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Spirited Venture

Upstart craft distillers seeing swift success

Suburban Life Magazine

Some folks might consider opening a craft distillery in the western suburbs a risky venture. But for brothers Toby and Jamey Beall, who fly planes and race cars, rum running was simply a new adventure.

That’s right, rum. And Blue Agave spirit (similar to tequila). Distilled and aged from scratch in the midst of sprawling suburbia.

Tailwinds Distilling Company is housed in a stretch of warehouse space in west suburban Plainfield affectionately referred to as “the hangar”. The 5,000 square foot production facility also boasts an on-site tasting room and store front shop.

Tailwinds is one of a crop of upstart craft distillers in the Chicago market. This new generation of spirit-makers combines a chef’s palate and a bootlegger’s heart to craft award-winning unique spirits – there are rums and whiskeys, moonshine and mead, agave and gin, all made and bottled right here in our communities.

At Tailwinds, a love of the Caribbean and Mexico drove the brothers to their business.

“We kept asking, ‘why is no one doing this here?’” Jamey says. “None of the answers really satisfied us.”

So with a background in home brewing, Toby and his wife Jill spent five years learning everything they could about rum. They studied and they talked to others in the industry. They practiced and they pursued until they were pretty sure they had what they needed to make a go of it. Then, like all risk-takers, they jumped. Jamey jumped as well.

Two years later and they have four signature products:
Inspired by their road trips to the Baja peninsula of Mexico, Midnight Caye is 100 percent Blue Agave spirit. Two versions are produced at Tailwinds. “Silver” is bottled straight from the still, offering a fresh, floral flavor, while “Rested” mellows in French Oak barrels for some time, so it finishes sweet and smoky.

“We never use carbon filtering,” Toby says, “We don’t believe in removing flavor from our spirits.”
Taildragger White Rum is clean, sweet and mild. Taildragger Amber Rum, aged in the barrel, offers more initial bite, while the vanilla-like flavors of the barrel linger.

A seasonal offering, Taildragger Coffee Rum is made with coffee from nearby Two Brothers Roasters, the same Two Brothers that helped revolutionize craft beer in Chicago.

“We’re all friends,” says Toby. “It’s a tight-knit group in the craft business.”

Head east to Riverside, and you’ll likely come across Derrick Mancini, owner and distiller with Quincy Street Distillery, just steps off the rails in the heart of this quaint downtown.

Mancini is a physicist by trade (the Beall brothers affectionately call him the “mad scientist”) and a distiller by passion. He openly admits brewing up jars of mead (a wine made from local honey) while in college, and remains just as enthusiastic for spirits today, if not a bit more educated to the process.

Quincy Street is the 19th craft distillery to operate in Illinois, and Mancini is president of the Illinois Craft Distillers Association. In a 60-gallon still nicknamed “tick-tock” after the Wizard of Oz character, Mancini and crew distill and bottle seven varieties of spirits – bourbon whiskey, rye whiskey, white lightening, railroad gin, barreled gin, and a distilled mead – with five more varieties laying in wait, barreled in the back for upcoming release.

Mancini calls his process “artisanal” and visitors can count on three things when they stop in: a smooth drink, a bit of chemistry, and a boatload of history. You can have a tour, where you’ll learn the entire process of distillation and barreling, from grain to glass, (it’s all done in house) and follow that with a formal tasting of a half dozen Quincy Street creations. You’ll learn the methods and the laws for producing whiskey, the traditions and the workarounds. Mancini shares it all.

The tasting room itself is steeped in local history. Mancini will keep tour-goers and tasters entertained with stories of Riverside at prohibition, historic local residents, and even some modern day gossip. He has eyes on expansion, should the business climate be agreeable, (he’s both progressive and nostalgic) but for now remains a beloved suburban speakeasy just steps from the train.

For both the Beall brothers and Mancini, distilling is about a love for the spirit, from its beginnings as corn and rye and sugar cane, to an end result that can be sharp or smooth, oak-rich or clean, but always distinct. It’s the same across the craft movement – from micro-brewers to local bistros, the purveyors offer true enthusiasm for their products and the process (often long and laborious) in an effort to give customers an appreciation for the craft.

“I hope it works,” Mancini says “I’m not sure I want to do anything else.”

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