Gray Skies Distillery is set to release its first aged whiskey on a large scale, but not without some controversy.
The Grand Rapids distillery, 700 Ottawa Ave. NW, releases its Breakfast Rye this week, but the spirit maker has also been sued by Chicago area distillery, Few Spirits.
The whiskey is an 85 percent rye and 15 percent malted barley, making for a “spicy Pennsylvania style whiskey,” said Brandon Voorhees, co-owner of Gray Skies. The spirit first spent more than a year in new oak barrels before resting six months in former bourbon barrels, which most recently housed maple syrup at Grand Rapids-based BLiS Gourmet. Similar barrels from BLiS are used to make Founders Brewing Co. Canadian Breakfast Stout, which was released last week.
The barrels lend bourbon and maple syrup, along with its wood notes, to the finished product, Voorhees said.
“The spicy rye stands up to the sweet maple flavor we could grab from the barrels,” Voorhees said. “It’s an interesting spirit that turned out really nice. It starts with a maple sweetness, turns drier spicy with a long finish.”
Gray Skies shied away from flavoring the whiskey with extra syrups or sugars, desiring to keep it a “whiskey drinker’s whiskey,” yet Voorhees said it’s still a good rye for someone not accustomed to the spiciness of the base spirit.
The distillery bottled just under 2,000 bottles, sending 88 12-packs to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission for distribution and saving the rest for its tasting room.
Voorhees declined to comment on the legal situation, as FEW Spirits filed a federal lawsuit this month against Gray Skies.
FEW has a spirit called Breakfast Gin. In the gin’s botanical mix, FEW Spirits uses earl grey tea.
While the lawsuit is underway, Gray Skies is proceeding with the release as planned.
With Gray Skies’ second anniversary approaching in March, Voorhees said the distillery has now had time to properly age whiskies for more releases.
“For the most part, 2017 was nothing new for us,” he said. “It was laying down as much whiskey as we could. It’s fun to finally release one of these whiskeys we made early in 2016.”
The company did release a small batch of single-malt whiskey, but more releases for broader distribution. The anniversary release will be Gray Skies’ first straight bourbon, followed by a larger single malt release, a straight rye whiskey and bourbon aged in maple barrels.
Gray Skies also makes Barrel Finished Gin, which sits for two to three months in barrels.
There’s also rum aging in a variety of barrels and Voorhees and co-owner Steve Vander Pol have enjoyed watching the transformations take place, but Voorhees said there’s no plan yet no those potential releases.
“We like talking about what’s coming,” he said. “But we won’t release something just because we say we are, they still need to finish well.”