Illinois’s first farm distillery controls production from seed to spirit
Just off Keslinger Road in DeKalb, Illinois, is a tiny stone and timber building constructed from the remains of a turn-of-the-century dairy barn that once stood nearby. In the 1960s, the cows gone, it functioned as a picnic shelter and sleeping porch for the men who farmed the surrounding 2,000 acres. Fifty years later, enclosed and renovated to include plumbing and air-conditioning, it’s classified as a roadside stand, licensed to sell products from the farm that still surrounds it. But behind the long wooden bar inside the building there are no strawberries, tomatoes, or zucchini for sale, nor any of the other agricultural products you might expect—even corn, although the farm produces up to 50,000 bushels a year. Instead you belly up to the bar for a vodka lemonade or a whiskey sour. Apples appear only in the form of apple whiskey.
The spirits on the bar’s menu are all made in the building next door, from grains grown on Walter Farms, owned and run by father and son Jim and Jamie Walter, which has been in the family since the 1930s. The Walters, together with fellow farmer Nick Nagele, have created something that so far is rare in the U.S.: a farm distillery that makes spirits strictly from grain grown on-site. The only one of its kind in Illinois, it’s been in the works since 2011—but only since last December, when it finally got licensed, has Whiskey Acres Distilling Co. actually been producing its namesake liquor.