WRITER | CANDIE CONAT
PHOTO| VALENTINE DISTILLING
As president and founder of Ferndale’s Valentine Distilling, Rifino Valentine set out to create an extraordinary company built on a reputation for high quality. Established in 2007, Valentine Distilling Company pioneered small batch, handcrafted spirits in the U.S. The goal was to produce quality spirits that would lead not only the domestic market but the international market as well.
“In Michigan, we have a great appreciation for the manufacturing process. We get it,” says Valentine. So when he started Valentine Distilling, he said, “Let’s do this the right way. The old way. Let’s put the product first. We don’t need a $10-million marketing budget; we will stand on the quality of our products.”
This philosophy explains why the distillery is proud to hang banners announcing their awards and accolades. Being named “World’s Best” at the London World Spirits Competition means something special to Valentine and his staff. One of their bourbons also appeared in Whisky Advocate’s “Top 10 in the World” Summer Buyer’s Guide, joining a list of top national and international producers.
Valentine Distilling creates vodka, of course; it was the product that first put them on the map. It is clean, straight-up vodka, free of cheap additives and created using a centuries-old process.
In addition to vodka, Valentine offers their Liberator barrel-aged gin, named after the World War II bombers built in Detroit, and their Mayor Pingree Bourbon and Rye Whiskey. Pingree was mayor of Detroit in the late 1800s and known as a mayor for the people, fighting corruption and crooked politics in the city.
Valentine’s Mayor Pingree Bourbon gained worldwide attention in 2019 when it received 93 out of 100 points in Whiskey Advocate. These days, Valentine receives daily emails from people trying to get their hands on a bottle. The problem is, the distillery had no way of knowing then how popular it would become, and as it is aged for a minimum of five years, the supply is very limited. Bourbon drinkers are like knitters, Valentine says: when they find something good, word spreads fast, and everyone wants some of the action.
When I asked Valentine to name his favorite, he replied that was like asking a parent to choose a favorite child. His spirit of choice changes with the seasons, in fact. In spring and summer, he gravitates toward the vodkas and straight gin. As the weather turns colder, he enjoys the barrel-aged gin, bourbon, and rye whiskey.
The distillery offers regular tours where you will see the inner workings of the plant and learn the history of distilling. You will also have the chance to sample their spirts and purchase your favorites. In addition, Valentine has a cocktail lounge that features their full line of products. You won’t find TVs on the walls here, but you will find handcrafted cocktails, black-and-white movies playing on the wall in back, and small plates to enjoy with friends new and old.
As Justin, Valentine’s head distiller likes to say, “The difference between average and good spirits is attention to detail. The difference between good and world-class spirits is science.” And that has been Valentine’s guiding principle from the start -– to be THAT good.