Traverse City News and Events

Whiskey's Treasure Island

By Beth Milligan | July 26, 2021

Whiskey aficionados take note: You may soon be able to taste what whiskey tasted like in the midst of the Prohibition era — or, at least, closer to that flavor profile than anyone has gotten in the better part of a century.

The key to the past, in this case, is a specific type of whiskey grain: Rosen rye, a celebrated varietal of rye that was extremely popular among Prohibition-era moonshiners — especially in the eastern United States. And while it’s Bourbon County in Kentucky that is often thought of as the epicenter of U.S. whiskey history, Rosen rye came from a different part of the country: Michigan.

Right now, the Central Lake-based craft spirits company Mammoth Distilling — which has a tasting room in downtown Traverse City — is leading a charge to revive Rosen rye as a staple in the world of American whiskey. According to Mammoth Founder and CEO Chad Munger, the company has been striving throughout the years to make all of its spirits with pure heritage grains and with ingredients grown right here in northern Michigan. The goal? To make whiskey with the same kind of unique terroir — often explained as “taste of the place” — that wine grapes have.

Last year, the company planted Rosen rye on the historic Hutzler and Beck farms on South Manitou Island. It’s a complicated project, one that Munger says is only possible because multiple pieces fell into place just right. First, the USDA agreed to hand over a small handful of Rosen rye seeds — 56 in total — to help the project get started. Second, MSU agreed to partner with Mammoth on the project, thanks in part to the historic roots that Rosen rye has at the college. Finally, the National Park Service (which owns and manages South Manitou Island as part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore) agreed to issue a permit that allows Mammoth and MSU to cultivate 14 acres of South Manitou farmland for Rosen rye. 

Read more about Mammoth Distilling's project on South Manitou Island and the company's efforts to resurrect Rosen rye in this week's Northern Express, sister publication of The Ticker. The Northern Express is available to read online, or pick up a free copy on newsstands at nearly 700 spots in 14 counties across northern Michigan.

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