A few weeks ago we went on a distillery tour of North Shore Distillery. North Shore is located in an industrial area all the way in Lake Bluff, Illinois, quite far from Forest Park, but totally worth it!
Last year, I tried North Shore’s Gin No. 11 for the first time in a simple cocktail at a local bar and I fell in love. I always try to research new-to-me gins and bourbons, so I went home and looked up North Shore and added it to my gin wish-list. When I found out North Shore hosts distillery tours and tastings, I couldn’t wait to go! Derek, the North Shore distiller, gave us a tour of the distillery. We got to meet Ethel, the handmade German still (seen at the top in all of her copper glory). Ethel really is the star of the show. She does most of the work at the distillery, and she even has her own Twitter account. She and Derek are quite the team it seems. Derek is a chemical engineer, so he brought a little bit of science to the discussion, but mostly talked about the craft and his passion for creating tasty gins, vodkas, absinthe and aquavit. Everything about North Shore is done by hand, from the creating of the spirits, to the bottling to the labeling–Derek even hand-signs each and every bottle. After the tour, we got down to business in the tasting room. We started with the vodkas, North Shore and Sol, a citrus vodka. I really loved the Sol. North Shore uses actual citrus and chamomile. And, unlike other flavored vodkas where the flavors are added at the end, the citrus peels and chamomile are incorporated in the vodka during the distilling process. The taste is really fresh.
Next we tasted the gins. No. 11 is big and bold and No. 6 is light and flowery…I used to think I liked No. 11 more, but once I tasted them side by side, I realized how much I enjoyed them both and that they each have a place in my cocktail repertoire.
Then we learned about Aquavit and tried it for the first time. Aquavit is originally Scandanavian and it’s a savory spirit. Caraway, cumin, coriander and other botanicals are distilled in the alcohol and then the Aquavit is aged in oak. It’s definitely something different. I kind of wish I had tried it in a cocktail (North Shore has some ideas here) so I could see how it works with other ingredients.
Lastly, we tried the Sirène Absinthe Verte. My only experience with absinthe is in a sazerac, so I kind of knew what to expect. North Shore’s absinthe was good–we drank it with a bit of icy cold water.
After the tasting, those of us who weren’t driving (thanks for taking one for the team, Brett!) enjoyed a cocktail. Because of liquor laws, North Shore Distillery cannot serve other companies’ alcohol. This limits some of the cocktails the distillery can serve. But don’t think this is a bad thing–it just means the cocktails are crafted with homemade liqueurs and fresh ingredients. All of our cocktails were amazing handcrafted creations.
If you live in Chicago I highly recommend a North Shore Distillery tour for a unique Saturday adventure. Thanks for having us, Ethel!
(And I definitely recommend taking along a designated driver!)