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A year after launching White Water Whiskey, Panther recently became the first local microdistillery to offer an aged whiskey, with its leathery Minnesota 14 (a riff on the Prohibition-era Minnesota 13 moonshine that was produced in Stearns County).
While Schneider admits he might cash in with an unaged whiskey, he has the rare luxury of being able to launch with an aged product (hopefully this summer). In 2012, the glassblowing prof at Anoka-Ramsey Community College landed a summer internship at Michigan State University’s artisan distilling program, one of the nation’s few formal training grounds. While there, Schneider produced 400 to 500 cases of rye whiskey, which is still maturing in 53-gallon barrels. He plans to release his stash incrementally, allowing some of it to continue aging.
In St. Paul, Bob McManus and his partner, Lee Egbert (who also owns Dashfire Bitters), are co-founders of 11 Wells, which is setting up shop in part of the old Hamm’s brewery.
McManus and Egbert received their distilling crash courses by touring 40-plus distilleries, taking workshops along the way. The two have been simulating gin profiles using Egbert’s botanical library.
As in Oregon …
When forecasting the impact of Minnesota microdistillers, advocates look to Oregon. The state has 69 distilleries, and in 2011 the industry generated $53 million in in-state sales, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Minnesota distillers point to Portland’s Distillery Row — a section of the city home to six craft-spirit purveyors — as a sign of tourism potential.
Unlike Oregon, Minnesota law prohibits distilleries from selling bottles or drinks (as taprooms can) on site, though they can serve small samples. However, guild president Shanelle Montana said she’s “cautiously optimistic” the State Legislature will change that this year (a bill is already in play).
While the buzz around Minnesota-made spirits is just beginning, nationally renowned barman Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Portland’s Clyde Common, which recently was shortlisted for the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Bar Program award, paints a more measured picture of Oregon’s scene. “It’s not all sunshine and roses over here with local distilleries,” he said. “To be brutally honest, some of them are just downright bad and some are downright too expensive. You see a lot of $30, $35 bottles of vodka, which is terrible.”
Though he would like to support local distillers more, Morgenthaler said cost often keeps Oregon spirits off his cocktail menu.
In St. Paul, the Strip Club’s Dan Oskey has been an early advocate of the juniper-subduing Solveig gin. The astute cocktailer said its price point shouldn’t prevent him from incorporating it into his drinks list. “In the end, flavor is king, and if you’re getting the flavor you want from a drink, that’s really what it all comes down to,” he said.
As Minnesota’s craft-spirit movement continues to grow, Oskey and locavore booze hounds will be watching intently.
“We’re going to have more toys to play with,” he said. “And we love toys.”
Michael Rietmulder writes about bars, beer and nightlife.