Mike McCarron of Gamle Ode on Holiday Aquavit on Rye

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

This story is a product of Heavy Table’s first Listening Session, underwritten and hosted by the Lakewinds Food Co-op. On May 23, we interviewed 15 local food artisans over the course of eight hours, with a goal of taking a snapshot of the vibrant Minnesota food scene.

Say “aquavit” and you get a variety of responses. Blank looks; nods from people whose Scandinavian parents or grandparents have been drinking the dill- and/or caraway-infused stuff since the beginning of time; and enthusiastic raised eyebrows from a new breed of bartenders and drinkers who are discovering fresh expressions of the spirit during a new, anything-goes era of artisan distilleries and craft cocktails.

Minnesota’s Gamle Ode is an aquavit company that straddles the old and new schools of the beverage. Its classic distillation of aquavit goes heavy on the dill, but it’s fresh dill fronds — rather than dill seed — which imparts a gentler, almost fragrant herbal flavor instead of the more aggressive attack found in some of the more typical Scandinavian varieties.

The company also has some innovative spins. Its Holiday variety changes things up from the conventional aquavit. Gamle Ode founder Mike McCarron says, “Holiday is six ingredients — the original dill, caraway, and juniper, and then mint, allspice, and orange peels. I think [the mint] pairs well with the dill, as far as the freshness.”

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

And McCarron has taken things a step further by aging both Holiday aquavit and his more traditional Celebration variety on rye whiskey barrels to create an Old-World-meets-New beverage with enough depth and complexity to stand on its own in a glass with ice.

SurlyFest Dry-Hopped Rye Lager

James Norton / Heavy Table

The seasons are slipping out of whack. Temperatures are fluctuating more wildly, and the number of massive weather events has been spiking since 1970. Amid the chaos, it’s not surprising that we seem to cling to seasonal rituals more tenaciously than ever. Society embraces everything from the primal switch to warmer fall clothing to the unbreakable curse of pumpkin-spiced everything.

Included in the landscape of seasonal transitions is the ritual of Oktoberfest beer, rooted in Germany but by now native to Minnesota. Märzen beers (so called because they were often brewed in March to be consumed in October) are traditionally full-bodied and toasty, malt forward and mildly hopped. Surly (offering up surly attitude as usual) participates in the ritual, but with a bitter twist: The brewery’s SurlyFest beer is a dry-hopped rye lager, and it’s really the rye that carries the weight of the beer’s flavor, not the malt. The beer is intensely spicy, earthy, and deeply flavored, and while it’s supported by a robust malt body, SurlyFest is more like drinking an aggressively flavored pumpernickel bread than sipping liquid malt candy.

Surly seems to know its place in the firmament of Minnesota breweries — always throwing elbows with big flavors. While still jovial enough to invite to the party, the 2017 edition of SurlyFest is no exception.

SurlyFest is an event as well as a beer; tickets are on sale for the Saturday, Sept. 23 party.

The Heavy Table Hot Five: March 3-9

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Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email editor@heavytable.com.

shepherd-song-banner-ad-horiz-3The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.

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James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

1-new - oneOatmeal IPA from Bent Paddle Brewing Company‘s Valve Jockey Series
Prompt a hundred beer drinkers to finish a two-word thought starting with the word “oatmeal,” and 99 of them will say “stout.” (We don’t know what the other person would go with, but you have to assume at least one out of 100 people are habitual goofballs.) Bent Paddle’s new Valve Jockey brewer-showcase series kicked off with an Oatmeal IPA, and it’s easily one of the best beers to come out in the past six months. As you’d think, the body of the beer is clean, classic, hoppy, and bold, but its finish is surprising — it’s mellow, sweet, and a bit buttery, nothing like the astringent snap you’re trained to expect. This makes Oatmeal IPA a lot less palate fatiguing than many of its brethren, and a lot of fun to drink.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

Amy Rea / Heavy Table
Amy Rea / Heavy Table

2-new - twoDouble-Smoked Hams at Kramarczuk’s
Twice a year, Kramarczuk’s offers double-smoked hams. They’re so worth the wait — deeply smoky, yet not at all dry or salty. They’re available for Easter presale right now, so snap one up. You won’t get the chance again until the end of this year, when they reappear for Christmas.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Amy Rea]

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table
Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table

3-new - threeRye Sour at Fitzgerald’s
Fitzgerald’s, which occupies the former Salt Cellar space, has a frightening number of TVs, but their cocktails make it worth it. Try the artful Rye Sour ($10), which gets a dry sangria element and its pink color from the addition of red wine. Rye cuts the sweetness, and the classic foamy meringue tops it off.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Paige Latham Didora]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

