to offering high-quality spirits and tasting rooms that foster a sense of connection, Grand Traverse Distillery has earned our Editor’s Choice Award.

Whether you’re in a long-term relationship or just getting to know someone, enjoying a quiet drink over conversation plays an important social role. And learning to make a specialty cocktail together can help you make a deeper connection.

In the last few decades, craft spirits have grown in popularity as Americans demand more sophisticated alcoholic beverages. It’s one thing to buy the most expensive bottle to drink at home, but it’s more exciting to tour a distillery and learn what makes craft spirits so special.

The Grand Traverse Distillery logo

Grand Traverse Distillery offers tours for unique dates.

That’s why the Grand Traverse Distillery, located in downtown Traverse City, Michigan, offers tours for a lively date night activity. Its main tasting room shows off the distillery’s long history of using locally sourced ingredients to handcraft whiskeys, vodkas, and other spirits. It offers couples a fun way to relax while learning more about the distillation process — and each other.

Founder and President Kent Rabish said there’s no need to make a unique cocktail to fully enjoy Grand Traverse Distillery spirits.

“For a guy like me, I say leave my booze alone. Give me an ice cube, a glass, and maybe a twist,” he said.

Instilling a Love of Agriculture into the Production Process

Kent was 25 years into a successful career working for a drug company when he and his wife visited a distillery during a vacation in Bend, Oregon. As a native of Poland, he had low expectations for American spirits.

“In my mind, all the quality stuff came from Europe because that was all we had for high-quality choices back then,” he said. “ I was blown away and very impressed by their products, and I thought, ‘Why can’t we do this here?’”

Photo of Grand Traverse Distillery Founder and President Kent Rabish

Grand Traverse Distillery Founder and President Kent Rabish spoke about how he started the company to cater to discerning tastes.

He started researching the craft distilling industry and leaned on his experience working on his grandfather’s farm. He had always appreciated the process of growing a seed into a product for sale at the market, and he wanted to incorporate the ingredients of local agriculture into his creations.

When Kent started looking into the process, there were only about a half-dozen craft distilleries in the nation. In 2007, he founded Grand Traverse Distillery, the first craft grain distillery in the Midwest. Today, the U.S. has more than 1,800 distilleries, and Grand Traverse Distillery is Michigan’s oldest grain-to-bottle certified craft microdistillery.

“The whole goal is using local agriculture and doing everything in-house: milling it, mashing it, fermenting it — and aging it, if it’s whiskey,” he said. “We don’t want to buy someone else’s product and repackage it, which is a lot of what’s going on in this industry now. The industry has changed a lot since I started.”

Grand Traverse Distillery continues to focus on customer needs. That’s why it added hand sanitizer to its online store and donates many jugs to frontline workers.

Behind-The-Scenes Tours Make for Memorable Dates

Daters can choose to visit the tasting room or schedule a tour of the entire distillery, located at 781 Industrial Circle in Traverse City. The tours take about an hour, and participants learn how the facility processes locally sourced grain and other ingredients into bottles of alcohol.

Photo of Grand Traverse Distillery whiskeys

Grand Traverse Distillery produces whiskeys for a wide variety of customers.

At the end of the distillery tours, offered on weekdays, is a tasting much like visitors can enjoy at the Grand Traverse Distillery tasting room at 215 E. Front Street. During the warmer summer months, the distillery also has tasting rooms in Leland, Mackinaw City, and Frankenmuth.

Kent said he and his team focus on providing all customers with the same experience at each location.

“We don’t label people. During a Porsche convention in Traverse City, people came in and tasted, but it wasn’t a buying audience. But others will pull up in some beat-up car, and they’re spending $250 on our products,” he said. “Everyone gets the same service.”

Kent compared the tastings to visiting a bakery. They bake breads with rye, potato, whole wheat, and five grains to produce unique tastes, it’s the same for spirits. The types of grains create the flavor profile of the batch.

During the tastings, visitors receive a quarter-ounce pour of three or four products to sample. After that, people usually decide on their favorite and sit down on the comfortable leather chairs and enjoy a quiet conversation. The tasting rooms don’t have TVs, only light music — a perfect backdrop to get to know someone better on a date night.

Kent said the tasting room is a frequent stop for either a before-dinner cocktail or an after-dinner drink when people want to enjoy downtown.

Grand Traverse Distillery: Take Home Some Award-Winning Spirits

The Grand Traverse Distillery is known for the quality of its spirits, and it offers some popular concoctions made with local cherries.

“We’re in the cherry capital of the U.S., so we do a cherry vodka and a cherry whiskey,” Kent said. “But there’s no cotton candy or tutti-frutti nonsense with vodkas. We have a 100% rye-based vodka and a 100% wheat-based vodka.”

Another popular product is its Ole George whiskey, a 100% straight rye with a recipe that dates back to prohibition. It produces a “high rye” bourbon, and recently made a straight wheat whiskey version that sold out in a couple of months.

Couples can pick up a bottle of chipotle vodka for delicious Bloody Marys or a cocoa-infused vodka made with organic cacao nibs and wheat vodka — perfect for a chocolate martini that’s more bitter than sweet.

The distillery also offers a wide selection of logo glassware and high-quality barware in its main tasting room. In 2021, Kent said he plans to unveil a whiskey that’s aged 10 years using a special system that he will feature on the tours.

“We’re one of the few distilleries that will bring you back to production,” he said. “We like to educate customers about what to look for if you want to support local agriculture. Some companies buy a product from a large industrial company in bulk and bottle it. But we’re a distillery, not a bottling company.”