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Iron Fish Distillery: The Secret Spot Where Michigan’s Spirits Soar

Iron Fish Distillery Sign

Destination: Iron Fish Distillery

Thompsonville, Michigan – Tucked away on a quiet dirt road in Benzie County, Northern Michigan, not far from the iconic Sleeping Bear Dunes, lies a delightful secret stopover – Iron Fish Distillery.

You won’t stumble upon this farm-based operation by accident, but it is undoubtedly a destination to seek out, especially if you’re into craft spirits and cocktails.

What it is: Year-round farm-to-glass distillery with pizza, cocktails, merch. Live music, outdoor dining, events & tours.
Location: Northwest Michigan, Benzie County. 3 miles from Crystal Mountain; 50 min SW of Traverse City, MI
Time Needed: 1-2 hours dining/tasting, more if touring, doing a class, or shopping
Good For: Spirit lovers, cocktails, group events, live music, outdoor winter dining
Dog and Kid Friendly? Yes
You Should Know: Base camp tents and tours are reservation based.
Iron Fish Flight

How It All Began

Billed at Michigan’s First Farm Distillery, Iron Fish opened in 2016 after two friends went all-in on their “maybe it will work” retirement experiment. The idea hatched somewhere over the Atlantic as the now-owners journeyed back from time spent in Scotland.

Today – with their products stocked on the shelves of Costco – and served in bars and restaurants far beyond their address, we can say that this what-if-maybe venture has been a resounding success.

In fact, their growing reputation means that more and more fans are traveling to their doorstep.

Iron Fish Distillery

Fun Times at Iron Fish

The distillery’s rapid growth means change is a constant.

The most recent update: transforming the original Still Room into an entertainment hub complete with live music, a stage, and seating areas. This change is set to be in place by the end of 2023.

Soon to be Entertainment Room Iron Fish Distillery
Iron Fish Distillery’s Entertainment Room – Photo taken October 2023

For those lucky enough to join a class, tasting, or private event, the reimagined upper level offers a cozy speakeasy retreat, adorned with a beautiful tinned ceiling and a well-stocked spirits bar.

Iron Fish Distillery Class Area
Speak Easy Vibes – Event/Class Area

Good People, Good Vibes

If you ask the locals about Iron Fish, they’ll likely start talking about Jesse DenHerder, the charismatic Creative Marketing Director at the facility. His vision is a big part of what makes Iron Fish special.

For him, this place isn’t just about making top-notch drinks or generating revenue; it’s about supporting the community and ensuring everyone around benefits from having Iron Fish in the neighborhood.

We were lucky to spend time chatting with Jesse, along with some of the staff here. His enthusiasm is contagious!

Girls Night Out at Iron Fish Distillery
Hey MI team hanging out with Jesse DenHerder at Iron Fish Distillery

Year-Round Fun

You might expect Iron Fish to be sleepy in the off-season, but that’s not the case. It’s buzzing all year long.

When the snow arrives, the Crystal Mountain skiers arrive with it, making the place come alive with wintertime energy. Snowmobilers pull up on sleds, coming through the path cut through the hardwoods in the back to join the Base Camp party.

Base Camp - Photo Iron Fish Distillery
Reservable winter Base Camp tents

In the summer it’s packed with vacationers enjoying the outdoor area, with its string lights and lawn games and bonfires.

Fall brings leaf peepers, spooky cocktail classes, their holiday artisan market, and lots of live music.

And spring, if you’re in the mood for more live music, release parties, or the Kentucky Derby, Iron Fish is the place to be.

Iron Fish Distillery Outdoor Seating

Show Stopping Cocktails, Crafted with Yes-Please Spirits

Ambiance and personality wouldn’t mean much if Iron Fish’s products didn’t back them up. But their commitment to excellence, and to offering a top-notch, accessible experience, means that every sip you take is a thoughtful part of something bigger.

You could do shots here but you don’t want to. You’ll miss the flavor-infused subtleties that are layered in each liquor.

Rather, come to sample the different gin, vodka, rum, bourbon, and whiskey varieties and discover their different flavor profiles.

Or, order and enjoy the many smart seasonal craft cocktails featuring their spirits.

Cocktails at Iron Fish Distillery

Case in point – their Cherry Whiskey-Rita. It’s like a margarita with a mature twist.

A luxurious drink, the sweet, tangy salted-rim cocktail is made with whiskey rather than tequila.

If you like margaritas and want to expand your horizons, try this.

Cherry Whiskey-Rita Iron Fish Distillery
Cherry Whiskey-Rita featuring Mezcal Bourbon and cherry-infused white whiskey

These are “sit-and-have-a-conversation” drinks.

Bring your family, bring your friends, bring your dog.

Linger as you pull out the flavors and you’ll be plotting your next visit in no time.

Cheers at Iron Fish Distillery Group Outing

Fun Canned Cocktail Alert

Love a cocktail and want to bring it home? Go to the bar, order your cocktail, and get it to go. They will make the cocktail and can it right before your eyes, using a machine invented by students at Western Michigan University. Pretty cool.

Canning Cocktails to go at Iron Fish Distillery
Canned Cocktails

From the Kitchen

Yum! Seriously. Every bite of the vegetable platter will make you want to write home about it. And those brussels in tahini? Chef’s Kiss. Mwah!

Veggie Platter Iron Fish Distillery

And if we’re spilling the tea – the Sassage pizza – don’t tell anyone I polished off half of it all by myself.

(You will want to order lots of things and sample them all – getting sharables is a brilliant idea at Iron Fish.)

Iron Fish Pizza

From the Farm to Your Glass

About that pizza – remember Jesse? He let us know that the Sassage! pizza is part of their full-cycle philosophy at Iron Fish.

Simply put, the distillation process creates a grain byproduct that most makers toss aside. Not Iron Fish, though. Instead, theirs is used to feed cattle via a local farm partner. Iron Fish, in turn, integrates sausage made from that herd on their signature pizza

The business applies this soil-to-spirit philosophy to all parts of the farm and operation. They grow the grains used in their products. They mill, mash, ferment, distill, and barrel age their goods, too.

Farming at Iron Fish Distillery - John Deere Tractor

If you’re curious about how it all works, sign up for a distillery tour to get a behind-the-scenes look.

The Distillery Overview Tour follows the grains from the fields where they’re grown through the whole process. This tour ends in a rickhouse where you’ll taste three award-winning spirits.

Distillery Tour Iron Fish

Additional tours, like the Barrel Aging & Rickhouse Overview Tour and the VIP Estate Tour, are also available.

It’s evident that a lot of passion, attention to detail, and caring have been poured into this place.

Grab Merch and Gifts, Too

Don’t forget to check out their barrel-shaped gift store before heading out. From shirts to signature drinks to drinkware to Iron Fish barrels, you’ll be impressed with the variety of cool merch offered here.

Iron Fish Distillery Store

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Melody VanderWeide

INFJ. Mom of 3. Idea chaser-People believer-Inspiration seeker. Together we make GR amazing – Let’s go!

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