Whiskey Acres Distilling Co.

Seed to Spirit


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Whiskey Wash Reviews Whiskey Acres Rye... 5 out of 5 stars

by Zach Braunstein - February 1st, 2017

Whiskey Acres Rye

We’ve written about Whiskey Acres before; located in Dekalb, Illinois, 65 miles west of Chicago, and run by fifth-generation farmers, Whiskey Acres calls themselves a “seed to spirit” distillery. That means that every aspect of the process – from laying the fertilizer, to seeding the grains, to harvest, to distillation – occurs on site.

There’s an appeal to knowing exactly how your drink is made – see the rising popularity of the “farm-to-table” movement as an analogous example in the restaurant business. The idea of farm-to-glass whiskey must have jived with someone in the USDA, as Whiskey Acres was recently rewarded with a $250,000 grant to “assist agricultural producers enter into value-added activities.”

Run by father-son farmers Jim and Jamie Walter, and their partner Nick Nagle, Whiskey Acres uses less than 10% of the grain they grow on site to actually make their liquor. But, though they’ve only opened their distillery doors in 2014, Whiskey Acres has been plenty busy producing variety of spirits. Currently up for offer are their corn vodka, corn whiskey, bourbon, and, most recently, a rye whiskey.

Now, the U.S. Government takes a firm stance when it comes to defining what, legally, defines a certain whiskey. With a firm foot down, Uncle Sam classifies rye as being made with a mash of at least 51% percent rye. But, of course, the sky’s the limit! With their newest offering, Whiskey Acres took that challenge to heart: their rye has a hefty bill mash of 75% rye.

Now it’s clear Whiskey Acres knows how to grow the grains… let’s see how that skill in the field translates to taste…

Tasting Notes: Whiskey Acres Rye
Vital Stats: Whiskey Acres Rye comes in at 87 proof. Made with a “high-rye” mash of 75% rye and 25% corn, the whiskey has been aged, according to the bottle, “at least one year.” A 750 ml bottle will cost you about $45.

Appearance: In the glass the Whiskey Acres Rye is a nice almond-amber, with thin, slow legs.

Nose: The nose is soft and sweet, with hints of caramel apple and buttered popcorn.

Palate: It’s surprisingly smooth considering the high-rye mash! The first dram opens with a clover-honey glow on the back of the tongue, that fades into the flavor of dried fruit – prunes or dates – and then settles into a not-unpleasant mid-tongue tingle with only the slightest bitter aftertaste.

Final Thoughts and Score: 5/5 stars

You know, I balked at the high-rye mash bill – I’m usually not a fan of too rye-heavy distillations – but this whiskey has turned my previously-held assumptions on their head. And I’m amazed at how full the flavor is, without any particular element coming across as heavy-handed, considering the young age of this batch.

With a fantastic palate and nose, and an affordable price, I highly recommend checking this one out. If this is the future of farm-to-still whiskey, count me in.

Wall Street Journal Feature: Farmers Get Creative in Reaping Profits


Farmers Get Creative in Reaping Profits

As commodity prices drop, some growers are converting grain into booze and flour to wring money from crops



Jan. 9, 2017 5:30 a.m. ET


Instead of selling all of this fall’s record corn harvest to ethanol plants or foreign livestock farmers, Jim and Jamie Walter are turning a portion into a more lucrative product: whiskey.

The father-and-son Illinois farmers are among a small group finding unique ways to wring money from their crops, while a commodity glut pushes grain prices to multiyear lows. They hope satisfying a consumer shift toward locally made, high-quality products will be more reliably profitable than turbulent global grain markets.

“It was obvious to us that it was not a long-term business model,” Jamie Walter said of the farm’s reliance on crop prices that have swung wildly this decade. Now, the fifth-generation farming family that owns Walter Farms is branching out with their Whiskey Acres Distilling Co., in its third year crafting corn and wheat into liquor for sale 60 miles away in Chicago.

“By creating a value-added product it gave us the opportunity to succeed,” he said, noting that building the $1 million distillery with partner Nick Nagele was an alternative to amassing debt to expand their 2,000-acre farm. “We wanted to establish our own pricing power.”

