Monday, June 02, 2014

A Day at the Tinman Whiskey Lab at New Holland Restaurant & Pub

Written by  Dan VanderKooi
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Jimmy Carter legalized homebrewing back in 1978, but home distilling has remained illegal since the days of prohibition. Commercial distilling at the craft level however is starting to explode (no pun intended) in Michigan with more and more new distilleries opening every year. New Holland Brewery was the first to begin distilling and has been doing so now for 10 years now with a full production distillery and a line of well respected and award-winning spirits including the likes of Beer Barrel Bourbon, and Hatter Royale. With Tinman Whiskey Lab located back at the pub, the brewery has been able to take distilling back to the craft level and also offer a unique opportunity for the public to sit in and actively take part in small batch distilling without having to worry about keeping the feds off their back.
In order to condense the process of distilling down into one day, we started out with pre-fermented beer from the pub brewery. Pub Distiller Sean Stark shares the equipment with the pub brewer and explained some of the similarities and differences between brewing a beer for pub consumption and brewing for distillation purposes. For instance, Sean uses a high gravity yeast strain to achieve quick fermentations and a high alcohol starting base for the base beer. After all, part of the distilling process is to remove most of the water anyway. The day at Tinman did include a tour of the pub brew system as well as a chance to do some small scale fermentation experiments, but most of the early part of the day was spent setting up the still and operating the distilling equipment. We were pre-warned to wear boots and work clothes for the day, and also provided ear plugs, safety glasses, and gloves for added protection.

At lunch we took a break to enjoy pizza and refreshments in the pub. After a little debate with Trisha and Audrey from Drink Michigan who were also participants, we agreed upon sharing a Portobello Pizza as well as a Bacon and Potato. Both were delicious, and I also chose to wash mine down with the new Our Big Lake collaboration beer with Big Lake and Our Brewing. We also included a break in the afternoon for some Whiskey Tasting which started with the Beer Barrel Bourbon, as well as being provided with samples of Double Down and Zeppelin all Malt Whiskeys to show what difference a little bit of toasted grain in the grain bill can make. (Zeppelin and Double Down utilize about 95% of the same base grain but feature very distinctive flavor profiles from one another.) Also in the afternoon, we were able to sample various liquors including chocolate, coffee, and elderflower and even try some absinthe.

Most of the late afternoon was spent in the barrel room where most of the “magic” happens. While craft distilling requires a lot of artistry, there is also a lot of math and science needed to back it up as well and Sean taught us the formulas for proofing whiskey to get it down under the 125 proof requirement prior to barreling. We were then able to participate in the barreling process and even were able to sign our names to the barrel at the end of the day at which point we were presented with t-shirts, a book on whiskey, and certificates signed by the pub distiller acknowledging our participation in the day’s events.

If interested in spending a day at Tinman Whiskey Lab yourself check out the website listed below, and keep in mind there are good discounts with more people so it would certainly be worthwhile to go with a group of friends. Also a full week package at the distillery is also being worked on where you’d actually be able to take the final product home after it has matured., then the participant will be able to take home their whiskey and the barrel. I highly recommend the Tinman Whiskey Lab experience for anyone with even a remote interest in craft distilling, I had a great time, and make sure to take a peek for yourself next time you are at the pub.

Tinman Whiskey Lab website:



Dan VanderKooi

Dan VanderKooi

Dan VK has been following the Michigan Craft Beer scene since before Oberon has been available in 6-packs. Besides making the rounds at all the local craft breweries and beer bars, Dan also supports the local music scene, reads crime fiction, and enjoys playing volleyball with his wife and friends.