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When we think about local food, we don’t always think of local spirits. But Walter Catton, owner of Coppercraft Distillery, is helping shape the conversation about local food systems and sourcing on the Lakeshore. He opened Coppercraft last November in Holland.
I talked to him about his craft distillery.
Elissa Hillary: Tell me about your business.
Walter Catton: With a background in finance and an entrepreneur spirit, I was attracted to the process of craft distilling. Being able to locally source most of our ingredients and actually create the product right here in the distillery is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my career, and being able to share it with people – and hear the great positive feedback we’ve been receiving – is extremely gratifying.
EH: The craft distillery movement is fairly new in West Michigan – can you speak to how it’s part of the local food movement?
WC: The fresh ingredients in our spirits are sourced locally, grain-to-glass. The spirits are all 100 percent distilled and bottled on-site. You can come into the distillery and surround yourself and learn how the spirits are made. We also use a small-batch method of distilling spirits, which provides a unique taste and character to each spirit. These are truly local, handcrafted products.
EH: Talk about some of your partnerships with other local businesses?
WC: We have been able to establish some great relationships with local businesses both on the supply side and on the retail side of the business. We started off in a partnership with local farmer Don Boerson to supply us with our corn and rye. As we’ve scaled up production, he has set aside several acres for our whiskey products. We also source goods and materials from local businesses. We also source goods and materials from local businesses, such as tasting room supplies from Central Park Market and Brewer’s Edge, and botanicals from A Seasoned Home.
We have also been very well received by many of the restaurants we’ve approached. For example, we were featured in 18 restaurants in Holland during Tulip Time, many of which continue to stock Coppercraft spirits. While we do have plans to sell our products in other markets outside of West Michigan, our ongoing goal is to serve the local market as thoroughly as possible. This is our home, and it’s going to always be our first priority to meet demand here.
EH: This venture might not have been possible a decade ago. How has the local movement helped foster the opportunity for you to create a business?
WC: People are very keyed in to where the products they consume are being made. In this age of mass production, there is a growing number of people who have begun actively seeking out authentically local products. It’s not just because it’s generally a better and more sustainable way to consume, but also because it can offer a unique and more distinguished product than what’s available from mass marketed goods. That’s what we set out to do with Coppercraft. Of course, we have the mission of sustainability in every aspect of business, but we also have spent thousands of hours perfecting our recipes, making sure our spirits are distinctively unique with a local flavor that can’t be found in any other spirit.
EH: You make some amazing cocktails. Do you have a signature cocktail or featured seasonal drink?
WC: Our tasting room focuses on celebrating ingredients in our cocktails that highlight the complexities of our spirits. Having sourced local grains for our spirits, it only makes sense that we use local agriculture to craft our libations. Our tasting room menu changes with the seasons, and every week we visit the Farmer’s Market in Holland to source the freshest ingredients for our featured cocktail list.
This fall we are looking forward to celebrating the Michigan Apple Harvest with the release of our Applejack. Our Applejack is a collaboration with Virtue Cider out of Fennville where we distilled their cider and then aged it in used bourbon barrels. The acidity of this spirit will be paired with the flavors of fall, maple syrup and heart herbs.
This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine.