Fox River Distilling Company
Fox River Distilling Company’s smooth, craft distilled spirits feature a special ingredient – true heart and soul.
Have you ever spoken to someone for just a few minutes, and immediately felt like you’ve known them for years? My visit to local Fox River Distilling Company totally left me feeling this way!
I was admittedly a few minutes late to my chat with owners Amy and Mike Orlando because a property showing went a little late. AND it was raining. Why do people forget how to drive when it rains? I knew exactly how to get there, though, because Ryan, a couple friends, and I had taken one of their tours a few months back.
Anyways, I walked in with an apology (I hate being late – I still have dreams about being late to events, ugh) and mentioned it was due to a property showing that ran over. Amy lit up and exclaimed that she used to work in real estate when they lived on the east coast. This spiraled into a quick conversation of our work backgrounds and getting to know each other. Mike seemed to notice we were getting along just fine and politely excused himself to the distilling area to work on one of their current batches.
It wasn’t long before Amy and I noticed we had been talking for almost an hour. If you’re curious about our chat, here’s a little backstory I learned:
Mike and Amy have moved fairly often for Mike’s job. Several years back, they lived in Geneva for about fifteen months and fell in love with the area. It wasn’t long, though, before Mike’s job took them elsewhere. Soon it was time to pack up and head to the Jersey Shore, where they were settled for a little over four years. I laughed as Amy mentioned she avoided going “full Snooki” while they were there. It was here that Amy worked in real estate!
As Amy puts it, they then “went from the Atlantic Ocean to the Murky Mississippi” and moved to the Quad Cities area. Mike and Amy no longer had kids at home, and couldn’t use school events to connect with other parents and make friends. In fact, Amy, who describes herself as moldable to any new environment, found it really difficult for her and Mike to immerse themselves in the Quad Cities community.
One Sunday, Amy was reading the local paper and read that a distillery was opening nearby that day. They would be giving their very first tour in 45 minutes! Amy snagged Mike and told him about what she read. They immediately jumped in the car and made their way to the new spot. At the end of the tour, the owners asked if anyone wanted to help them with bottling. Mike and Amy volunteered, well, because they honestly had nothing else to do, she explained. They ultimately ended up helping the owners for the next 18 months – Mike would help with the distilling process and Amy helped in the tasting room and retail areas. Mike and Amy displayed such an interest that eventually the owners took them aside and encouraged them to explore the idea of opening their own distillery……just not nearby, ha! They gave it some serious thought and decided they might regret it if they didn’t explore the idea.
At this point in their lives, Mike could live anywhere as long as he was close to an airport. They decided that two years in the Quad Cities was long enough, and remembered how much they liked living in Geneva. It had been seven years since they’d lived there, and in that time, Mike discovered, Geneva had spent 28 million dollars on a reverse osmosis water treatment facility.
Amy explained that when it comes to distilling, water is king! Many places have water specially shipped to their site, or have to invest in their own reverse osmosis process. Mike and Amy felt like it was a no-brainer to start their business venture in a spot where this was already taken care of for them. All they have to do is turn on the tap! This has saved them a lot of time, energy, and money along the way, and they attribute the smoothness of their products to the water.
All in all, it took a whopping twenty seven and a half months to get all of their licensing. YES – over two years. And it wasn’t just patience they had to provide during that time – they had to the have the location established, the equipment installed, and their entire business set up before they were officially licensed. Talk about an investment! Mike and Amy stayed away from investors and took the risk of opening their business with their own money, craving the ability to have full control of their vision.
Opening their business wasn’t as smooth as their spirits are, though. Amy says they’ve definitely had their share of learning along the way! For example, Amy came home one day and found Mike proudly admiring their first bottle design. Mike thought it looked great, but Amy quickly pointed out that you couldn’t read anything printed it on it due to the design they chose. Mike, in a panic, called the bottle-maker and asked them to stop the printing process. It took two more tries before they finally found the frosted, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired design you now see on their Herrington Vodka and other selections. Mike and Amy have had a lot of compliments on the clean look of their bottles, so they are shifting all of their clear spirits to the Herrington look and their brown spirits to the Bennett Mill branding.
Fox River Distilling Company has now been open for almost two years (they celebrate their anniversary this November!). Mike still has his full-time job, while Amy officially left hers two months ago. She now works with the distribution team throughout the week and pounds the pavement in the Geneva, St. Charles, Batavia, North Aurora, and Naperville areas. Her other reps focus on the city and the outlying suburbs. Fox River Distilling Spirits are now in many of the local stores (Binny’s, Woodman’s, Whole Foods), as well is most of the area restaurants and bars. In fact, that is how Ryan and I first discovered Fox River Distilling Company – we were sitting at Barrel + Rye in Geneva and noticed their bottle sitting on the shelf. Amy says that she and Mike always get excited to hear people order a Herrington Vodka or Geneva’s Gin when they are out and about. The other night, Mike and Amy were dining at The Finery & Blacksmith Bar in St. Charles and the guy next to them said he just picked up two more bottles of their Gin. As new business owners, this gives Mike and Amy affirmation that their brand and hard work is gaining them traction in the area.
You may notice some exciting changes at Fox River Distilling Company in the coming months. They’ve recently set into motion plans to expand on either side of their current location, and will be aiming to open a bar area next. This will allow guests to sip, sample, and schmooze before a tour or event.
Speaking of events, Fox River Distilling Company can host yours! Amy tells me that they’ve done a lot of corporate team-building events in the past few months. Typically, they’ll start the 2-hour experience off with cocktails, move to a buffet dinner, take a group tour, and end with a bottling experience. Be careful though – Amy playfully chooses who goes to which bottling position. While making everyone cocktails early in the night, she carefully watches and listens to how people interact with each other. Come off a little too cocky with your co-workers and you might find yourself taping and moving boxes. Amy says the bottling process is hilarious – typically it’s the high-powered executives that are the ones that struggle the most! They also do smaller, private events and host meet-up groups, too. Be sure to contact Amy if you are looking for a creative spot to entertain.
If you don’t have plans for the weekend, go take one of the tours at Fox River Distilling Company! There are several times offered on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and the best part is that they are FREE. Be sure to ask about the tools from Mike’s family they have displayed in the front retail area – they offer a great, full-circle type of story! If you sign up for their newsletter while you’re there, you’ll also have the opportunity to score special offers and invites from them.
Our plans for the weekend? Making a well-deserved Herrington Vodka with water and lemon. Cheers!
204 Dearborn Court #110, Geneva, IL
Friday: 12PM - 6PM
Tours at 12PM, 2PM, 4PM, 5PM (no 5PM tour on First Fridays)
Saturday: 10AM - 5PM
Tours at 12PM, 2PM, 4PM
Sunday: 12PM - 5PM
Tours at 12PM, 2PM, 4PM