Peoria is well-known for its whiskey distilleries. Prior to prohibition, which started in 1920, there were 24 breweries and 73 distilleries across central Illinois, according to the Peoria Historical Society.
Peoria is well-known for its whiskey distilleries. Prior to prohibition, which started in 1920, there were 24 breweries and 73 distilleries across central Illinois, according to the Peoria Historical Society. Jon Williams and family are bringing a piece of this history back. Williams said they will open a whiskey distillery in East Peoria in the fall. The idea for the distillery began when Williams of Germantown Hills and other family members began exploring business options. Williams, a fan of beer, said he did home brewing for a long time. “The distillery seemed like a very interesting business. The brewery seemed like a very interesting business,” he said. With places like Friar Tuck that carry every flavor of beer imaginable, Williams said they wanted something different. Thus, the idea for a small batch, high-quality whiskey distillery was born. Plus, Williams' great-great grandfather, J.K. Williams, made whiskey in Peoria. Williams said he and his brother learned from their grandfather that the whiskey recipe was still in the family. “We learned we have distilling in our blood,” Williams said. “Five generations ago my great-great-grandfather was in the distilling business. We have a recipe that's been handed down through the family. It's kind of a neat thing. It's pretty exciting.” The business —named J.K. Williams Distilling LLC after their great-great-grandfather — will be located at 526 High Point Road. “Our distillery will be a traditional whiskey bourbon distillery,” Williams said, adding that bourbon is a kind of whiskey. There are three components that are required to make a bourbon, Williams said. It has to contain a higher content of corn, a minimum of 51 percent, be aged in a new, charred oak barrel and has to be made in the U.S. To learn about the distillery business, Williams said he and other members involved, spent a lot of time doing research, which included hands-on time at distilleries in the south. “We have done massive amounts of research,” he said. In fact, Williams and company have spent the past two years preparing to open their business. There were many hoops to jump through. “It's a heavily regulated industry, almost worse than banking,” Williams, who is a commercial banker, said. Over the next six to nine months, several licenses will be processed prior to opening. A bottle label is being drafted and the layout of the building is being finalized. At launch, J.K. Williams will offer two products: unaged and aged spirits. The difference between Williams' products and other whiskey, he said, will be in the crafting. They will also offer fruit-based whiskey. “They're a little more palatable for the less affluent beverage consumers. They're much lower in alcohol content,” Williams said. Craft distilling, Williams said, involves using less product. He explained their are three components known in the industry when making whiskey. They are “heads, hearts and tails.” The heads are acetoners in alcohol that gives one a headache, or hangover. Tails is more of a rubbing alcohol taste. “Heart will be what's in our product,” Williams said, adding that big distilleries can't cut out the head and tail components. “There's a significance between what Jack Daniels does and what we'll do. Jack Daniels will spill more on the floor than what we'll do all year,” Williams said of their small batch operation. “Our product will actually taste good. Unlike Jack Daniels, it won't burn all the way down.” J.K. Williams Distillery will offer their product at an average price of what a bourbon or premium whiskey costs. Product will be offered directly to consumers who come to the business on High Point Road. It will also be for sale at area establishments where liquor is offered. Initially, Williams said he realizes that the business won't be all rosy profit as funds will be pumped back into the barrels. But, over time he said the goal is to establish a nice family business. “It's a long-term investment. We're cautiously optimistic,” he said. Today, there are about 235 whiskey distilleries across the nation, Williams said. J.K. Williams will join that mix and their great-great-grandfather's recipe will be shared once again. “That's part of the draw for us is bringing part of the history back,” he said.