DeKALB – Whiskey Acres Distilling Co., as the only distillery in DeKalb County and the first of its kind in Illinois, draws patrons from far and wide who want a taste of bourbon, vodka or whiskey distilled from “seed to spirit” on the 2,000-acre farm.
Connoisseurs and curious drinkers alike soon could have a brand-new facility in which to taste their favorite beverages.
Jamie Walter, president and CEO of the estate distillery at 11504 Keslinger Road, is proposing building a 4,000-square-foot visitors center on the property with space for a tasting room, a break room for staff, offices, storage and events.
He estimated the project would cost $500,000.
“It would be a significant upgrade and a significant investment,” Walter said. “This will be an investment that Whiskey Acres is making in the community that will help create jobs, create economic growth, increase the tax base.”
The proposal will be the subject of a public hearing at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in the East Conference Room of the DeKalb County Administration Building, 110 E. Sycamore St. in Sycamore.
Whiskey Acres would need County Board approval on a special use permit to construct the building, as well as permission to have it situated 40 feet from the road as proposed, instead of the required 50 feet.
The request for a variance of up to 10 feet is so that the building's foundation would not encroach on the 100-plus-year-old walnut tree that would be on the side, Walter said.
Currently, drinks are imbibed in a 400-square-foot tasting room, and parties often spill out onto the patio area outside. With one register for buying drinks, the lines often are out the door, as well.
Walter said that about 25 percent of guests are from the local market, while 50 percent are from the Chicago area, and the rest are from 100 miles away or farther.
“We want to make the visit for those guests as positive as possible, and so we need to have a space that is conditioned, heated and cooled, that is large enough to handle the crowds that come in here on the weekends,” he said.
The new building would be able to seat more than 60 guests, and it would be open year-round, Walter said.
Walter said the business has grown in the two and a half years since the distillery opened; it now employs 14 people.
In addition to a place for staff meetings, the new building also would feed the high demand to host parties and tour groups at Whiskey Acres, Walter said.
“Birthday parties, anniversary parties, college graduations, the occasional wedding, bachelorette parties – you name it, we get requests for these types of activities,” Walter said.
He said that although he doesn’t intend to host weddings regularly in the new building, as Whiskey Acres' busiest days are on the weekends, he would entertain the possibility of getting temporary event permits for outdoor weddings at the site.
“Right now we say no, and they go to Kane County, spend money, stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and buy gas in the county next door, rather than the economic development that could be here in DeKalb County,” Walter said.
With county approval, the ideal timeline for construction would be to start in late summer or early fall, get the building enclosed by the winter so interior work can continue, and finish up exterior work, landscaping and a new parking lot in the spring, Walter said.
He said he would want the facility open by the spring/summer of 2018, and that neighbors and community members have expressed nothing but support so far for the project.
"We’ve been in business now for two and a half years, and we’ve never had a negative issue here that I’m aware of," Walter said. "We've helped raise the profile of DeKalb in the tourism industry and economic development area. I think it’s been good."