4-new fourCom Chay Cha Bong (Crispy Rice with Pork Floss) at Ha Tien Market
Crunchy, light, a little bit meaty, and kissed with a hint of spice, this crispy rice snack from Ha Tien is extremely difficult to stop eating. It’s made with pork floss, which sounds terrible but is actually an Asian spin on pulled pork, created by a process that involves the meat being cooked, pulled, mashed, dried, and mixed with flavorings. Our only complaint about this stuff is that it doesn’t come in larger containers.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table
Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table

5-new -five Ale Battered Cod Smörgåsar at Fika
The Ale Battered Cod open-faced sandwich ($12) at Fika is at once hearty and light. The peppery watercress and curry rémoulade complement the cod, and the crispy texture of the fish and bread are spot on. A crumble of sharp cheddar adds dimension. It’s a meal in one pile.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Paige Latham Didora]

Farmhouse Restaurant, Tatanka Truck, and More

Banner for the Tap: Food and Drink News

This week in the Tap: Farm-to-table comes to Madeline Island, Far North Spirits embarks on a crop study dedicated to producing better rye whiskey, a new native foods-focused food truck, and more.

shepherd-song-tap-logo-final-keylineThe Tap is a biweekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm. “We raise 100 percent grass-fed lambs & goats traditionally, humanely, and sustainably.”

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The Tap is the metro area’s comprehensive restaurant buzz roundup, so if you see a new or newly shuttered restaurant, or anything that’s “coming soon,” email Tap editor James Norton at editor@heavytable.com.

Courtesy of Farmhouse
Courtesy of Farmhouse

Farmhouse Restaurant (launching late June 2015; Kickstarter campaign in progress)
Madeline Island, Wisconsin

A husband-and-wife team with experience at Dangerous Man Brewing and Red Stag Supper Club are working on a joint venture that will change the face of dining on Madeline Island. Located off the coast of Bayfield, Wisconsin, the island is famous for its wild beauty, but not particularly renowed for its food and drink scene (Tom’s Burned Down Cafe notwithstanding). This may change with the opening late this June of Farmhouse Restaurant — its proprietors hope to bring artisan roast coffee, aquaponics, and aggressive local sourcing to an island that is currently better known for its hard-drinking summer party scene.

Lauren Schuppe has spent nearly a decade working at two Kim Bartmann restaurants, Red Stag (where she spent two years managing the front of the house) and Barbette; her husband Gilpin Matthews has worked as a chef (among other places) at Bar Lurcat under Isaac Becker, and has most recently been working at Dangerous Man. Farmhouse will face the kind of challenges modern restaurants all around Lake Superior wrestle with — attracting the lucrative tourist trade while building deep community ties to sustain the business through the long winter.

“Anytime you’re a new person in a small town, you have a lot to prove,” says Schuppe. “Especially coming in with progressive ideas. But Madeline Island is its own little world, and it’s a progressive place. A lot of the year-round residents have had to homestead themselves, so I don’t think what we’re doing is too far off from what they have been exposed to.”

Courtesy of Farmhouse
Courtesy of Farmhouse

The restaurant’s progressive goals — a winter-time CSA program fueled by a fish-plus-plants closed loop system inspired by Milwaukee’s Growing Power program, small batch-roasted coffee, sustainable sourcing — will be paired with a menu designed to be welcoming.

“I think our goal is to match really accessible food with progressive ideas,” says Schuppe. “Don’t make the food anything that will turn people away … ‘high-brow’ is not at all what we’re going for. And kind of the same family recipes people are used to, but grown and sourced locally.”

Entrees will include the likes of daily housemade biscuits, house cured corned beef and hash, housemade granola, and some items focused on what Schuppe described as “dietary exploration”: gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian entrees.

As Schuppe and Matthews work to get the doors of Farmhouse open, they’re busily raising money on Kickstarter; their campaign has 18 days to go, and has raised more than $7,500 of its $16,650 goal.

