McLean County has some of the most productive farmland in the country. As its farmers look to the future, should they be looking beyond corn and soybeans to something a bit more flavorful?
A notable craft whiskey maker from DeKalb will be in Normal on Wednesday to speak at the Illinois Farm Bureau’s Farm Income and Innovations Conference.
“We produce some of the best corn in the world here in Illinois,” said Jamie Walter, CEO of Whiskey Acres Distilling Co. “As we say on every bottle that we make, ‘Great whiskey isn't made. It's grown.’ And we grow the best corn in the world.”
Each session during the Illinois Farm Bureau conference is meant to help farmers prepare their farms for the next generation. For some farmers, that could mean whiskey. (Bourbon whiskey, for example, is a distilled spirit made primarily from corn.)
Whiskey Acres is notable because it’s “seed to spirit,” meaning that the fifth-generation family farm runs the entire process—from planting the seed to mashing to distilling to bottling. That vertical integration helps to reduce costs, said Walter, though taxes remain high for distilleries.
“We’re one of the very few distilleries in the U.S. who can say they control the entire process,” Walter said during GLT’s Sound Ideas.
Whiskey Acres opened in 2014. It’s a craft distillery, producing between 70,000 and 75,000 bottles each year. “We do produce a fair bit of hooch,” Walter said.
The rapid growth seen in recent years in the craft beer industry has served as a benchmark for craft whiskey makers like Walter. In 2000, there were 20 craft distilleries in the U.S., and now there are nearly 1,400. (Put together, they’d all still be smaller in production volume than Jim Beam.)
“There's great room for growth and volume,” Walter said.
You can also listen to our full interview with Jamie Walter:
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