When Louis Dachis visited a friend's liquor store in New York's borough of Brooklyn several years ago, he was struck by its small size and lack of overall selection. Instead of a smattering of wine, beer and liquor, the inventory was primarily whiskey. "It was exactly where my head was at," he said. "Nothing like that existed in the Twin Cities where the store was dedicated mostly to one category of liquor."
Until now. Last week, Dachis opened the Twin Cities' first liquor store dedicated to selling whiskey, scotch and bourbon. His Hopkins shop at 4 Shady Oak Road sells nearly 1,000 different whiskeys, 1,700 craft beers and ciders and about 200 wines. "I want to sell every whiskey available in the state," he said.
Dachis' timing is perfectly aligned with the country's thirst for spirits. The U.S. distilled spirits market has grown 53 percent over the last decade to $21.3 billion, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. All categories are growing but super-premium brands such as bourbon and Tennessee whiskey are especially hot. "There is a global whiskey renaissance," said Frank Coleman, spokesman for the Distilled Spirits Council.
Just as the food craze of the late 1990s focused on fresher, quality ingredients, people are looking for stronger, richer flavors in their beverages too, said Jeff Rogers, a mixologist with Southern Wine & Spirits distributing in Minneapolis. "People don't want something bland, and they want to try a wide variety of flavors," he said.
Q: Is stocking a liquor store with mostly whiskey and craft beer a risk?
A: There's no question that it's a departure. It's unheard of to have this much whiskey anywhere in Twin Cities stores.
Q: What's the selection like at Ace Spirits?
A: We have every whiskey, scotch and bourbon sold in Minnesota from the cheapest swill to the highest-end whiskey, including Macallan 25-year, Glenmorangie 25 single-malt scotch, Balvenie 40-year and Johnnie Walker Odyssey.
Q: Do you attract some serious whiskey geeks?
A: Oh, yeah. The nerds look for specific distilleries, barrels and proofs. Chieftain's Aultmore 12-year single-malt scotch tells you the cask number and the number of bottles from the cask on the label. I field five calls a week for special release whiskeys like Pappy Van Winkle and Buffalo Trace's Antique collection.
Q: Is demand for whiskey as strong as craft beers have been?
A: Definitely. Craft distilling is already the next big thing. We're just starting to see it in Minnesota after the law was relaxed last year. The unfortunate thing for small distillers is that you have to lay whiskey down and let it age. A lot of distilleries are producing younger whiskeys aged two years. Bourbon ages a minimum of four years and an eight-year whiskey is not uncommon. That's expensive. Laying down a barrel that will make about 40 cases costs about $20,000.
Q: Is today's whiskey different from grandpappy's whiskey?
A: No question. A lot of craft distributors are releasing white whiskey that isn't aged. Some distillers are throwing in fruit like cherries or blackberries to make it sweet. A lot of companies are aging whiskey in oak barrels or casks that used to contain port or Madeira wine.
Q: Is the whiskey buying demographic getting younger?
A: It's a younger audience in their 20s to 40s. I'm seeing men and a few women in their 20s moving out of Jack Daniel's to something spicier like a rye or dipping their toes into scotches. Generally, they spending $20 to $25 a bottle, but may spend $75 to $100 on a single bottle splurge.
Q: What about craft distillers and any local whiskey or bourbon?
A: A lot of buyers are looking for the smaller distillery. Minnesota has Far North Spirits [Hallock], Norseman [Minneapolis] and Bent Brewstillery [Roseville]. There are a lot more in Wisconsin.
Q: How does a non-whiskey drinker dip a toe in distilled waters?
A: Come in for a tasting. People often start with a lighter, sweeter Canadian or Irish whiskey. If that's too sweet, we move to a bolder and heavier American whiskey and bourbon.