Over the holidays, my bourbon buddy, Ryan, gave me the gift of a bourbon tour and tasting at the new Whiskey Acres Distilling Company in Dekalb, Illinois. Located 70 miles west of Chicago, and just a stone’s throw away from where Ryan grew up, Whiskey Acres is a true Midwestern success story.
Founders Jim and Jamie Walter, along with Nick Nagele began the operation in 2014 on their 2,000 acres of farmland and make the spirits in a true farm-to-bottle operation. Corn, rye, and wheat are all grown onsite and used to manufacture the vodka, bourbon, and rye whiskey. For now, most of the products are sold only in Illinois at select retailers (check out your local Binny’s or Hy-Vee), so you won’t find them south of the Ohio or west of the Mississippi.
In late 2018, a new visitors center, complete with a bar, expanded seating, and a gift shop opened to support the numerous day-trippers seeking a bourbon experience without a long drive. And for now, the grains used in the distillation process use only a fraction of the grain grown on site. That will change as visitors continue to throng to this small spot, quite literally, in the middle of cornfields. If you build it, they will come.
The tour began with a brief video about the farm and business operation. We were whisked into a nearby metal building containing several mash tubs, a single copper column still, and a small area for bottling the finished products. The guide was knowledgeable and has been a part of the operation from day one. One interesting note was that while many distillers choose to strain the fermented mash of any remaining grains and distill the liquid, Whiskey Acres chooses to include some of the solids to impart additional flavor.
After a peek into the mash tubs and still, we continued the tour into the rickhouse. Since this is the Midwest, and a working farm, Whiskey Acres utilized a grain bin fashioned with storage for the finished barrels. While I initially smiled, I quickly remembered that Blanton’s – a favorite of many – is aged at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky in Warehouse H – a metal clad building not unlike the one I was standing in.
Whiskey Acres manufactures a number of specialty products, but the one I’m pouring now is their Straight Bourbon Whiskey product. To be called straight bourbon, it must be at least 2 years old. According to our tour guide, the product we purchased, while not containing an age statement, was trending towards 3 years. Made from grains grown entirely onsite, this bourbon contains 75% corn, 15% wheat, and 10% malted barley and is bottled at 87 proof.
When poured, you’ll note its deep copper color – somewhat unexpected for a bourbon this young. On the nose, it is very corn-forward – with notes of buttered sweet corn, sweet summer fruit, and honey. On the palate, you’ll definitely taste the sweet corn and cornbread-like chew, brown sugar, and just a hint of spice. It’s slightly thicker than some bourbons due to the non-chill filtered process. I was expecting a short finish, but the wheat kept it soft and it kept growing and growing with spice notes – very nice and very unexpected.
At around $45 a bottle and with a unique profile and Midwestern story, this is a bourbon that is definitely a change of pace and worth consideration. You can find out more about Whiskey Acres at www.whiskeyacres.com