New name, same spirits

Gray Skies Distillery rebrands as Eastern Kille Distillery.
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Eastern Kille offers small-batch whiskey, gin and vodka. Photo by Bryan Esler

Late last year, Gray Skies Distillery unveiled its new brand — Eastern Kille Distillery — due to a trademark dispute with another spirits company. Co-owner Steve Vander Pol gave us the inside scoop on the new name and its origins.

While you’ll find Eastern Kille’s spirits in many liquor stores across the state, if you haven’t been to its tasting room in Monroe North (at the corner of Ottawa Avenue and Fairbanks Street) you’ll have to add it to your list. It’s a communal, cozy spot with an expansive bar and varied seating. You can’t miss the massive sky print that envelops the back wall behind the bar.

From the citrusy Barrel Finished Gin to the sweet and spicy Michigan Straight Bourbon to the smooth and dark Coffee Liqueur, there’s a libation for everyone’s tastes. The distillery focuses on Michigan-made, small-batch whiskey, gin and vodka. In fact, its location and how its spirits are made are the inspiration for the new name.

“We initially named our distillery in January and pictured barrels resting for years under those gray, wintry skies, which inspired our original name, Gray Skies Distillery,” Vander Pol said. “We wanted to continue that location-based tradition with our new name, as well. Kille comes from Middle Dutch — a language spoken between 1050 and 1500 — and roughly translates to riverbed or water channel. Our distillery sits in a river valley a few hundred yards away from the eastern bank of the Grand River. Eastern Kille is a name that allows us to tell the story of where we are from and highlight the location’s unique role in creating whiskey.”

True to its local theme, Eastern Kille uses municipal water sourced from Lake Michigan (filtered via activated carbon to remove impurities) and sources grain from Midwest grain mills.

“We are a grain to glass distillery, meaning for all our bourbon, rye and other whiskeys, we bring in grain and turn it into whiskey before it leaves our facility. This includes mashing, fermenting, distilling, aging and bottling, all on-site,” Vander Pol said.

This spring, Eastern Kille will launch its first 4-year-old bourbon that will be bottled in bond — which means it meets the U.S. government’s Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits.
“A Michigan-made, bottled-in-bond spirit is a rare thing to offer,” Vander Pol said, “and we are very proud of our focus on bourbon, which is allowing us to bring it to market.”

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