One of my more vivid memories as an adult, for a reason I’ll never be able to understand, is sitting at a bar in Louisville with Long Road Distillers founders Jon O’Connor and Kyle Van Strien.
There are several reasons it shouldn’t be so vivid, but one reason it definitely stood out was the bar had live goldfish in it.
We were there a few years ago working on a project — one that hopefully has legs and restarts itself soon — and the few days were overall a great experience, but that weird moment always will stick out.
Long Road opened its newest outpost this week: Less Traveled by Long Road Distillers, at 959 Cherry St. SE in Grand Rapids. It joins the main distillery at 537 Leonard St. NW and two locations in Grand Haven and Cadillac.
I chatted with O’Connor this week to see what’s new at Long Road.
Pat: Why open this new Grand Rapids location?
Jon O’Connor: The West Side is our home, but we’ve never had great outdoor space for the guest experience. As we’ve looked many times to how we could provide and create an outdoor guest experience, we just never had a great way to do it in our home location. Given the trends of everything happening and people wanting to have a drink outside at that location, this location really presented itself.
It sits in the middle of a super vibrant business district. (It’s) this one little weird spot. All the other buildings touch the sidewalk, but then this little gap tooth right there was the perfect location to have a really cool patio space, and we jumped at the chance to do what we do in a reimagined capacity.
Pat: So what’s different compared to the original location?
JO: This will be our fourth location that does full cocktails. It was easy to do Grand Haven and Cadillac the same, but two in one town doesn’t allow us to do that. So we figured, let’s do something where we don’t play by all our same rules.
It still serves exclusively Long Road products, but we have some unique takes on what we do. It will have a majority different menu than at our other locations, and I think that’s leaning into the traditional cocktail bar feel a little, because it is just drinks. There are some nods to cocktail culture that we don’t do in other locations. It’s a very small and intimate space, with 45 seats with another 40 or so outside.
Pat: What else is happening in the Long Road world right now?
JO: We just released a limited batch of raspberry-infused Michigin; once that is sold out, it’s gone. We always love Michigin. It’s always been our top seller, but we release Michigin in the fall, and people don’t think of it as gin season — that’s spring/summer.
So we took the recipe and infused it with Michigan raspberries. They give it a hint of fruity notes and some nice pink color.
This week is the first distribution of Sovereign Gin, an old recipe we had that we did a very limited release of called Patriot Gin. It’s reimagined, with butterfly pea flower — an ingredient and coloring. It gives it, based on the pH of your base, a bluish-violet color with a hint of floral notes.
The recipe has juniper, bay leaves, lime, grapefruit and Thai basil. It is a bright, citrusy, crushable gin that, as you add different ingredients, changes colors. It’s a beautiful product. We hope that will be a new staple in the Long Road portfolio.
Interesting NA tidbit
At this point, you’ve probably noticed I’ll tout some good nonalcoholic products when I find them. And one of them is Athletic Brewing beers. Well, someone else has noticed Athletic: Buffalo Wild Wings.
More than 1,000 locations of BWW will start carrying Athletic Brewing beers this summer.
Cannabis is making itself more evident in beverage culture. The tipping point now? Boston Beer Company, makers of Sam Adams Boston Lager, is launching TeaPot, a line of cannabis-infused ice teas.
Just keep an eye on that.
What Pat’s drinking
On Wednesday, the beautiful spring day, I sat on the patio at Brewery Vivant with my wife, Alyssa. We drank the award-winning historic beer Lange Wapper and the delightfully juicy Sour Lake: GPO (guava, passionfruit and orange sour) which tastes just like a tart version of POG.