Port Huron’s first whiskey distillery opens at Wrigley Hall

Life-long residents of Metamora, Michigan, Aaron Weideman and John Fitzgerald have been best friends for as long as they can remember. As children, they would sneak into each other’s homes at night and dreamed of being in business together someday — a dream that recently became a reality.

A bartender at Renaissance Man Distillery & Cocktail Lounge makes a Guava Daiquiri.
On July 5, Renaissance Man Distillery & Cocktail Lounge celebrated its grand opening at Wrigley Hall in downtown Port Huron, the first for the community.

With its proximity to Canada and its convenient location along Lake Huron’s waterfront, Port Huron became a frequent stop for smugglers during the Prohibition Era. Giving a nod to the region’s history and involvement in prohibition, the distillery and cocktail lounge offers an ambience reminiscent of the Roaring Twenties with low lighting, Edison bulbs that hang from the ceiling, and deep, tufted leather chairs to relax in.

The beverage menu consists of craft gin, vodka, rum, and whiskey cocktails with 100% organic ingredients and Prohibition-themed names such as the Sugar House Smuggler which features apricot-infused whiskey. Charcuterie boards provided by fellow Wrigley Hall business, Dot’s Candy Bar, are also available at Renaissance Man Distillery & Cocktail Lounge.

Aaron Weideman (left) and John Fitzgerald are the creators of Renaissance Man Distillery & Cocktail Lounge in Port Huron, Michigan.

Founder and CEO of Renaissance Man, Weideman, is also a U.S. Marine veteran. While stationed in Japan, Weideman took an interest in the Yakisugi method and became an expert on the centuries-old Japanese technique for burning wood. During that time Fitzgerald, Founder and COO of Renaissance Man, was attending college pursuing a degree in biophysics and organic chemistry, with plans to eventually become a biophysics health coach. When Weideman returned from his deployment and left the service, the pair revisited their long-held dream of opening a whiskey distillery leading to the creation of the Renaissance Man Company.

Renaissance Man Whiskey is available for purchase at the cocktail lounge or online at renmandistilling.com.
What sets this business apart from others is not only its atmosphere but also its innovative invention and product — Renaissance Man Whiskey. Community partners such as the Economic Development Alliance of St. Clair County, Michigan Women Forward, and the Community Foundation of St. Clair County have worked with Weideman and Fitzgerald providing support to the entrepreneurs who have developed an award-winning creation and a more environmentally-friendly way to produce whiskey.

After the distillation process, whiskey comes out of the still as a clear substance before being put into barrels, usually made from oak trees, to age. It is from the barrels that whiskey obtains the majority of its flavor, as well as its signature amber color, as it matures over the course of five to eight years.

A white oak tree takes between 60-80 years before being ready to produce the wood necessary for whiskey barrels — which then takes another five to eight years to mature. Current projections say that in 10-15 years, there will not be enough white oak trees to meet the demand for whiskey, eventually leading to a shortage of both.

Facing this challenge, Weideman and Fitzgerald began thinking of ways they could not only accelerate the process of whiskey making but also make it more sustainable. With Weideman’s background in woodworking and Fitzgerald’s knowledge of health, biophysics, and organic chemistry, the pair realized that they could successfully mature whiskey in eight weeks — rather than the traditional five to eight years — and claim that the secret is in the wood that the barrel is made from.

“We put the barrel in the whiskey, rather than the whiskey in the barrel,” they say.

Renaissance Man Distillery & Cocktail Lounge is located in Wrigley Hall at 318 Grand River Ave. Suite 113 in Port Huron, Michigan.

According to Weideman, there have been multiple attempts by others to speed up the process of producing whiskey faster than the traditional eight years it normally takes whiskey to mature, but all have failed until now.

“We’re using 200-year-old technology with nothing but wood and whiskey,” he says.

With their discovery, Weideman and Fitzgerald say they now have a patent-pending invention that not only takes years off of the maturation process but is more environmentally friendly in its ability to use 98% fewer trees. Eventually, they hope to sell their invention to distilleries around the world and believe it will make a difference in the craft of whiskey making, slowing down the consumption of white oak trees and increasing the supply of whiskey.

After being awarded a silver medal for their whiskey in an international competition, the entrepreneurs say they wanted to open a cocktail lounge to showcase their product. For every 10 bottles of whiskey sold, Renaissance Man Distillery is planting one oak tree.

Weideman and Fitzgerald say, “There may be a bit of charcoal in the bottom of your bottle. Don’t fret. It only makes it better ... Just shake the bottle and you’re back to drinking pretty whiskey.”

For more information about Renaissance Man Distillery & Cocktail Lounge and its products, visit renmandistilling.com.
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Read more articles by Rita MacDonald.

Rita MacDonald is a U.S. Army veteran and a full-time registered nurse who claims that her Irish and Scottish heritage is the reason for her love of storytelling. She is the mother of two adult sons, “Gummy” to her three grandchildren, loves talking with anyone who will engage in a conversation, and “eats life with a shovel!” In addition to her work with The Keel, Rita is a contributor for the Thumbprint News, an author of three books, and writes a blog at kitchentabledevotions.com.