Behind the Scenes at Journeyman Distillery, Three Oaks, Michigan

Behind the Scenes

Your ticket into the secret world of boozemaking.

[Photographs: Roger Kamholz]

The story of Journeyman Distillery, which opened its doors to guests for the first time in early October, rambles across continents and centuries. It's about a building in need of a purpose meeting a man in pursuit of his newfound passion.

But first things first: a brief lesson in Tasmanian geography. One hundred fifty miles south of mainland Australia, the small island of Tasmania boasts, among other things, highlands, a ready supply of clean, soft water, and bogs chock full of peat—all traits it shares with Scotland. The local conditions, paired with quality Australian barley, have all the makings of single malt whisky. Roughly 20 years ago, a native Tasmanian, surveyor and single malt lover named Bill Lark happened to piece together these disparate facts and came to the heady realization that his home begged for a whisky to call its own. Lark built a distillery. Others followed. Australian malt whisky, as their products are known, has been steadily gaining cred ever since.

Still with us? Good. Because it was on the unlikely, far-flung pebble of Tasmania that Journeyman's owner Bill Welter learned to make booze. Originally from the Midwest, Welter moved to Scotland several years ago. He quickly became enamored of single malt Scotch whisky. Welter befriended an Australian who operated a whisky distillery in Tasmania, and ended up taking an apprenticeship at the distillery, eager to learn the craft so he could return home and produce a spirit that would bear his name.

Welter ultimately chose the circa-1890s Featherbone Factory, a longtime community landmark of Three Oaks, Michigan, as the site for his distillery. Not unlike its new resident, the building has worn a winding path over the years. Originally built by local entrepreneur and renaissance man E.K. Warren to manufacture women's corsets, the Featherbone Factory brought growth and prosperity to Three Oaks. The building later became a production site for everything from buggy whips to pickles. Following a stunning renovation and the installation of a Kothe potstill, it now turns out delicious organic rye whiskey.

For now, Journeyman is hanging its hat on rye, but Welter plans to expand the product line to include gin, bourbon, rum and—as you might have guessed—single malt whisky. The distillery tasting room is currently open three days a week, offering whiskey samples and cocktails.

Journeyman Distillery

109 Generations Drive, Three Oaks, MI 49128 (map) 269-820-2050;