Raise your spirits: it’s Flat Lander’s Whiskyfest

GRAND RAPIDS — Gregg Palazzolo was standing 30 feet from where he’s sitting now when he got a call. He was next door at the future Grand Butchers, helping some clients of his design firm get their business started, when another client called and asked about good locations for a craft spirits venue.

“Hang on,” he said, and ran next door to a vacant storefront to snap some photos. His friends saw the photos and came running themselves, and that’s how the place where Palazzolo is sitting now became Flat Lander’s.

Flat Lander’s is a “barstillery” — that’s a place that sells house-branded liquors alongside beer, wine and food. (It’s also a term Palazzolo, ever conscious of “the brand,” is trying to trademark).

Opened just this March on Michigan Ave. NE in Grand Rapids, Flat Lander’s is the first of a wave of new West Michigan businesses trying to harness the tide of craft beverages as it rises to include spirits as well as beer and cider.

It’s the perfect time to check the place out: now through October 11, Flat Lander’s is hosting its first Whiskyfest. Food and drink menus both will be highlighting Flat Lander’s bourbon and white whisky, and the bar will also be tapping several barrel aged beers.

Don’t just go for the beer, though. (Besides, since you’re reading this now, you already missed the Founders KBS tapping on Wednesday.) You definitely need to try the special lineup of Whiskyfest cocktails.

The Hottieshine promises to be a great warmer on a cool fall afternoon. The autumnal cousin to the customer favorite Appleshine, a Hottieshine adds hot apple cider to Flat Lander’s white whisky and house-made bitters. The complexity of the bitters is beautiful, and it’s perfectly balanced by the sweet finish of the cider.

If you want something cool, try the O’Canada: bourbon aged in Canadian oak, shaken with maple syrup and cream liqueur. It looks as innocent as milk, and tastes almost as mild at first, but then it hits you with the twist and kick of the bourbon. The maple sugar dusting on the rim of the glass is a nice touch too, and adds a surprising finish when you reflexively lick your lips after a sip.

If you like your liquors neither shaken nor stirred, then keep it simple with a glass of the vanilla bean bourbon, neat. There’s something — and something seasonal — for everyone.

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There’s also some darn good “hillbilly chic” food. Complement your Whiskyfest drink of choice with something, anything blanketed with the maple bourbon barbeque sauce. (Your options are ribs, pulled pork or smoked chicken wings.) Or, if you’re a vegetarian, try the autumn salad with white whisky apple vinaigrette. (Again, something for everyone.)

Palazzolo’s aim is that whatever you have at Flat Lander’s, whenever you have it, it will be excellent. “We’re really built to show off a premium product” — the spirits — “complemented with excellent food,” he says. “So far, we’ve been amazed at the response.”

One of the best things Flat Lander’s offers, according to Palazzolo, is the house-made bitters. He’s also excited about developing house-made “shrubs” — a vinegar-based, non-alcoholic concoction from the South that can serve as a mixer or be drunk straight. “We’ll be famous for them,” he wryly predicts.

But despite Palazzolo’s big ambitions for the restaurant and its signature products, he and his partners don’t plan to make things too big. “We didn’t build a 200-seat space for a reason,” he says. “Keep it special. Keep it small.”

Flat Lander’s is certainly the former. In a town where “craft” is now the norm, it’s found a way to be unique without being complicated, and most important, a way to be just plain good.

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