Facebook screenshot
Facebook screenshot

Tatanka Truck
(launching May 2015)

The Little Earth community of Minneapolis is launching a food truck called Tatanka this May. The truck is being launched in consultation with “Sioux Chef” Sean Sherman; its Facebook page describes the project as “Minnesota’s first Healthy Native American Food Truck committed to promoting Native Health, Sustainability, & Community through traditional & modern indigenous foods.” As per its website: Its food will be GMO free, organic, and native made.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Far North Spirits (Embarking Upon Rye Study)

A press release from Far North Spirits details work on a crop research grant that could change the face of local spirits:

Far North Spirits, a micro-distillery located 400 miles northwest of Minneapolis on a 1,500 acre family farm, received from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in February 2015 a three-year $188,495 crop research grant to complete a first-of-its-kind study to evaluate varieties of winter rye grown in Minnesota for agronomic performance in the field and flavor/sensory performance in the distilling industry.

Michael Swanson, owner, distiller and farmer at Far North Spirits, will administer the grant. His vision is to make Minnesota a leader in the production of world-class rye spirits.

“Kentucky owns bourbon. Scotland, scotch. Minnesota will own rye,” said Swanson. “Our rich soil and extreme climate are perfect for growing this grain. AC Hazlet Rye, our favored variety, is already recognized as our signature.”

Through field trials conducted on Minnesota farms and sensory analyses conducted at Minnesota distilleries, this project will result in a research report that will be valuable to Minnesota farmers, distillers, seed dealers, brewers and maltsters. The University of Minnesota Winter Rye Variety Performance Evaluation will conduct agronomic analysis to assess grain quality, winter hardiness, spring vigor, plant height, grain yield, resistance to lodging and other factors. Minnesota distillers will conduct sensory analysis on the rye to include distillate yield, initial viscosity, and assign a sensory score based on flavor and nose.

The finished study will include data on several varieties of winter rye and be a collaborative project involving several Minnesota farmers, distillers, the University of Minnesota Winter Rye Variety Performance Evaluation and the Barley and Malt Lab in the Department of Plant Sciences at North Dakota State University.

The goal is to provide producers and end users with an unbiased, reliable source of data, as well as the unique addition of flavor and sensory analysis. The report will be available publicly to all Minnesota farmers through the U of M and shared with micro-distillers nationwide via the American Distilling Institute.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters Benefit
Sunday, April 19, 6-8pm
Surly Brewery
, Scheid Hall, 520 Malcolm Ave. S, Minneapolis

The Piragis Northwoods Company is hosting a benefit to support the work of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. The event features entertainment by the Roe Family Singers, and the $25 ticket includes a drink and a Campaign pint glass.

Via the press release:

The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters is a national effort to prevent proposed sulfide-ore copper mining on the edges of the Boundary Waters and along waterways that flow into the Wilderness. The Campaign is dedicated to permanently protecting this national treasure and its wilderness-edge communities. Come and raise a pint with us, learn about the threat and how you can be part of the movement.

Becca Dilley Photography
Becca Dilley Photography

Bring your family, enjoy appetizers and kid-friendly music, and sign our traveling petition canoe!

Tickets are available online.

Far North Spirits’ Syva Vodka and Gustaf Gin

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

As the Minnesota distilling boom leaves its infancy, its personality is starting to sprout. Gin is proving important, a spruce-tinted spirit echoing our place among the pristine pines. A group of aquavits have shown themselves to be more than merely a regional Scandinavian quirk. And local grains, like Minnesota 13 corn, have helped define the backbone of local booze.

The man with perhaps the most distinctive distilling harvest in the state is Michael Swanson of Far North Spirits. His rye farm near Hallock provides the base for his pillowy Solveig gin. New in stores this week are the second and third spirits from that same 100-percent rye mash: Syvä [pronounced SEA-va by Far North] vodka and Gustaf Navy Strength gin.

We got the lowdown from Ian Lowther, the Far North brand ambassador and current Red Cow barman: “It’s the same distillation that we do for Solveig. Syvä is diluted down to 90 proof and charcoal filtered to make it just a touch smoother. There’s nothing else added to it; it’s just that. Super simple. Lots of vanilla and some butterscotch notes to it. Very full bodied. It’s a sipping vodka.”

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Syvä is remarkably well-rounded, even creamy on the palate. Lowther wasn’t kidding about the butterscotch — the finish begs caramel, though it’s not sweet, by any means. It’s exceptional with a finer quinine; Q Tonic, Jack Rudy or Fever Tree should do the trick. Plus, when you’re calling for a regular old vodka-tonic, how much more fun is it to say “Syvä and Fever”?

Gustaf is named after the Swanson family’s rye-growing patriarch of a century ago. “Navy Strength” refers to the minimum proof once required of spirit for British sailors (they could spill a 114-proof gin on gunpowder, and it would still ignite). It’s powerful and pliable — a worthy cross to the jaw of juniper flavor.

