• Northern Michigan's Iron Fish Distillery Thrives as State's First Farm-Based Distillery

    FROM THE Summer 2019 ISSUE

    Behind the Scenes: A Natural Spirit

In a world where guests are more concerned today with locally and sustainabily sourced food, it’s hard to compete with a distillery and event space where they can sip their cocktails while sitting near the very ingredients from which the spirits are made.

Whether listening to the buzzing bees that made the honey in the rum cocktails or sipping on gin while gazing across the way at the winter wheat that it’s crafted with, Iron Fish Distillery guests can enjoy cocktails that were made on-site basically from start to finish.

Iron fish is a phrase often used in literature to refer to steelhead trout, a fish that returns to its river of origin every year to spawn. That’s how Iron Fish Distillery owners Sarah and Richard Anderson, who spent decades in Marquette, and David Wallace and his wife Heidi Bolger, who both work in Saginaw, came up with the name for Michigan’s first and only farm-based distillery.

“We all are people who have already been through our careers and raised kids. We lived in different areas of Michigan throughout our adult lives. But this part of the state is where my mother is from so we’re kind of returning to our origin as well,” says Sarah.

Richard and Wallace came up with the idea for the farm-based distillery while they were travelling around Scotland in 2014.

Within two years, the Andersons, Wallace and Bolger had the northwest Michigan operation up and running on Wallace and Bolger’s 120-acre farm near Thompsonville, which they purchased in 2011. They all work full time in different capacities running the distillery

They make use of many of the original farm buildings, including a fully restored historic barn. The barn remains essentially unchanged from its original structure, giving it an authentic and rustic vibe. Surrounding windows allow light to pour in, creating a comfortable event venue for corporate parties, community meetings, weddings and graduation parties.

Since the distillery’s inception in September 2016, the owners have built a 5,000-square-foot production facility and tasting room, an entertaining place for gatherings and special events.

Last August, they added a 5,000-squarefoot barrel and rick house for aging their product. Above the production facility is a smaller event space that can accommodate around 45 people. That area also functions as an art gallery for local artists.

The distillery, located about 2.5 miles from Crystal Mountain, rates an ideal destination for guests and events of all kinds. People who also are exploring the area and looking to enjoy award-winning craft cocktails and live music are always welcome.

Iron Fish recently started serving fresh wood-fired pizzas using ingredients from the farm in addition to its regular menu items.

Rehmann CEO Randy Rupp says his professional advisory services firm used the venue for a partner dinner last summer, and they already made reservations for their next event.

“The experience was outstanding. The barn, grounds and distillery are well kept and clean. The staff obviously care a lot about the place, and that translates into the desire to provide a great customer experience,” Rupp says.

“I just think it’s deeply relaxing for people to be here, even if they’re doing business or celebrating. It just feels removed from daily life, which is a good thing in this day and age,” Sarah Anderson adds.

For a new distillery, Iron Fish already has won numerous awards for its spirits, including the Michigan Woodland Gin being named a Top 5 Gin by Cigar & Spirits magazine in 2018, and the Michigan Winter Wheat Vodka winning the gold medal for varietal vodka at the 2018 World Vodka Awards.

Michigan is home to nearly 150 wineries, many with private events spaces set against backdrops of picturesque vineyards and wide-open rural countryside scenes. While weddings are among the primary celebrations hosted, many also offer venues ideal for business and corporate receptions or events.


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