Craft Cocktails: Sampling new Minnesota micro distilleries

micro distillery cocktails

Minnesota is in the early stages of a craft liquor boom. As part of the Surly Bill of 2011 (the bill largely responsible for Minnesota's robust and ever-expanding craft beer culture), it is now easier and less expensive to obtain a micro distillery license. Over the past year or so, we've seen the first products of these new companies become available.


One of the newest distilleries, Du Nord Craft Spirits, began selling its flagship product, L'Etoile Vodka, this past week. Vodka, gin, and other clear spirits form the majority of items currently hitting the market, as they don't require aging; we should see more whiskeys, rums, etc. arrive over the next few years. Now is a good juncture to sample several of the high-profile liquors currently on offer, in order to highlight the impressive and exciting work being done around the state.


I taste tested the following four spirits by sampling each of them as an iced shot, as well as in a traditional martini, and finally as a gin/vodka and tonic, in order to compare their flavor profiles in as simple a way as possible. For the tonic cocktails, I used botanical/natural tonic water (ones that use sugar cane instead of corn syrup as their sweetening agent), as these taste better and don't mask the subtle flavors of the liquor itself.


Note: this is by no means a comprehensive list of all that is currently available, especially as more and more output from distilleries will be showing up later this year and beyond. Also worth noting is that each of these four bottles are distinctively designed — no two have the same shape, and all of their labels and fonts are thoughtfully chosen. They are pretty, hefty objects — a great gift for anyone who enjoys cocktails at home and appreciates locally made products.


Also, as always: please drink responsibly.


Cedar Boreal Gin by Vikre Distillery

Based in Duluth, Vikre offers three different varieties of gin, as well as additional spirits. According to its label, the Cedar Boreal is infused with cedar wood, wild sumac, and black currant. It definitely has an

herbal, woodsy aroma, as well as the sweet and sour notes normally present in gin. It tastes bold and a little raw — partly due to its higher alcohol content of 90 proof — but its flavor is pleasing, with earthy, mossy undertones. It lingers a bit via a slow finish.


Bad Medicine Gin by Panther Distillery

Based in Osakis, Panther offers two white whiskeys (one of them infused with apple and cinnamon) and one gin. Bad Medicine has an assertive but pleasant aroma — bright and sweet. The gin itself is smooth: a bit salty, a little medicinal, and it finishes clean. Its flavor is akin to that of a high-quality sake, one with a sturdy character. Interestingly, gin's signature element, juniper berry, is very subtle/secondary in Bad Medicine's flavor profile.


Norseman Vodka by Norseman Distillery

Minneapolis' Norseman Distillery offers a wide variety of liquors, including two gins, a rye whiskey, a rum, and a vodka. The vodka's aroma is gentle, not overly “boozy,” and has an underlying sweetness. Vodka usually tastes neutral, almost blank, but Norseman's vodka has a pleasant, almost mint-like quality. The bottle itself includes the charming addition of the date it was bottled, its batch number, and the initials of the person who bottled it.


L'Etoile Vodka by Du Nord Craft Spirits

Minneapolis' Du Nord uses beet sugar and corn to produce its vodka. As a result, its aroma is very distinctive, unlike most vodkas on the market. It's warm, a bit fruity, and smells a little like plums, a little like caramel. These elements aren't as present in L'Etoile's actual flavor, which is gentle, pure, and vaguely sweet. It has a nice, succinct finish, and is definitely a vodka to be sipped slowly.



Here is the simple martini recipe I used to taste test each of these liquors. It uses a small amount of both dry vermouth and lemon juice, in order to highlight the main ingredient's subtle flavors.


Martini with Lemon and Vermouth


2.5 oz of liquor

.25 oz of dry vermouth

2 slices of lemon


Ice down a 3.5 oz (“classic”) martini glass by filling it with water and a few ice cubes. Meanwhile, add liquor and vermouth to a cocktail shaker. Squeeze one of the slices of lemon into the shaker. Stir or shake until ice cold. Drain the ice water from the martini glass, and strain the liquor into it. Garnish with the other lemon slice.


Peter Groynom is a graduate of Carleton College and the San Francisco School of Bartending. He is an avid home cook, a writer, and a Photoshop enthusiast. His photography can be found at Arts and Hovercrafts. He lives in Minneapolis.