When we visited Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks, Mich., it was bottling day. A group of workers sat along a long table in the restaurant dining room, filling bottles at one end and sticking on labels at the other. The spirits going into those bottles, bar manager David Garrison said, were made and aged just a few yards away, on the other side of a glass wall.
Journeyman Distillery takes pride in being a “grain to glass” distillery, meaning that every spirit it sells is made from scratch inside the building. Even the simple syrups, bitters and other ingredients that go into the seasonal cocktails are made from scratch on-site.
Garrison said this is one of the things he loves about working the bar at Journeymen.
“We’re the first bartenders who get to play with the spirits when they come off the line,” he said.
Besides that, knowing so much about the process that creates the spirits they’re using behind the bar — the distillery makes whiskey, vodka, gin and rum — makes Journeyman bartenders that much better at their jobs.
“The more hands-on you are with where it comes from and how it’s made, the more inclined you are to make something people will enjoy as much as you do,” he said.
Garrison said he loves it when he’s able to coax customers out of their comfort zones when it comes to unusual cocktail ingredients like egg whites or beet and carrot vinegar.
Featured summer cocktail:
- Journeyman Silver Cross whiskey (“our most complex”)
- Lemon juice (fresh squeezed)
- Simple syrup (made in-house)
- Egg white (for viscosity)
- Orange bitters (for complexity)
- Lemon zest garnish
The secret to a perfect cocktail: I would say balance, but also tender love and care from the bartender. People always say that mixology is an art, but it really is. If you don’t care about what you’re doing, it shows in the drink.
For summer in a glass: With summer cocktails, you see a lot of vodkas, gins and rums — keep it refreshing. The Moscow mule is one of my favorites. People tend to stay away from whiskey in the summer, but as long as you keep it light and sour, it’s the perfect refreshing drink for a warm day.
Best perk of being a bartender: The customers, as corny as it sounds. You meet the most interesting people behind the bar. Here, we’re lucky to have the Acorn Theater next door.
Garrison shared a story about one night when he spend a long time chatting with a woman at the bar, only to find out later that it was Woody Nelson’s daughter, Paula Nelson — she’d had a show that night at Acorn Theater. Garrison said he’s glad he didn’t know who she was because they had a better conversation without him being starstruck. “I definitely would have taken a picture with her if I’d known, though.”
The worst drink you’ve ever made: An old-fashioned, before I knew how to make an old-fashioned. It can be the worst drink ever if you don’t know what you’re doing.
What most people don’t know about bartending: Most people don’t realize how much of the job happens outside the bar — the knowledge that goes into things like juicing and making syrups. It’s a tough business to be in. It’s always evolving, so you have to keep it fresh or you could be replaced with someone who is.
Journeyman Distillery is open noon to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and noon to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Free tours of the distillery happen daily.
In case you missed it: last week’s Behind the Bar featured Oak & Alley in Warsaw.