We are driven by our passion for great spirits and cocktails. With hands-on craftsmanship and the best ingredients, we create amazing, delicious spirits that are intended for savoring both on their own and in cocktails. We don’t rush anything – we sometimes work on spirits for years before deciding they are ready – we’re patient and careful.
We are a small, dedicated team of people who love great spirits and also great cocktails.
We are artisans who enjoy working with our hands.
We start with the best ingredients – Midwestern grain, fresh citrus fruits, wild-harvested herbs, and more, and turn them into delicious spirits.
We enjoy sharing them with people.
Derek & Sonja Kassebaum started North Shore Distillery in 2004, selling their first bottles in 2005. They’d been married for quite awhile already, and were looking for something more from life – something they could be passionate about and look forward to working on most days. Always the more entrepreneurial of the two, Derek had the inspiration to start a distillery. They loved cocktails and great spirits already, so that certainly helped. In 2004, they officially set off on a grand adventure. And they’re not looking back!
Derek has a degree in chemical engineering, and an MBA as well, so he has a great education for running a distillery. However, he is mostly driven by passion and artistry. He hand selects every single ingredient we use, and directly oversees (and often does) everything required to make our spirits. Unlike many “master distillers” who primarily sell their brands, Derek is integrally involved in all aspects of our distilling and production, as well as new product development. Working with new flavors and ideas is one of his favorite things.
Favorite cocktail: Varies by season and mood, but a properly made Martini is always a good choice, or perhaps a Negroni.
Random Quirk: Derek is a stickler about keeping the inside of his car clean. Which is a challenge, since he is often the one transporting our distillery dog, Sunshine.
Sonja ventured into cocktails at an unusually young age, and to this day can often be found wandering through the liquor store looking for new discoveries. She has a rather large collection of cocktail bitters and cocktail books. Sonja also has a law degree and used to work in HR, which comes in handy with all the compliance “opportunities” involved in running a distillery. She oversees marketing, sales and events for the distillery, which means she gets to be a “professional bar hopper” from time to time. It’s a rough life.
Favorite cocktail: She loves a great Martini as well and has been revisiting the Last Word lately.
Random quirk: Sonja lives in a world of controlled chaos – ask anyone who has seen her desk lately (although it’s not that bad this week). It occasionally drives her crazy (and often drives others crazy), but not all that often.
All the spirits made at North Shore Distillery spend time with our beautiful, handmade still, who we affectionately call Ethel. Named for Sonja’s grandmother (and also for the wonderful ethyl alcohol she makes), Ethel was handmade and custom made for us in southern Germany. Derek worked with the still manufacturer to design her, and she has several custom elements that make her unique. Ethel is truly one-of-a-kind.
Ethel’s capacity is 250 liters, or the equivalent of about 60 gallons. She is one of the smaller stills in commercial production today – but she is versatile and skilled, and Derek and she know how to make boozy magic together. She loves making spirits, it is what she was born to do!
We have a wonderful small team of people working with us, and we are a fun crew of spirit and cocktail lovers. Whether we’re focused on fermenting, distilling, bottling, packing, cocktail making, administration, sales or marketing, we’re all working hard to build our little company.
Even Sunshine the Distillery Dog gets in on the act – she loves to greet people, and tries to help clean up the floor. Sunshine came to us from Save-a-Pet in Grayslake – a great shelter if ever you are looking for a pet.
@bitterac tweeted “I have a crush on @StillEthel and don’t want to keep it a secret anymore pic.twitter.com/LExkQAymMe”, to which she responded “@bitterac well I AM single & ready to mingle, but I am also bolted to the floor, sooo…” – August 23, 2014
“It’s our anniversary, and we wanted to stop in for a great cocktail before ending our celebrations” – from a lovely couple that stops by periodically, on August 23, 2014
The exterior belies a cozy, modern tasting room with talented and knowledgeable bartenders. Drinks are fabulous!
This gin will change your life. [A discovery she made on her own, which inspired her to join our team.]
Sonja and Derek Kassebaum can conjure fine spirits from a blank slate, but we're not talking Ouija boards. As opposed to paranormal or supernatural forces who spell out enigmatic answers from the ether, the north suburban couple with a particular passion spell out g-i-n and v-o-d-k-a.
North Shore is recognized as among the nation's best boutique distillers... in Chicago, North Shore's bottles are favorites of rock-star bartenders at The Violet Hour and the Drawing Room, among others.
The Kassebaums specialize in subtle, sophisticated riffs on old favorites, including vodka, gin and aquavit.
Today, North Shore Distillery enjoys a devoted following, wide regional distribution, and good ratings to boot. They make the highest rated domestically-produced gin, and both their gins and vodkas compare favorably to their well-known European counterparts... Genuine artisans in their approach to creating unusual, hand-crafted spirits, Derek and Sonja genuinely enjoy their work.
Everything from distilling to bottling to labeling the bottles, is done by hand. When we first walked into the outer office, there was a small bowl of recently zested lemons sitting on a table. Leftovers from a batch of Vesper cocktails? Nope. Those lemons were for the batch of gin that was currently on the boil - most decidedly not an industrial operation... and clearly, Sonja and Derek are doing something right.
With its bubbling... copper still, old-fashioned jugs and flagons, hand-labeled and signed bottles, off-the-beaten path location and pet dog Sunshine wandering about, the distillery has a Willy Wonka-ish air of expertise and experimentation and heady smell of fermenting mash...
Dedicated, with a single-minded fervor that borders on the evangelical, to the promotion of choice local ingredients, to spirits produced in small, fastidiously monitored batches, and most emphatically, to reintroduce Americans to the oft forgotten inalienable right: the freedom to get sauced on booze made in your own backyard.
When we have openings, we post them here.
Part-Time Tasting Room Team
We are also looking for someone to join our very fun tasting room team. This is a part-time, weekend position, with at least one shift per week. Details on the role, and how to apply, are here (opens a .pdf).
North Shore Distillery Application Form
To apply for a position with us, you can either fill out our application form or send us your resume, along with an expression of interest. The .pdf version is here, for completion by hand, and a .doc version is here for completion electronically.
Thanks for your interest!
Share a favorite cocktail recipe, ask a question, or just tell us why you love our spirits – we’d love to hear from you!
If you are contacting us to request a donation or sponsorship for your nonprofit event, please review our guidelines and process here.
Our Mailing Address:
North Shore Distillery, LLC
PO Box 279
Lake Bluff, IL 60044
Our Phone Number: