When you think of Kentucky bourbon, the elements of the state that define the spirit — like fields of grain bordered by rolling hills of bluegrass and naturally filtered limestone water — come to mind. Similarly, Judson & Moore Distillery aims to make its products a celebration of the bounty of the Midwest. “When we were considering the regionality of whiskey, we thought about what would make something in Chicago special and unique,” cofounder Elise Bergman says. “We just kept coming back to the wealth of natural resources we have right here.”
Bergman launched the business with her husband, distiller Collin Moore, and her father, entrepreneur Judson Bergman, in 2018, but years of setbacks — including a distillery fire just after signing the lease, Judson’s death (along with his wife’s) in a car accident in 2019, followed by the pandemic — meant that the distillery did not open its doors until this past May. Bergman and Moore had wavered on whether to continue the venture but ultimately decided it’s what her father would have wanted, especially if their product was a reflection of the region he called home.
Moore makes the whiskeys with Lake Michigan water (well, Chicago municipal water, which is drawn from the lake) and regional grains, then ages them in charred barrels crafted from Minnesota white oak. Take the red corn bourbon, which is made with distinctively sweet, deep red Bloody Butcher corn that’s grown at Cow Creek Farm in Paxton, Illinois, just over 100 miles south of the distillery. “There’s a richness on the palate,” he says. “Overall, it feels very inbounds for bourbon, but it’s not like any other bourbon out there.”
The distillery is located in Rockwell on the River, a former leather tannery in Avondale that’s been turned into a complex that’s also home to the barbecue restaurant Soul & Smoke, Metropolitan Brewing, and Metropolis Coffee. Since debuting the tasting room, which is open Thursday through Saturday, Bergman and Moore have been bringing in live music on Thursdays and food pop-ups to accompany the cocktails on offer at the bar, like old-fashioneds and Penicillins.
But sampling a whiskey flight is the best way to get to know the distillery. Besides the red corn, there’s a single malt, made with malted barley that’s been smoked over applewood (“It’s got a real earthy, peated-smoke-type flavor,” Moore says); a bourbon with a little rye to give it a grassy finish; and a rye.
If you’ve previously avoided rye because it’s sometimes a “big, dry spice bomb,” as Moore puts it, this one might convert you. Moore and Bergman have made it their flagship product, and it skews sweeter. “We get comments from people who say, ‘I didn’t think I liked rye, but that’s good,’ ” Moore says. “We’re going to try to get some more folks in the city to become rye drinkers.” 3057 N. Rockwell St., Avondale