Corn and wheat prices on the Chicago Board of Trade have plunged nearly 60% since recent peaks in 2012. Soybeans have decreased 44% during the same period. As a result, farm incomes have fallen by half from record highs in 2013. Many farmers will lose money this year, economists say.

Since World War II, grain farmers have sought to boost profits mostly by increasing yields, driving down costs and expanding their operations. Bigger, more sophisticated equipment and high-tech seeds have encouraged a trend toward larger, more capital-intensive farms. Now, growing demand for locally produced food and drinks is coinciding with concerns about volatile crop prices, providing an opportunity for farmers to try shrinking the gap between their crops and consumers.

“Without question, most producers are looking for ways to improve margins,” said Mark Jensen, chief risk officer at Farm Credit Services of America.

In 2012, farmers raising crops on good land in central Illinois earned about $341 per acre of corn, according to agricultural economists at the University of Illinois. This year, those farmers are expected to lose $30 per acre.

Dairies and orchards long ago opened their doors to day-trippers eager to buy artisanal cheeses and apple cider direct from farmers. Livestock producers have introduced heritage breeds and grass-fed animals that put their names on the menus of high-end restaurants. These days, some farmers are converting their grain into booze and flour for baked goods themselves. Growers have opened mills on their farms, or switched to planting grains used to make tortillas and chips.

“I’m expecting to see this as a trend that accelerates the longer that prices and incomes are depressed,” said Randall Westgren, professor of agricultural and applied economics at the University of Missouri. Mr. Westgren predicted farmers would pool their investments to launch expensive consumer-facing businesses together.

Farmers such as the Walters are still rare. On-farm grain processing requires a significant investment, and the current system of selling crops to grain elevators, which supply food makers, livestock producers and exporters, remains an efficient way to market grain for many growers.

Increasingly, however, some are switching to seeds that haven’t been genetically modified, which can be cheaper and appeal to customers willing to pay a premium for products made with non-GMO crops. Others are branching into livestock, putting up hog or chicken barns in which to feed animals for a larger producer in return for a steady wage.

Mike Doherty, senior economist at the Illinois Farm Bureau, said many of those eager to wean themselves off commodity markets are young farmers joining their parents’ business during a downturn.

“Prices are so low and the cost of production is not dropping fast enough,” he said. “They’re looking at doing something that’s smaller-scale but higher-profit by getting closer to the consumer.”

Tom Hunton added a stone mill to his Oregon farm in 2011 after the recession undermined prices for specialty crops he grows, including grass seed for lawns and golf courses. His Camas Country Mill now turns wheat from his 3,000-acre farm into flour for bakeries and restaurants in Portland and Seattle.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. is a customer, as are schools and restaurants as distant as New York. Mr. Hunton’s proceeds from the soft-white wheat he sends through his mill work out to $8 a bushel, compared with $4.60 a bushel for grain he recently shipped to Portland for export to countries such as Japan and Korea.

“Is it as simple as loading a railcar and getting a check? No,” he said. “But there are real rewards by the time we turn it into flour and market it.” Revenue from the mill neared $1 million last year, and annually adds about 40% to Mr. Hunton’s top line, he said.

Whiskey Acres, meanwhile, has earned gold, silver and bronze medals at international spirits competitions. Bottles can be found in 300 Illinois stores, from Whole Foods Market Inc. to discount grocer Hy-Vee.

Jamie Walter hopes Whiskey Acres will turn its first profit next year, when more of its barrel-aged bourbon is ready to sell. Meanwhile, he’s experimenting with corn varietals and distilling processes. A key finding: like pig feed, whiskey is better with fresh grain.

“Hogs and humans have a closer palate than we might think,” he noted.

Write to Jesse Newman at jesse.newman@wsj.com

Axis of Whiskey Reviews Whiskey Acres Bourbon: "This is truly a fun and complex whisky..."


