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Photo courtesy of Far North Spirits/Megan Sugden
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Far North Spirits
*Winner of the Drink category
Proprietors: Mike Swanson and Cheri Reese
If you were thinking of launching a craft distillery business, conventional wisdom seems to suggest finding a warehouse in a sexy part of the city and throwing open a cocktail room for the urban drinkers. That’s definitely a proven winning strategy. But what if, instead, you transformed your family farm up in Hallock, about a stone’s throw from the Canadian border, and built the northernmost distillery in the contiguous 48. That’s what Mike Swanson and Cheri Reese did with Far North Spirits, which is quite possibly the first grain-to-glass distillery in the state.
Some six hours north of the Twin Cites, the fourth-generation Swanson family farm grows wheat and rye in fields under boundless skies. Those grains are harvested, milled, mashed, fermented, distilled, and bottled onsite to produce some of the most exceptional spirits in the state.
Solveig, in its distinctive milk-white bottle with gold lettering, is a light and floral gin with hints of citrus and lavender. In a contrasting charcoal-black bottle, Ålander is a seductive spiced rum with an undercurrent of allspice, nutmeg, and cardamom. But it’s the Roknar Rye that is best in show. A single estate rye whiskey, it’s made from non-GMO AC Hazlet winter rye and Minnesota 13 heirloom corn, planted and harvested by Swanson, who is the head distiller. Roknar means “warrior” so it should be no surprise that this freshman attempt is a bold win after being aged for a mere year in charred oak barrels before being finished in a combination of Oloroso sherry casks and Cognac casks. Lacking that thin, reedy flavor that tends to plague young, underaged whiskies, it’s butter-smooth and rich on the palate, like drinking in an old friend. A few more Roknar variations were recently released, including a sweeter Maryland-style rye, proving that this badass Northern warrior is just gaining steam. farnorthspirits.com
"Far North's northern rye brings something special to the glass. It has that cooling effect, but there's that little crispy toastiness, too. If this is where Minnesota-grown whiskey can go, we are in for a great ride." —Made in the North Drink Judge and sommelier Leslee Miller
Drink Category Finalists
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Photo by Lee Egbert
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Proprietor: Lee Egbert
Location: St. Paul
Like a mad scientist rattling around town, Lee Egbert is always finding a way to bring the old world into the new, especially with his Dashfire Bitters. From the start of the mixology boom, Dashfire was one of the first locally made small-batch bitters to be adopted by bartenders in town, and Egbert’s signature Vintage Orange Bitters were the first on the market to be barrel-aged in white oak. But it’s his infinite curiosity that drives his appetite for innovation and creation, as with his new mole bitters inspired by his travels through Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. Though the line speaks to a new generation, each small bottle is wrapped in a vintage-inspired design that makes it beautiful and compelling for any back bar. dashfirebitters.com
Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Proprietors: Gretchen and Mike Perbix
Gretchen and Mike Perbix, along with their kids, dogs, and friends, form the modern Minnesota farm family. Post college, they bought a small orchard just northeast of New Prague and resolved to be the anti-Disneyland version of an orchard, where it was mostly about the apples and less about corn mazes. Then they decided to make use of the old cider press that came with the barn. What has evolved is a smart and deep rotation of dry and off-dry ciders that cover a lot of tastes, from the Cherry Rhubarb Scrumpy, which is featured at the State Fair, to the assertive and dry Northern Spy. The Perbixes have become an important fixture on the Minnesota cider scene, helping mentor new makers along the way. sweetlandorchard.com
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Photo courtesy of Vikre Distillery
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Proprietors: Emily and Joel Vikre
Gin is often the first spirit produced by a distiller because it’s fast and a money-maker. But it also then becomes your calling card, your first name, your signature entrance onto a crowded stage—so it should be of note like Vikre’s Boreal Gin. All three versions of this gin seem to breathe the rarefied air of the Northwoods better than any other spirit. Traditional gin botanicals are blended with foraged bits from the woods before being cooked in the Duluth distillery. The Juniper version is most traditional, but with a springy floral note, and Spruce brings all the crisp and piney notes that waft outside your cabin. But the Cedar evokes the well-traveled portage trail that ends with a campfire and sip from your hip flask. vikredistillery.com
Meet the Guest Judge
Leslee Miller | Made in the North Drink Judge
As a dually certified sommelier, through the International Sommelier Guild and the Court of Master Sommeliers, Leslee Miller is an educational force on the wine and beverage scene of the Twin Cites. Through her company Amusee, Leslee consults with restaurants, teaches classes, hosts tastings, writes articles, and even leads international trips all in the name of a great glass.
*The Made in the North winners and finalists were determined by guest judges and Mpls.St.Paul Magazine's editorial team.