Build a preholiday getaway around brandy, the stuff of holiday cheer and the fuel beneath the flames on a traditional figgy pudding.
Several Midwest distilleries craft this seasonal favorite and host tours that make buying it a lot of fun. Add an overnight at a nearby boutique hotel, and you’ll really have something to toast—ditching the crush at the mall and scoring a stash of hostess gifts to get you all the way to the new year.
Rhine Hall Distillery, Chicago
TRY Oak-Aged Apple Brandy ($32)
How family is this operation? Let’s start with the bike-powered apple chopper. Charlie Solberg, an engineer, put it together years ago so his kids and their friends could help keep his brandy-making hobby rolling every fall.
Now, on select Thursdays, he or daughter Jenny walks visitors through the industrial-chic distillery they own in Chicago’s gritty Kinzie Industrial Corridor. The tasting room (open Wednesday through Saturday) sells cocktails crafted with spirits made from Great Lakes fruits.
Extend your excursion in the nearby Fulton Market District, a former meatpacking area buzzing with galleries, restaurants and hotels, including the hip Ace Hotel.
Free parking, an icy Rhine Hall concoction. Photo: Ellen Evangelides
Journeyman Distillery, Three Oaks, Michigan
TRY Fine Girl ($50)
You won’t find a cooler place for a getaway than The Flat at Journeyman Distillery. Split the tab with friends—there are five bedrooms and almost as many baths—and enjoy cafes, live theater and artists’ studios in tiny Three Oaks, just a short drive up the lake from Chicago.
The distillery, housed in a former buggy whip and corset factory (ironically, built by a prohibitionist), sources organic fruits and grains from Midwest farmers.
Fine Girl, made from citrusy Vidal Blanc grapes grown down the road, ages in bourbon barrels with silky-sweet results. Sample it and 14 other spirits at the distillery or at Staymaker restaurant, where you can munch Detroit-style pizza on crusts made from the same grains that go into Journeyman’s spirits.
Wollersheim Distillery, Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin
TRY Coquard Brandy ($32)
People arrive by the busload to tour this historic winery’s massive limestone buildings and cave, and to browse its new distillery in the hills overlooking the Wisconsin River.
The Wollersheim family released Coquard Brandy, its first spirit, in 2013. The distillery promotes its Cognac-style brandy as a sipper, but nobody will argue if you ask for it as a cocktail in the state that invented the brandy Old-Fashioned.
From here, head south to Madison, where you’ll find gifts and fine chocolates along Monroe Street. Check in at HotelRED to gaze out through floor-to-ceiling windows in the lobby and (cue the snow) cozy up by the big fireplace. Cheers.