After years in the airline industry, Tim and Addie Ford are ready to keep their feet on the ground. Inspired by a business trip to Kentucky, they decided to return to Addie’s hometown to establish Grant View Distillery, the first legal distillery in Rockford since Prohibition.
Addie won the 2018 FastPitch “Spirit of Entrepreneurship” pitching the distillery’s first release, 40 Winks Whiskey. She felt the award was quite fitting for someone in the spirits industry. The Fords’ focus is to create something distinct with local flavors and a land-to-lips experience.
The Fords purchased a 22-acre specialty crop farm, Grant View Heights, to create a unique agri-business and tourist destination for Rockford. They plan to open a Tasting Room in late 2019. To assist with the production and flavorings of their craft spirits, they’ll grow 50+ agricultural products on their property to flavor their offerings including Brandy, Rum, Bourbon, Whiskey and Vodka. The highest point of their property overlooks the grounds once known as Camp Grant, hence their name was born, Grant View Distillery.
Tim, an avid researcher, found an article linking the Graham-Ginestra House to Graham Bros. Distillery (1876-1919). After touring the home, they were delighted to discover distillery items still on display including whiskey barrels filled with the Graham Bros. product. Armed with this historical information, their mission was not only to create unique, quality craft spirits from crops grown on their land but also to recreate the Graham Bros.’ sour mash Bourbon, Whiskey and Rye recipes that have not been produced or distilled in over 100 years.
Finding the essential base products would be no small feat because the grain of yesteryear is not the grain grown on the majority of farms today. They began the hunt for the perfect grain farmer and social media helped guide them to John Gustafson, a third-generation farmer who lives just a stone’s throw from their property.
“Farming plays a vital role in distilling” Addie explained, “Since John was already growing heritage grains and grains found in this area 100 years ago, it was a perfect fit.” The outcome of connecting the dots will result in a new experience for Rockford residents and a great attraction for others to visit the region.
John is an innovator integrating old-school farming with modern equipment. He and his family’s goals are to leave the land in better shape than when they started. This goal has paid off. Gustafson Farms, the producer of Bear Grains, is the only supplier of this unique product in the Midwest. With the current trends–desiring to purchase local and support sellers within your region, which results in the freshest product available–his crops have been in high demand. His niche product fills the needs of quality bakers, distillers, etc., who are interested in producing high-quality, GMO-free, uniquely tasting products.
John and the Fords regularly attend NIU EIGERlab’s Innovation Tuesday Meetups and have participated in the FastPitch Competition. “It’s ideal that NIU EIGERlab offers entrepreneurs the chance to compete annually to test market their products at FastPitch, in addition to recruiting talented speakers 10 times a year to assist with business development. The ability to network at these events, in addition to the educational aspect is phenomenal,” shared John. Addie added, “Being part of the 2018 FastPitch Competition was an amazing experience. We were encouraged and given valuable feedback from experts which allowed us to hone our speaking skills and create a personalized voice for our company & product. We are proud to have won the Spirit of Entrepreneurship award for our very own ‘Spirit of Rockford’.”
Collaboration is key. “We assist each other with the positive outcome of being better businesses, in addition to offering something special for our hometown,” Addie shared. Both agree that partnering adds value to their businesses versus competing.