April 2 2014 12:00 AM


In the last two years, the Lansing area has welcomed two microbreweries to the growing craft beer scene: BAD Brewing Co. in Mason and EagleMonk Pub and Brewery in Delta Township. Two more have been announced, but while we’re waiting for Sleepwalker Spirits and Ale and Music Street Brewing Co. to start cranking out suds, another trend in mid- Michigan alcohol production has arisen: micro-distilleries.

The first one out of the gate is Sanctuary Spirits, which opened last month in a separated section of a home beerand wine-making store, Red Salamander in Grand Ledge. Karl Glarner Jr. and Tolin Annis are the co-owners/co-operators of both businesses. Glarner said he and Annis moved into the building, a former church, seven years ago hoping to open a brewpub. However, after the economy crashed, their investors backed out and they struggled to get the building to pay for itself. But they knew how to use their products.

“Our fermentation skills are strong,” Glarner said. “(Annis) and I have been making wine for 20 years each. The thing we have going for us is the technology isn’t that hard to grasp.”

They started making spirits last year shortly after attaining a distillery license, but they didn’t open to the public and start doing tastings until March 3. Sanctuary manufactures five liquors: a vodka made from Michigan cherries, three types of brandy (cherry, blueberry, and oak-aged apple) and something that Glarner calls the business’s “cornerstone product”: maple syrup spirits, named, fittingly Spirit of the Maple.

“The government has names for different spirits depending on what it’s made from, but there’s no category for something made from maple syrup,” Glarner said. “Technically, it’s a ‘distilled specialty spirit.’ But it’s a groundbreaking product. We’re the first people to make this. And there’s only a limited supply, so once we sell out, it’s gone.”

Glarner said it’s a simple process, but one that takes the better part of a year to complete — raw maple syrup is reduced, fermented, distilled and aged in oak for eight months. The idea came from a friend of his who has a maple syrup manufacturing company. He told Glarner that at the end of season, the sap changes flavor so it can’t be used for syrup and is usually dumped on the ground. Annis tried to ferment it into wine, and the result was the new maple spirit product. “It takes on the color of the oak, it has that oak smell, but it still has a lingering maple syrup taste,” Glarner said. “But it’s not too sweet.”

Similarly, the cherry vodka doesn’t taste like cherries — through the distillation process, the sweetness of the fruit disappears and it becomes odorless and tasteless. Glarner said bottles are sold at the store, but there’s no distribution plan in place yet to get Sanctuary spirits sold elsewhere.

“We’re just starting out, so we’re going to try doing anything we can for now,” Glarner said. “We want to experiment with absinthe, gin and rum. We just got back from an R&D trip to Kentucky, so we’re adding bourbon to the list. Eventually we’d like to try making our own bitters and our own tonic (to make) gin and tonics. In the meantime, I’m just having fun learning how to be a bartender.”

Meanwhile, in downtown Lansing, another microdistillery is underway, with plans to open by summer. Rick Wyble is busy renovating the former Action Resale building across from Oldsmobile Park to become American Fifth Spirits. Wyble has worked as a beer and wine wholesaler for the last 10 years, and has watched the Michigan beer, wine and liquor trade skyrocket over time.

“It made sense to jump into this,” he said. “It’s not just a business decision. I love spirits.

He plans to spend between $350,000 and $500,000 to upgrade the 4,600-square-foot building, 112 N. Larch St., with a July open date in mind. Initially he he’ll just manufacture gin and vodka, but he intends to branch out if all goes well. As for that name, well, what’s more American than not using the metric system?

“The fifth is a uniquely American measurement, and craft distilleries are a uniquely American,” Wyble said. “And I just liked the way it sounded.”

Wyble said American Fifth will be the first distillery in Lansing city limits since, like, ever.

“I even searched the tax record, and there’s nothing going back even as far as pre-Prohibition,” he said. “We’ll be the first ever. Ever ever. And it’s pretty exciting.”

For the updates on when the distillery will open, go to americanfifthspirits.com.

Sanctuary Spirits (located inside Red Salamander) 902 E. Saginaw Highway, Grand Ledge 4 p.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday- Friday; noon-5 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday-Monday (Red Salamander hours noon-7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday) (517) 627-2012, theredsalamander.com