Long Road Distillers
Grand Rapids-based craft distiller makes a meaningful business connection to strengthen its supply chain thanks to a Pure Michigan Business Connect event
As a distillery in Beer City, Long Road Distillers stands out for its spirits and commitment to using local, Michigan-made ingredients. Long Road Distillers was co-founded in 2015 by Jon O’Connor and Kyle Van Strien, self-proclaimed “spirits and cocktails enthusiasts” and proud Michiganders who looked to embrace all that the Grand Rapids area has to offer – from agricultural products to the waters of Lake Michigan.
“In a state with long traditions of industry making things like cars and furniture, we wanted a distillery that lived up to those standards,” said O’Connor. “It's how we came up with Long Road, the idea of doing something right, doing it honestly and transparently and in a manner that supported the amazing resources our state has to offer. Long Road means taking the time to do things right.”
O’Connor has served as the president of the Michigan Craft Distillers Association for the past seven years, leading the charge legislatively to work with partners in the legislature to create a better regulatory environment for Michigan Small Distillers. After nearly six years of advocacy, a bill was signed into law that provided Small Distillers committed to using Michigan grown grain, fruits and other base distilling ingredients in their products a reduction in the markup fee the state charges for spirits.
“This law was a driving force to create the need for more and deeper connections between the distilling industry and Michigan agricultural producers. We have been thrilled by the support from MDARD and MEDC in supporting this legislation to further enhance craft distilling and agricultural partnerships in Michigan.”
In 2023, Long Road Distillers wanted to optimize the efficiency and quality of its ingredients supply chain for its distilling operations. That March, they participated in the Michigan Distilling Grain Summit, an event co-hosted by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) Pure Michigan Business Connect (PMBC) team, Michigan Craft Beverage Council, and the Michigan State University Extension. The event helped to connect Michigan craft distillers with Michigan farmers for supply chain sourcing opportunities.
At the event, Long Road Distillers was able to secure a new supply chain relationship. O’Connor connected with Todd Wright of Knappen Milling, leading to bulk sourcing of grain which improved cost, product quality and delivery.
The cost savings resulting from this connection have positioned Long Road Distillers for production expansion; there were additional cost savings through the Michigan Qualified Distiller Program, which incentivizes craft distillers to source Michigan-grown grain while providing additional market opportunities for farmers.
According to O’Connor, the convening of the first-ever Michigan Distilling Grain Summit proved to be a catalyst for many other Michigan distillers connecting with growers and grain providers operating in Michigan.
It's how we came up with Long Road, the idea of doing something right, doing it honestly and transparently and in a manner that supported the amazing resources our state has to offer. Long Road means taking the time to do things right.
“This Michigan Craft Beverage Council and MEDC-supported event was a significant launching point to further expand opportunities for distillers and agricultural producers to connect, collaborate and learn where new markets and opportunities exist for our industries to work together,” said O’Connor.
“At the summit, Long Road Distillers was able to connect with Knappen Milling and forge a new partnership to supply red winter wheat, our primary grain for distilling, moving forward. Their years of experience providing grain to the cereal industry and the quality standards for their product not only helped Long Road increase the quality of the grain we are using but also created significant cost savings for our business given the scale of their operation. We are thrilled with this new partnership, the quality of their Michigan-grown red winter wheat and the work they have done to ensure the grain meets the requirements for Qualified Small Distillers in sourcing grain for use in distillation of their products."
“Attending the Michigan Distilling Grain Summit in Grand Rapids, we were able to make a connection with Jon O’Connor and Long Road Distillers,” said Todd Wright, Vice President of Sales and Grain Purchasing for Knappen Milling. “Knappen has been in business since 1929 and has primarily focused on supplying wheat-based products to the cereal, snack food, bakery and mix industries. Recently we have begun supplying to some malting and distilling companies in the Midwest. Making this connection with Long Road enabled us to begin supplying our Sotac® Red Wheat to them.”
Looking ahead, Long Road Distillers will attend the inaugural Michigan Craft Beverage Summit in March 2024, which will educate and connect growers, producers and other suppliers, to create collaborative partnerships and advance an ever-growing state craft beverage industry.
Learn more about the matchmaking opportunities available for small businesses from Pure Michigan Business Connect.