Mark Fellwock, left, and Walter Catton hope to use as many local ingredients as possible to produce their spirits, including rye and corn from Zeeland. Photo by Johnny Quirin
Working in the craft beer industry gave Mark Fellwock and Walter Catton a glimpse into the fast-growing but underserved craft distilling world.
Picking up on the opportunity and developing a quick affinity for the craft helped shape the pair’s new business: Coppercraft Distillery, 184 N. 120th Ave., Holland. The distillery’s first products — vodka, citrus vodka, rum and gin — will hit the Grand Rapids market soon.
Fellwock said that, based on his research, he believes the distilling industry is roughly 15 to 20 years behind the craft beer industry, but it is growing at 30 percent to 40 percent every year.
“We saw the growth, how the industry is taking off,” Fellwock said. “We thought from there that we’d go all in. Both of us had bigger passions for spirits than beer.”
Although Fellwock and Catton hope to rely mostly on the sale of the distillery’s aged whiskey, the current lineup will have to wait at least another year. The company started manufacturing last April and laid its first barrel of whiskey down on May 22, 2013. That barrel is secluded away and likely never will be used, they said.
Fellwock and Catton said they hope Coppercraft will be a local-grain-to-glass producer as much as possible. Their bourbon, for example, will be made with rye and corn from Zeeland. The use of local ingredients will help satisfy consumers’ thirst for knowing where ingredients come from.
“As consumers become more focused on their community and the local aspect, they want to know more about what they’re consuming,” Catton said. “It’s almost back to that ‘town center’ mentality, and people enjoy supporting people doing things locally.”
The owners have invested more than $600,000 into equipment and work on the building since acquiring a distillers license in 2012. Another $250,000 is slated to go into expansion for storage.
On Jan. 16, the Holland Township Board voted to give its support to an application for a microbrewer and small winemaker’s license. Catton said the extra products will be for tasting-room consumption only to give visitors an extra option if they aren’t a fan of spirits.
The 9,000-square-foot space is open, with a copper still as the centerpiece, flanked by stainless steel fermenters and barrels of all shapes and sizes.
“We built the space to be unique, with the idea of having the opportunity to celebrate the spirits in this environment every day,” Catton said. “When the tasting room is open, our still is usually running, so you can smell or feel the humidity. It’s a cool way to get people introduced to the craft of what we’re doing.”
The original still — a 300-gallon piece of equipment — is about to get a housemate. In February, a 750-gallon still will join the lineup. That means the 300 cases produced in year one should go up significantly next year. The new still will allow the old one to run clear spirits as the new one will allow for 30 barrels of whiskey to be laid down a month, Fellwock said.
“It’s up to 18 to 24 months before we feel the whiskey will be ready,” Catton said.
Distribution will begin in March, with Michigan, Colorado and Illinois being the first markets.
“We’re targeting markets that celebrate the craft product,” Catton said. “We felt those markets will be more receptive to the product rather than an education.”
Also available in March will be white, un-aged whiskey. The distillery also is testing a collaborative venture with Virtue Cider. Coppercraft is distilling the hard cider to make an apple jack, aged three to four months in a barrel. The apple jack is one of the spirits Fellwock said will help them bring back the American heritage of distilling.
“If you look back on the history of the U.S., the bourbon, the rums and the apple jacks really played a very integral part of the foundation,” he said.