Distillery pushes into food market

Holland’s Coppercraft Distillery recently opened a full-service restaurant, with intentions to push the lakeshore residents beyond spirits.

Since a contingent of the DeVos family — led by Dick DeVos and Rick DeVos — purchased the distillery last year, they remodeled the interior and added an emphasis on food and how cocktails mesh with culinary creations.

The menu is small but highlighted by unusual items, such as roasted cauliflower with pepperoncini, bacon and white cheddar; cheeseburger with a house hot sauce and malt vinegar fries; and whole roasted fish. A recent daily special included charred octopus.

The kitchen is led by Kelsey Winter-Troutwine, who spent the past six years working at various restaurants in Chicago, such as Table-52, Graham Elliot Bistro, GT Fish & Oyster and mk The Restaurant.

The transformation has been in the works since Walter Catton and Mark Fellwock opened the distillery in 2013. Fellwock is no longer with Coppercraft and has opened 18th Amendment Spirits Co. in Muskegon with Pigeon Hill Brewing Co. co-owner Michael Brower.

Catton still distills the spirits.

“A big part of what we’ve done is evolution,” said Paul Marantette, who joined Coppercraft as tasting room manager last year. “We opened as a simple bottle shop, selling bottles out the front door while shipping cases out the back door. People then wanted real cocktails. Now, they want food.

“We feel we can be a leader in distillation and the food movement. It’s not just beer and wine to be paired with food, but cocktails and spirits.”

When Coppercraft launched, there were few other distilleries in the state, but now as more distilleries arrive on the scene, competition is heating up. Still in a “rising tide raises all ships” mode, Coppercraft General Manager Brandon Joldersma said the four-year head start is an advantage.

“There’s still a tremendous opportunity for growth in the distillation arena,” said Joldersma, who moved back to Holland following three years as sales director for Fennville-based Virtue Cider in Chicago. “We’re friends with many of the other distilleries and hope they’re all successful, too. There’s tons of opportunity for us all to take more market share.”

Joldersma will oversee the taproom and external sales efforts. The spirits are distributed across the state, but Joldersma said efforts will be concentrated on Grand Rapids and West Michigan first. He’s currently looking into hiring a sales force for the company.

Coppercraft expanded its physical presence in West Michigan last fall, when it opened a tasting room in Saugatuck.

DeVos family members also have purchased a controlling share of Grant-based cider maker Ridge Cider Co.

In a challenging industry where longtime distilleries, such as Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey, can make quality bourbons for as low as $12 per bottle, many small distillers release bourbons at prices often greatly exceeding $35 per bottle and sometimes not as high quality as the cheaper brands.

Joldersma acknowledged the issue while discussing Coppercraft’s release of bourbons later this summer. He said there are a few variations that have aged for more than four years ready for release.

The key for the brand, and other small distilleries in the region, will be to push locality for the bourbon.

“We can cater to the people who care about locality and who care about supporting local business,” he said.

As the business continues to grow and spreads outside West Michigan, Joldersma said the distillery will have to branch outside the spirits that can be matched easily in terms of price and quality, such as vodka and gin.

“To the larger market, we have opportunities to do things that are a bit different, that are the advantage of small distilleries,” he said. “If we sell out of state, we lose locality, but we can innovate. Our apple jack (an apple brandy) will be a big focus because Michigan is such a large apple producer.

“So, that’s an opportunity.”

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