Keep your spirits bright and toast to spring by visiting Frankfort Spirits to sample
their hand-crafted bourbon and vodka.
Frankfort Spirits, the 15th of the few licensed Illinois distilleries, opened in the
fall of 2014, but its story began years ago. Founders Phil and Dan Casey had set
their sights on a brewery, but as microbreweries became mainstream, the brothers
decided to try their hand at producing small-batch, premium distilled spirits.
The Caseys' project found a home in Frankfort at CD & ME, the concert and special
event venue on LaGrange Road. CD & ME co-owners Dean Vaundry and Chuck Jabaay
offered their second-story loft area for the distilling equipment and a tasting
“Each member of the team brings his special skills to Frankfort Spirits,” said
Catherine Storbeck, event coordinator for CD & ME. Phil Casey is a lawyer and Dan is
in construction materials. The team is rounded out by information technology
professional Jack King and graphic artist Chris McFarland. This perfect storm of
talent has gotten Frankfort Spirits off to a fast and exciting start.
As of now, they are pouring — and selling! — an 87 proof vodka and an 87 proof
bourbon. The vodka, aptly named Verdict Vodka because the CD & ME facility once
served as a satellite courthouse, is made from 100 percent Illinois corn. Distilled
seven times and filtered three, its taste is clean and crisp. No sugar is added as
in mass-produced vodkas, but the Illinois corn adds a subtle sweetness.
Frankfort Spirits’ flagship pour is their Emil Stimple Straight Bourbon. Aged for
eight years in American oak barrels, its taste warms you from within with a complex
and pleasing sweetness and hints of anise and pepper. The bourbon’s aroma reflects
butterscotch, caramel and vanilla. The Frankfort Spirits team searched high and low
for the perfect source bourbon for Emil Stimple. A mash of 75 percent corn, 20
percent rye and 5 percent barley along with their proprietary filtering system and
water filtered on site produces this exquisite liquor.
Two other spirits are in the Frankfort Spirits pipeline. Keep an eye out for a
limited release of Big Foot Wintermint Schnapps. A rye whiskey, Ringneck Rye,
currently is aging and will be released in the summer of 2016.
Retail distribution of Frankfort Spirits products is very limited, though
distribution to premium restaurants and high-end retailers is planned. For now, the
only way to purchase Verdict Vodka and Emil Stimple Straight Bourbon is on site.
Only 500 bottles of Emil Stimple will be produced, and each is signed and
hand-numbered. The vodka sells for $35 (tax included) and the Emil Stimple goes for
$86 (tax included).
A visit to Frankfort Spirits is a cozy, tasty and informative adventure. Tasting and
tours are offered on Sunday afternoons for just $10. (You must be 21 years of age to
taste. Your tasting fee can be applied to a purchase.) Visitors can sample the
Verdict Vodka and the Emil Stimple both straight up and in delectable cocktails (see
Part of your tasting experience is a tour of the distillery. The dramatically lit
still itself is a work of art — the looming copper and stainless structure sports
valves, pipes and portholes. It is a true testament to man’s ability to transform
simple grain, yeast and water into a pleasurable beverage.
The loft space is lovingly decorated with local artifacts and reclaimed materials.
It all reflects the great care, pride and enthusiasm of the men who have turned
Frankfort Spirits into a premiere Midwest distillery.
An example of their attention to detail and respect for local history is their
Frankfort Spirits logo — a square of interlocking geometric loops resembling an
Irish claddagh. “We found this design on the reverse side of a paver brick from old
downtown Frankfort,” explains McFarland. He adapted it for their logo, which appears
in their printed material and on labels, embroidered shirts and engraved glassware.
Laura Hays, of Limestone, is an avid cook and a wine connoisseur with her husband,
Dr. Phil Hays. They enjoy sharing their knowledge of food and wine by donating wine
tastings and dinners to local charities. A marketing specialist and former French
teacher, she also volunteers with the Kankakee Valley Symphony Orchestra. Email her