Looking for someplace a little unexpected to fill out your short list of meeting and event venue options? Book a distillery. With enticing locations across the state, these unique environments share the history and process behind their liquor in a special setting that will keep guests talking for a long time.
With two locations in Detroit’s historic Eastern Market District, Detroit City Distillery has become a hot spot lately for meetings and events. The Tasting Room, a cocktail bar with a small distillery in back, can accommodate 80 for private events, while The Whiskey Factory, a production space and event venue, holds up to 250.
“There’s a uniquely Detroit story that’s inherent in that space,” says Michael Forsyth, a founder and partner, about the site where Goebel beer and Stroh’s ice cream once were made.
Guests can make spirits or their own barrel of whiskey for events, which can be completely customized. The fact that the venue teams up with various culinary partners for a chefdriven menu leads to a highly crafted food and bar experience.
“People don’t just want to have an event, they want to have an experience,” says Forsyth. “Whether it’s a corporate event or a wedding, folks really gravitate toward experiences centered around food and beverage, specifically local makers. They want to understand who makes the products, where the grains come from in the whisky and the process behind it.”
Haley Lertola, owner and designer of Detroit Cultivated in Detroit, says there is no other venue like The Whiskey Factory in the city. “The venue boasts a stunning secondfloor wooden bar from the 1930s where guests can gather for cocktails,” she says. “Their Detroit City Distillery spirits, crafted on-site, using ingredients from local farms, perfectly aligns with Detroit Cultivated’s dedication to sustainability.”
Her event production company has hosted corporate events at The Whiskey Factory ranging from 40 to 160 guests, and will soon host its first wedding there for 110.
“The beauty of The Whiskey Factory is the versatility of the space,” says Lertola. “The placement of columns throughout the secondfloor space makes a 160-guest dinner feel just as intimate as a 40-guest dinner.”
Adds Forsyth: “We’re very fortunate to be able to provide this in a historic structure with amazing history that’s an important part of Detroit craftsmanship and legacy. We’re able to share the history of the space in a way that lets people write their own history with a really personal experience for events.”
In Traverse City and Central Lake, Mammoth Distilling features event facilities providing experiences that turn a regular event into something memorable, says Robin Bunker, general manager of tasting rooms.
Mammoth’s tasting rooms offer tasting flights, cocktail workshops and private parties, while its production facility offers tours, classes and blending workshops.
Lisa Winter, executive sales for Elanco in Traverse City, appreciates the location for its local spin, convenient parking, customization and the on-site staff that was there to support her 30 guests. She booked the space for a client educational lecture during a catered dinner with an after-dinner Mammoth whiskey and chocolate pairing.
“The evening was lovely,” says Winter, who was impressed with the level of thoughtfulness and personalized care. “Robin and the Mammoth staff provided intuitive and flawless service.”
From paired tastings to cocktail workshops, Bunker says distilleries can offer a handson experience on top of the novel tasting of spirits. “We are able to show you the science behind making our product,” she says. “We show how our products are made through tours of our production facility and through blending workshops where participants learn about the art of blending gin and whiskeys.”
Blending whiskeys is one of the distillery’s more intimate experiences. A favorite workshop for weddings is a hands-on blending class for the bridal or bachelor party where friends come together to learn about blending, then choosing and building their own blend held in a 5-gallon barrel. This is done well in advance so the blend has time to age. When it’s time for the wedding reception, they get to serve their own personal blended whiskey right out of the barrel for everyone to enjoy.
In Grand Rapids, associations and corporations often book the event space at Long Road Distillers for dinner and tours for out-of-town guests, says Jenney Grant, operations and education manager. The Rickhouse on the second floor can seat around 120 for dinner and 150 for cocktail events.
“We want to show people something different,” she says. And that they do with a large glass wall overlooking the distillery below and food and drink made from scratch on-site. From team-building events to corporate celebrations, the location is ideal for businesses. “They like the entrepreneurial spirit of distilleries and they like to see things from the start and how they develop. They want to understand what they’re drinking,” adds Grant.
Besides, she says meetings and events need a creative place for people to get inspired by Michigan agriculture and think about things in different ways. The fact that 75 percent of these guests have never been in a distillery before enhances the experience.
The distinct locale also hosts summer weddings for as many as 120 guests. “It’s been a really successful part of the Rickhouse, which is all wood, so it doesn’t require a lot of decorating,” says Grant. “It has its own vibe.”
Wendy Morga, HR director with Plante Moran, says the staff at Long Road was great to work with for their team’s annual meeting. “The space in the Rickhouse allowed us to meet in small groups, listen to speakers, engage in team-building and enjoy entertainment. Our meeting was a mix of business and social, which Long Road helped us execute perfectly,” she says. “A highlight of the day was the team-building event that Long Road put together. We were able to learn more about their spirits, work in teams, and enjoy some friendly competition.”
New Holland Brewing distills all of its Knickerbocker Gin line at The Knickerbocker in Grand Rapids. “This allows for meetings and events at our facility to see a tour of our production and see our still in action, right in the midst of event or meeting spaces,” says Dave White, VP of retail operations for New Holland Brewing, which also includes the Pub on 8th in Holland.
“We have different gin flavors and cocktails and with a full-service kitchen, offer spectacular cocktail packages, gin and whiskey flights, and guided tastings,” he says. It has hosted events as small as single business meetings to large receptions, corporate launches and conventions. “We can host groups from 25 to 625 in rooms that are unique, private and customized to your event,” adds White. “We have even hosted a wedding.”