Chankaska Spirits, a three-year-old venture of Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery, is now offering a variety of spirits in Minnesota liquor stores and at its facility in Kasota, Minn., just south of St. Peter. Though the decade-old ranch and vineyard is better known for cold-climate wine, the Chankaska grounds were formerly occupied by a successful rum-running operating during Prohibition. As a nod to that heritage, spirit production has now expanded to include several unaged as well as barreled selections.
In terms of raw ingredients, Chankaska sticks to the use of traditional barley, corn, and rye for the majority of its portfolio. Using a 500-liter pot still, they distill each wash twice, first through a stripping run and then through a spirits run. To add to the continuity between the wine and spirit operations, two of the spirits feature the use of grapes (rather than grain), some of which are grown on site.
The Ranch Road gin is one of the offerings distilled from grapes, meaning that it is entirely grain-free. It was developed using 15 different botanicals, including juniper, and it strikes a balance between the juniper-forward and botanically balanced gin styles.
The aroma is fruity and floral, with slight banana and lilac notes, while juniper takes a backseat. On first sip, there is a biting quality that is delivered more by the alcoholic heat than the botanical additions. Rather than an aromatic bouquet, we found a monotone character that hits the palate consistently and doesn’t develop much over time. The website claims that this gin is “begging to be made into cocktails,” and we couldn’t agree more.
Far from being flavorless, the restrained and, well, basic profile of Ranch Road makes it a powerful mixing spirit. It’s an ideal canvas for more robust bitters and craft sodas like spicy Spruce Soda Co. Ginger Beer or Joia Orange Jasmine and Nutmeg. We especially liked the bitterness and depth of flavor when Ranch Road is combined with Blue Henn tonic. On the other hand, sipping it straight only led to disappointment.
One could argue that the merit of any spirit should be based on its ability to be enjoyed straight up. However, there are distilleries such as Skaalvenn and Du Nord that aim to deliver craft liquors perfect for mixing. With a $29 price tag, though, Chankaska is straddling the line between everyday and premium branding, and it falls short of sipping quality.