After a fairly grueling day, sometimes all I want is a whiskey that will challenge me and make me see the world in a different way. Today, that whiskey is the Whiskey Acres Bourbon ($39, ABV 43.5). This corn whiskey is made from corn grown on the Whiskey Acres farm and, man, does it ever find room to play in the drink. The nose contains some buttered popcorn, along with a hint of fennel and a dollop of honey. The palate is just a lot of fun. There's more corn, but it's deepened into something like fresh-baked cornbread. That lays a foundation for layers of brown sugar, citrus, cinnamon, and a whisper of allspice. And the finish is an absolute delight. It lingers and brings a bit of carrot cake along for the ride. This is a truly fun and complex whisky and one that I gave a friend on his recent 40th. I absolutely recommend this gem. Cheers, friends, and happy Whiskey Wednesday! - TM #spirits #alcohol #booze #slainte #cheers #drinks #whisky #whiskey #whiskeygram #whiskygram #instawhiskey #instawhisky #instadram #whiskeycollection #whiskywednesday #dram

Midwest Living Features Bottling Parties at Whiskey Acres


Bottle Good Cheer in DeKalb, Illinois

Want to add a bit of backstory to the spirits you give and serve over the holidays? You’ll get one, plus a discount to boot, at a bottling party.

Writer: Kit Bernardi
Like elves in Santa’s workshop, volunteers at Whiskey Acres Distilling Company near DeKalb, Illinois, mix hard work with high spirits bottling Midwest bourbon, vodka and whiskey in assembly-line fashion.

The party experience amps up as the holidays approach, with festive lights glowing around the copper still on this five-generation farm. During the three-hour shift, volunteers cork, heat-seal, label, tag and box bottles, then walk out with a supply of spirits made with grains grown and distilled here, taking advantage of a 20 percent discount on the goods they package. They also receive pizza, a tour, a T-shirt and tastings, but the best benefit is having a hand in creating the take-home beverages.

Whiskey Acres hosts up to four bottling parties in November and December. Cofounder and distiller Nick Nagele can’t promise what will be ready when. “When our palate says a batch of bourbon, vodka, rye or corn whiskey is ready,” he says, “we post a shout-out for bottlers on social media.”

Sign up online to receive bottling event e-vites at Whiskey Acres (whiskeyacres.com). Check for other events at Midwest distilleries, including Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks, Michigan (journeymandistillery.com), and Yahara Bay Distillers in Fitchburg, Wisconsin (yaharabay.com).

Axis of Whiskey Review of Whiskey Acres Rye: This is the best rye I've had in 2016, it's one I'll stock with regularity,


One of the most interesting aspects of this whisk(e)y reviewing gig has been discovering the myriad ways in which distillers create their product. Whether it's Lost Spirits using technology to bring their spirits into the world, or the continued experimentation by giants like Ardbeg and Laphroaig, I've loved learning more about this fascinating creative process. So it was essentially guaranteed that I'd be enthralled by the story of DeKalb Illinois' Whiskey Acres. Jim and Jamie Walter, father and son farmers, teamed up with Nick Nagele (also a farmer) to create Illinois' first farm-to-bottle distillery. Using the grains they grow on the fully operational farm, these guys have created some exceptional spirits. They worked with industry legend Dave Pickerell to get the distillery going and rely on cutting-edge technology to help them track the lives of their seeds, resulting in a wonderful melding of old school know-how and advanced technology that results in some truly special spirits.

Today, I'm here to rave about the Whiskey Acres Rye (ABV 43.2, $44.99.) Its nose is pleasingly layered, with elements of spice, fresh maple syrup, loam, and honey-baked ham. The palate just sings for me. To begin with, it's a rye that sits pleasantly in the mouth, which allowed me to to truly savor the maple bacon, roasted honey, and chestnuts that rose to the fore. There's also a slight, but noticeable, medicinal note that brought to mind some of my favorite Islay malts. The finish was the only aspect I didn't fully love. While the spice returned as the best spiced apple cider I've had in quite some time and brought some slow cooked pork to the party as well, it actually lingered a bit too long for me and ended with more of a medicinal note than I wanted. But that's a tiny quibble. This is the best rye I've had in 2016, it's one I'll stock with regularity, and it's a damn knockout. Friends, excuse me while I tuck back into this gem. Cheers! - TM #cheers #slainte #hooch #booze #whisky #whiskey #ryewhiskey #whiskygram #whiskeygram #illinois #instawhisky #whiskycollection