No one doubts our nomadic nature in the summer. There’s weight in getting out of the city and heading to a small town, preferably on a lake, where you can reset. But let’s not kid, it’s best to ease into the quieter life with a little liquid celebration, a toast to happiest of hours, those summer hours that tend to linger. Right now, there is no better setting than in Waconia, which boasts three wineries, two breweries, and a distillery, not to mention a growing population supporting the new businesses blooming all over.
J. CARVER DISTILLERY
Housed in a former car dealership, it’s the inner life that glows from this new distillery. Bill Miller brought his brother Matt, a practiced East Coast distiller, to Waconia to help create fine spirits. The German copper stills occupying the former showroom floor prove that no expense has been spared. These guys are tied into their community in a way that has everyone jumping to collaborate. They’re pulling apples from nearby Sponsel’s Orchard in Jordan to make apple brandy, they’re using the skins and stems from grapes grown across Lake Waconia to make grappa (grappa!), and the barrels—from founding partner Gina Holman’s family’s hometown of Avon—are being used to barrel the gin and then are passed on to the brewery to make a special ale.
The barrel gin is the star. They blend their two gins and rest the mix in charred oak barrels, meticulously testing and tasting over a period of time until the babysitting pays off. The result is something golden and distinctive, a whiskey lover’s gin that plays with soft vanilla tones among the herbal, grassy gin notes. It’s a summer sunset in a glass. In the tasting room, they’ll juice a few lemons and hit it with just a touch of simple syrup to make the drink you’ll want with any water view.
1320 Mill Ln., 952-442-2433, jcarverdistillery.com
WACONIA BREWING COMPANYRight in the middle of town, in one of the newer buildings, sits this brewery. The cozy taproom feels like a real bar with plenty of seating, big leather couches, lots of rough wood, and northern accents. The place hops with locals and people from towns farther out, coming in for freshly brewed beer. There’s usually a food truck parked outside with cheap and tasty tacos.
A growler of the Kölsch is a great addition to any boat cooler, but it would be hard to pass up some of the specialty brews. The beer you want to look for this summer, though, is the honey ale, which was made with those gin barrels from J. Carver. There’s a compelling richness to it, but it’s still refreshing as all get out.
255 W. Main St., 612-888-2739, waconiabrewing.com
SCHRAM VINEYARDS WINERY & BREWERY
This may be Minnesota’s first winery and brewery. Guess that’s what happens when city kids leave Uptown and buy a farm—they grow grapes, brew beer, and throw bocce. This little spot has a freshly built tasting and taproom where you can choose wine flights or beer flights, or both. The Pinterest-worthy new construction includes a pavilion with an outdoor bar that often hosts food trucks (like the lovely Twisted Oak Pizza guys). It’s too late to get in on the bocce leagues, but you might think about taking a yoga class among the vines or an art class in the barrel cellar. The vineyards often host progressive dinners amongst all three, but if you like staying put, think about heading out for Schram’s Beer, Bocce, and Barbecue fest on June 27.
Don’t miss the Brett and Barrel Sour Saison if it’s on tap. Fermented in French oak barrels for three months, it is a fresh whip of flavor. Otherwise the English Pub Ale is sessionable and friendly. For wines, check out the red blend Bonfire, which brings malbec and cabernet along with homegrown marquette grapes. And on the fun side, they have a couple of sparklers: Bumbley is an effervescent honey wine made with raspberries or blueberries, and The Florentine is a brut-style sparkling wine made with chardonnay grapes. 8785 Airport Rd., 952-442-5105, schramvineyards.com
SOVEREIGN ESTATE WINE
However you feel about Minnesota-grown wine, you should make the trip to this beautiful spot on the north side of the lake. Walk among the vines stretching out toward the water before you take a seat on the garden patio or the outdoor bar. It’s damn bucolic. There’s a homey touch to everything and the whole joint is family-run. The full-service patio is open for dinner on the weekends, but if you’re breezing through the tasting room, get some freshly made pizzas to tide you over. The wines run the gamut; there’s a nice and dry homegrown marquette red, plus a lovely cabernet franc made from imported Washington state grapes. You’ll also find a locally grown Frontenac rosé and a seyval blanc blend worth sipping.
9950 North Shore Rd., 952-446-9957, sovereignestatewine.com
PARLEY LAKE WINERY & DEARDORFF ORCHARDS
This is God’s country, with 125 acres of rolling hills, woods, orchards, and vines. And these people know how to celebrate with live music every weekend, food trucks often on site, and grape stomps later in the summer. The fun continues into the fall with the apple barn and bonfires galore. Give the Parley Vu Rosé a look, it might surprise you.