high spirits at Northern Latitudes distillery in lake leelanau

The sight of six or eight twenty-something handsome young men nearly put me over into a giggle. The were just leaving the Northern Latitudes Distillery, dividing up into cars and  tossing ideas about what to do next, like a ball. 

“You should go to Mawby’s,” I suggested. There are several wonderful wineries much closer to Northern Latitudes in Lake Leelanau than Mawby’s, like the Boathouse, or Bluestone or Chateau Fontaine. And I don’t why I thought a gaggle of gents who’d been drinking distilled liquor would be at all interested in wine. But Mawby’s was the only suggestion that immediately popped to mind and it’s a consistent crowd pleaser. 

“We started there!,” called a sharp looking man, smiling and swinging into an SUV. He wore a sport coat, like he lived in one, with the sleeves pushed up his forearms. In fact they were all well dressed for a fall afternoon when deriguer for Northern Michigan would be worn college sweatshirts and ball caps. 

“Interesting,” I thought and headed into the distillery myself. Northern Latitudes is flanked by Trish’s Dishes and the Fish Hook on Highway 204 (Duck Lake Road) just east of the bridge over the narrows of North and South Lake Leelanau. Know it by the glowing pergola where the still pokes up through the roof, it’s copper, silver and brass tubing glistening and sparkling.

Below, the Northern Latitudes tasting room bar is a sunny yellow pine. Tasters can enjoy a free taste of bourbon, vodka and soon, gin, served in a heavy, mini shot glass. Or, proprietors Mandy and Mark Moseler serve signature cocktails for purchase, using their spirits. And then you can buy a bottle or two or  a case to enjoy at home.

It’s a large tasting area with clubby chairs and a kids corner to keep them entertained while you and your friends languish in the language of liquor. 

Despite inner warnings from memories of my sorority sisters being done in by Lemoncello, I tried a taste of the Lemoncello. It was wonnnnnderful. I can see how it’s sweetness would mask the punch of the vodka and so made a mental note to keep count of my own glasses when serving the bottle I bought. 

The Lemoncello gave the dessert course at a friends’ birthday party later that night a little zip. We’d let it chill in the freezer during appetizers and dinner, bringing it out with the red velvet cake and apple pie. That sweet zing of citrus was fresh, light and broke through the chill of fall with a sip of summer. 

I tried the vodka next. I wasn’t supposed to try the vodka. It wasn’t “ready”. When it comes to spirits in general, I prefer to drink simply, on the rocks, maybe a twist of lime. And I like a vodka martini and prefer to drink Sky vodka. When Mark found out I was trying the vodka, he shook his head. I pummeled him with questions about why he was redoing the vodka. On the rocks the vodka was crisp and had no bite on finish whatsoever. If what I had wasn’t quite there, then I can’t wait to get in there this weekend and get the next batch.

While I liked everything, my favorite was the bourbon. Northern Latitudes is letting its own bourbon age in casks for three years. It bottles and serves another Michigan bourbon distilled by friends, called Deer Camp. Listening to Mandy describe the stories behind the label illustrations, and the name, I had a hard time remembering that Deer Camp isn’t their spirit. They are careful proprietors who put all their energy into what they are doing. Nothing is halfway. I found the bourbon to be soft and smooth with all the right woody accents in all the right places. It is a perfect way to finish a cool fall day with warmth. 

As I left, another pair of twenty-somethings entered the distillery. This couple did have their parents in tow. And it was seconds before Mandy had them all laughing at the bar. High spirits indeed. 


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