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DeKalb Family Has Big Plans For Their Little Distillery

There seems to be a growing taste for homegrown spirits in the DeKalb area. Now a family-run distillery is looking to expand.

Whiskey Acres is a big farm with a small distillery in rural DeKalb County. Jamie Walter’s family has farmed there for five generations. Just a few years ago, he and his father, Jim Walter, decided it was time to “diversify.” They called their plan “from seed to spirit.” With the help of 14 employees, they raise grain on their Afton Township farm, then turn it into whiskey, bourbon, rye, and vodka in their on-site distillery.

Recently, the Walters showed U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-16, through their operations, from the massive copper still to the metal building where they keep their aging barrels of whiskey to the tiny sampling room/gift shop. It’s set up like a fairly cozy bar but can get pretty packed on the weekends when they offer public tours.

Kinzinger had the opportunity to try their latest sweetcorn-based spirit in the 400-square-foot building. The Walters had the opportunity to discuss issues that affect their business directly, including trying to get their products treated more like wine and beer when it comes to taxation.

They’re also awaiting approval from the DeKalb County Board to expand their business, including the addition of a 4,000-square-foot visitor’s center. Jamie Walter says his distillery is one of the county’s biggest attractions and lures a lot of visitors from Chicago and beyond.

“We are really excited to be invested in this community, he said. "We are in growth mode here at Whiskey Acres, and we intend to break ground yet this summer on a new, much larger visitor center to help us accommodate our growing crowds that are coming out to see us all the time.”

Walter says the business has boosted the local economy during its two-and-a-half years in operation.

“So while they come to see us at Whiskey Acres and enjoy a cocktail and a tour, they also go and buy gasoline and have dinner," Walter added. "They go shopping, they may stay in a hotel. Those are all activities that help the economic base throughout the county.”

There’s a public hearing at 1 p.m. Thursday about the proposed zoning changes that Whiskey Acres needs to expand in the DeKalb County Administration Building. It is the only opportunity for public input.

WNIJ's Susan Stephens contributed to this report.