Filling their first barrels with whiskey in early 2020, this distillery is a family’s shared dream turned reality, down to the tasting room and weekly line-up of live music.
In a revitalized 1900s tannery building on Chicago’s northside, the smells of grain mash marry with the sounds of bluegrass. Enter Judson & Moore Distillery, where husband and wife co-founders Elise Bergman and Collin Moore have created a harmonious confluence of all their passions and interests—whiskey, music, craft, and community.
Music is a constant for Collin and Elise, and the turntable behind the bar spins their staff's favorite albums when they are not hosting weekly live music performances. For years the couple has played in a bluegrass band, Big Sadie, with Collin on guitar and Elise on stand-up bass.
Along with their musicianship, the couple brings their own unique blend of skills and experience to the distillery. Elise is also a fashion designer managing a sustainable luxury clothing line, Jeune Otte. Collin is a former civil engineer and homebrewer... with “perhaps some home distilling experience,” he jokes. He credits his formal distilling education to his father, Charlie Moore (ChemE Professor Emeritus Univ. of TN), The Institute of Brewing and Distilling, and the Siebel Institute of Technology.
The vision to open a distillery was nurtured by Elise's late father, Judson, and the distillery bears his name. In the summer of 2019, they leased their beautiful brick and timber framed space, initially managing all of the distillery production themselves. They began filling barrels with whiskey in January of 2020, and bottled their first release in June of 2022. Today, their family’s shared dream is a reality—the distillery has a six-person team helping to manage production, the tasting room, and the weekly line-up of live music.
Serendipitously, music served as a conduit to the local grain farming community for the couple as well. In 2019, Big Sadie performed at a friend’s farm gathering where they met Jack Erisman, a long time organic grain farmer and advocate. Collin wanted to use Midwest grain for their spirits, but he had struggled to source it. It was Jack who made the introduction to fellow AGC Member Will Glazik of Cow Creek Farm and Silver Tree Spirits in Paxton, IL.
Will invited Collin to the farm to learn more about Cow Creek’s farming operation, land stewardship, and grain varieties. “We talked about their approach to farming, looked at some soil, and were both transparent on what we would need,” says Collin. He began sourcing corn and rye from Cow Creek for the distillery's early production runs.
Today, Will regularly ships bloody butcher and yellow dent corn to Judson & Moore, and the two are in frequent communication, especially during planning for the upcoming growing season. Will and Collin have found additional ways to support the growth of each other's businesses as well. As production ramped up at Judson & Moore, so did the need for additional barrel storage, but space in Chicago comes at a premium. Will offered to store Judson & Moore’s whiskey barrels at Silver Tree Spirits’ warehouse to help accommodate the distillery’s expansion, which works well for both parties: Will delivers corn on the trip up to Chicago and shuttles barrels of whiskey on the return trip to the Glazik brothers' Paxton facility for aging. The partnership enables Judson & Moore to mitigate costs for their growing distillery while providing a stable market for Cow Creek’s grain business.
Collin’s commitment to quality whiskey starts with grain selection. Local grain is worth the extra effort, he says, citing “an exceptional quality of aroma and palate and ultimately producing flavor profiles that we are really excited about.”
When grain arrives at the distillery, Collin and his fellow distillers Joe Luna and Pete Johnson perform an initial sensory inspection. “We smell the grain in the tote, we look for uniform plumpness of kernels, test the moisture, and mill a sample of the grain to steep with hot water to get more of the aroma.”
After the initial quality inspection, the grain is pulverized into a fine grist through a hammer mill. The grist is then mashed to convert grain starches into fermentable sugars for the yeast to turn into a high alcohol beer (or wash) before going into the still. The distillery’s custom-built 500 gallon copper still is the centerpiece of production, distilling the wash into new make (or white dog) spirit for barrel aging.
While grain selection is important, the barrel aging process is the largest contributor to flavor in whiskey, providing an estimated 70% of the final flavor profile. Judson & Moore sources Minnesota white oak for their barrel staves whenever possible. “Oak grown in colder climates results in a tighter wood grain,” says Moore, “which allows for a little more vanillin and sweetness to come through in the final whiskey.” The resulting whiskies demonstrate a Midwest terroir originating from both the grain and barrel.
Judson & Moore produces four spirits: a rye whiskey, a bourbon whiskey, a red corn bourbon whiskey, and a single malt whiskey. Collin enjoys sharing side by side comparisons of their bourbons and highlighting the differences between yellow dent and bloody butcher corn from Cow Creek Farm. “Most people don’t realize there are different varieties of corn out there, and that they create very different flavor profiles in our bourbons,” he says. “It's a fun way to educate guests in our tasting room about regional farming.”
Collin and Elise have found a receptive local audience for their whiskey, and are exploring potential distribution expansion with direct-to-consumer partnerships. The Glaziks are at the ready with additional barrel storage in the works to further support this growing grain chain collaboration.
If you need more reasons to visit Judson & Moore Distillery, join them along with AGC on October 18th for an evening of whiskey, local grain chain collaborations, and music in the tasting room! For additional details, follow their socials at the links below.