We are the original craft distillery in Illinois, established in 2004. We use great ingredients, creativity and skill to make amazingly delicious spirits with fresh, original flavors. Our mission is to inspire and empower you to drink better and reward yourself with the finest handmade spirits.
We’re Artists and Artisans
We make things by hand with our small team of fellow spirit and cocktail lovers. We infuse every bottle we make with a bit of our passion, knowledge and artistry, and we make truly original spirits that are not possible on a mass production scale. You won’t find our products all over the world, or even all over the US – you’ll mostly find them in the Midwestern US. Despite our limited distribution range, our highly acclaimed vodkas, gins, rums and aquavit are loved by spirits fans around the world and sought out by those who know.
Since our humble founding nearly 20 years ago, we’ve continued to be relentlessly creative, always playing with new ingredients, flavors and techniques, and driven by passion for what we do. We love sharing our spirits, cocktails, and great times with others.
Come visit us sometime or come to one our our events and experience our art in person!
Master Distiller, Co-Founder & Co-Owner
Derek is a chemical engineer and entrepreneur. Over the years, he has experimented wildly, and is one of the most knowledgeable people around about grains, herbs, spices, fruits and distilling them. He has led seminars with scientists of many disciplines, as well as herbalists and others who use these base materials in other ways. Derek designed every aspect of the distillery’s manufacturing, and loves the process of layering and building flavors and smells through infusion, distillation and aging. He is the creative force behind all of the distillery’s amazing spirits. He’s also our resident night owl, fix-it-man and level head.
Chief Cocktail Nerd, Co-Founder & Co-Owner
Sonja is a former (recovering?) lawyer who has experimented exhaustively with a wide range of spirits, tools and techniques for making great cocktails. She wrote a cocktail blog for many years, has been featured in a wide range of national and regional publications, and has spoken to many groups about cocktails and spirits. She loves the process of layering and building flavors, and elevating a cocktail into an experience. Sonja oversees the tasting room and marketing, and works with the amazing distributors, stores, restaurants and bars that carry our spirits. She’s also our resident gardener, goofball and klutz.
Ethel the Still
Still #1, Distillery Star
Ethel the Still was handmade and custom made for us in southern Germany to our specifications. Derek worked with the still manufacturer to design her, and she has several custom elements that make her truly one-of-a-kind. Her capacity is 250 liters, or the equivalent of about 60 gallons, and she has a role in every single product the distillery produces. 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!
Best Local DistillerNorth Shore approaches its 10th anniversary with consistently delicious spirits and a newly expanded tasting room and patio.
[T]he Kassebaums specialize in subtle, sophisticated riffs on old favorites, including vodka, gin and aquavit… 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 that oft-forgotten inalienable right: the freedom to get sauced on booze made in your own backyard.
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...
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.
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 vodka compare favorably to their well-known European counterparts. Yet, Derek and Sonja have no desire to become nationally distributed. “Our goal is to be a strong regional player,” says Derek. Genuine artisans in their approach to creating unusual, hand-crafted spirits, Derek and Sonja genuinely enjoy their work.
North Shore is recognized as among the nation's best boutique distillers... in Chicago, North Shore's bottles are favorites of rock-star bartenders.
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.
In a busy month, the 60-gallon still is fired up every day, producing as much as two or three batches in a single day. It’s not only the smooth tasting run of the mill (but far from average) vodka or gin they produce; Lake Michigan water, Midwest grains and organic and wild harvested botanicals are the basis for other imaginative creations, which sell out in a flash.
Chemists, Bartenders and British Royalty: Eight Women Who Changed Gin History--Sonja Kassebaum (North Shore Distillery) There’s now a craft distillery in every state, thanks to pioneers like Kassebaum... North Shore helped clear the way for other craft producers in Illinois... and she provided a template for others across the nation.
Big Heat 2019: Chicago’s Food and Drink 50We’re talking about investors, restaurant groups, the purveyors and all the other people who work in their own ways to make Chicago the premier food city that it has become.
#24, Sonja Kassebaum Owner, North Shore Distillery