Star Union Spirits
An Unusual Distillery in a Most Unusual Place
I have visited many distilleries around the U.S., as well as in other countries around the world. Star Union Spirits is one that stands out. It has a combination of unusual spirits, location, and lounge concept.
As the first distillery in two centuries to be licensed in the small town of Peru, Illinois, Star Union has an eclectic selection of artisan liquors, from brandies to dark rum.
Jeff Yosowitz and Bob Windy are former winemakers who joined together to form Star Union Spirits. The friends wanted to create a small-batch distillery that would embrace the history of the Starved Rock area, specifically the Westclox building.
The two friends contracted the large space in 2016. They decided to highlight the distillery with some of their favorite things: music, art, and memorabilia. Casey Beall, an award-winning distiller, joined Yosowitz and Windy to complete the team.
The company’s name also came from history as the Star Union Products Company, another Illinois company, produced Star Model Beer in this region in the 19th and 20th century.
The distillery opened to the public in November 2018. Star Union Spirits has flourished, continually adding to their list of spirits, events, and cocktail experience.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they quickly shifted to temporarily produce FDA registered hand sanitizer, keeping their business flowing with a needed product until they could reopen the doors to the public.
Star Union Spirits uses a combination of grains and fruits from Midwestern suppliers, with the exception of grapes. Those come from South America and the West Coast of the United States. The water used in the spirits is from the limestone right in the Illinois Valley.
The grapes for the brandies are manually cranked, crushed, and de-stemmed in a wine press that dates back to the 20th century. Brandy, the original Star Union spirit, is more than the standard. Their collection includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Cherry, and Blackberry, the latter two also available aged in barrels. An Apple Brandy is in the works.
As if the selection of brandy isn’t enough to get you to Star Union Spirits, also on the list of spirits produced here are rum, whiskey, vodka (corn-based so it is gluten-free), and agave, which is basically tequila, but cannot be called that since it is not made in Jalisco. They are getting ready to release Blue Agave and a new American Whiskey.
The American Craft Spirits Association (ASCA) awarded five medals to Star Union Spirits in 2020.
What makes Star Union Spirits standout as much as their products is the unique experience you can have at their distillery.
A tour includes the highlights of the process they use to create each of their spirits, in small batches with as much human touch as possible. They also incorporate the story of the building and a shoutout to the memorabilia of Star Union Products.
Sipping spirits here goes beyond the usual tasting experience as they have a selection of artisanal cocktails that would rival a classic bar experience in flavor and presentation. Two that cannot be missed are the Pineapple Upside Down, made with Star Union Gold Rum, and the juice of pineapple, lime, and cherry, and The Twilight Hour, a brandy-based cocktail with lavender and mint.
The lounge area is set up so you can see the production area while you enjoy the drinks. You will also often find musicians playing in the background to add to the atmosphere. This has made the venue a popular place available for parties and weddings.
The charm of Star Union Spirits would not be the same without its location. The Westclox building was a huge part of this regions heritage, opening in 1885 and employing many of the area’s workers at the Western Clock Company (Westclox). During World War II, the company produced compasses for the U.S. Army and clocks for the Navy.
NYL Holdings LLC bought the company in 2007 and a fire destroyed a quarter of the structure in 2012. It has since been renovated. In addition to Star Union Spirits, other businesses are moving into the building. There is also a museum dedicated to Westclox.
For more information on hours, tours, events. and products at Star Union Spirits, visit their website.