GTPulse: The Only Blue Corn That Grows on the 45th Parallel
The only blue corn to grow at the 45th parallel is right here in Northern Michigan. The only way you can taste it is through indulging in Ethanology’s White Whiskey, and in years to come, their bourbon.
Only the Elk Rapids craft distillery owned by Nick and Geri LeFebre and a few local farmers have hands-on access to the strange but beautiful crop, and for good reason. The seed took over 30 years of crossbreeding to perfect.
“Most heirloom varieties like blue, red, and green corn are grown in the southwest,” said Nick. “The reason being, as those Native tribes from Central America brought corn north, they brought these varieties with them. All corn originated in Central America, so they have very long grow times. Typically 180 days. Here, we have about 90 days.”
Because of the finicky nature of Michigan’s growth season, the seed was organically bred to grow bigger in a shorter period of time. Heirloom corn is much smaller in size than the large ears of yellow corn we’re used to. The kernels are harder and seedlike. To create a blue corn that would grow the right size in the right amount of time, the seed had to be crossbred with an heirloom blue and a yellow no.2 dent. The heirloom provides the beautiful color, and the yellow dent winnowed the grow time down to 90 days and provides the necessary size.
“So, over 30 years of organic, non GMO crossbreeding has gone into it. It took me over nine months to find a blue corn that would grow in Northern Michigan. Geri and I, being committed to local agriculture in addition to innovation and progressing what we believe is a true craft product, we wanted a blue corn. Little did we know how challenging it would be.”
Finding the seed was tedious, but finding farmers to grow it proved to be a challenge as well.
“We built these relationships with farmers and said, ‘Hey would you guys be open to growing a blue corn?’”
The farmers had never grown a blue corn before. They were curious about the seed treatment and soil conditions necessary for a successful harvest, but unafraid. This specific type of corn was named Frumentum Blue by Nick and Geri, and with the trust built between the Lefebre’s and the farmers, it’s been growing here since 2017. The first crop was grown at Shook Farms in Central Lake.
Its blue coloring comes from Anthocyanins and tannins. The wine-savvy may be familiar with these terms because these components are also responsible for giving wine its color and astringency. The taste translates well in Ethanology’s White Whiskey.
“It’s column distilled, so it doesn’t rest on oak and doesn’t do four to six years in a barrel. The distillation method is completely different. It has this beautiful kind of grape on the nose, there’s a butterscotch finish to it, there’s a little bit of white pepper on your front to mid palette. The bourbon is much different. It has that oak influence so it has some really nice date and blackberry notes that you wouldn’t traditionally get with a bourbon, and that’s from the blue corn.”
The White Whiskey is available in cocktails at the distillery and bottles for purchase. However, we won’t see the bourbon for a few more years. The double pot distilled, double oak finished bourbon is still resting its bones and maturing.
“I nose it probably once a month. We have an idea where we want the quality to be. The barrels are changing on a molecular level on a daily basis. It’s currently at two years.”
If anyone’s proved that good things come to those who wait, it’s Ethanology. They continue to be intentional with their product, practice, cocktails, and everything else they do in the name of having locally sourced, genuinely craft spirits. Pick up a bottle of their White Whiskey locally, or make a reservation at their distillery and experience Frumentum Blue and the spirit of Northern Michigan.
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