Gustaf is more akin to classic London Dry gins than to the soft, herbal-citrus profile of Solveig. It’s an important spirit for Far North because Solveig was never well suited to a gin and tonic, being too delicate for a brash summer sip. This gin is Far North keeping its chin up.

“There are 11 botanicals in Gustaf,” says Lowther, “including Meyer lemon, grains of paradise, fennel, coriander, angelica, some cucumber in there, plus a little thyme. And there’s meadowsweet — that’s a little more esoteric of a botanical. It’s known for tasting like almond and mint, so it has this richness — the fatness — you’d get from an almond, and the menthol adds a cooling effect.”

He recommends using Gustaf in any classic gin cocktail: gimlets, negronis, martinis, and the like. Make sure to shake or stir well to compensate for the higher-proof spirit. That, or adjust your mixers accordingly.

We dig Lowther’s current take on the Old-Fashioned. For a normally burly cocktail, Gustaf holds its own.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Gustaf Old Fashioned
2⅓ oz. Gustaf Navy Strength gin
⅓ oz. coriander simple syrup*
A few dashes citrus bitters, dealer’s choice (lemon tree, bolivar, orange, etc.)

Shake vigorously with ice for 15 seconds, and strain into a fresh lowball glass with one or two large ice cubes. Garnish (or don’t) with a wide swath of orange or lemon zest.

*Coriander simple syrup: make a 2:1 simple syrup and remove from the heat. Lightly crush some whole coriander seeds (1 or 2 tablespoons per cup of syrup), and toast them in a dry saute pan until fragrant. Steep coriander in the warm syrup for at least 30 minutes before straining.

Correction: The article has been change to reflect the correct spelling of Syvä. the original text had this spelling: Syvå.

The Local Craft Spirits Holiday Cocktail Laboratory

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

The Upper Midwestern distilling scene is surging with a joyous volatility. Local spirits are following in the footsteps of craft beer — every month seems to bring a new opening, a new release, and a new announcement of a distillery to come.

We wanted to try to get our heads (and palates) around some of what was going on, and so we reached out to a group of local craft distillers with a simple question: Would you support our efforts to gather together a great deal of local alcohol, drink it, and then mix it, and then drink it some more? They said yes and underwrote this story.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

11 Wells, Du Nord Spirits, Far North Spirits, and Vikre each supplied a couple bottles of spirits in addition to their financial support. We also went out and bought a number of bottles from other distilleries to supplement our bar. We don’t claim that this tasting represents everything going on in the scene — it doesn’t — but it’s a nice wide swath. Future cocktail laboratories will weave in flavors from other local spirits, so please stay tuned.

cocktail-lab-underwriters-logosOur tasting and cocktail creation team was headed by bartender Adam Gorski of La Belle Vie (below, center); Heavy Table / Growler writer John Garland (bottom right) brought additional firepower to the table. Writers James Norton (bottom left) and Maja Ingeman (top right) tossed in their two cents and drinks ideas, as did photographer Becca Dilley (top left). Photographer Katie Cannon documented the process.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Our team tasted all twelve spirits in the bar straight and assembled tasting notes. After that, all hell broke loose. We mixed with fruit, with bitters, with juice, with other spirits, with soda, and with whatever else we could get our hands on. A lot of what we mixed got poured directly into a bucket, but some of it was salvageable, so salvage we did.

We’re pleased to present you with two fruits of our besotted evening together. The first is a collection of tasting notes from the dozen local spirits we sampled. The second is a collection of seven original cocktail recipes by Adam Gorski (who created four of them), John Garland (two), and James Norton (one).

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

The logistics of our event — five people, twelve spirits, unlimited sipping, sampling, and mixing — were such that we wanted to make sure everyone got to and from our cocktail lab safely and responsibly. We reached out to Uber, and they arranged rides for our team members. We’re grateful for that. It made the whole night as smooth as a craft vodka.

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Uber is a mobile app that connects you with a safe, reliable ride at the touch of a button. Within 3-5 minutes, you’ll have a driver curbside ready to take you anywhere you need to go. Special for Heavy Table readers — enjoy a FREE first Uber ride, up to $20 off! Sign up at uber.com/go/heavytable or enter HEAVYTABLE in the app, and experience the convenience and ease of Uber for yourself.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

And without further ado, a massive taste of local spirits.

TASTING NOTES

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

11 Wells Spirits | Maelstrom Agricole Rum
The classic sugar-cane juice base of this Caribbean-by-way-of-Minnesota spirit gives it a cheerful vanilla-caramel character, without the grassy and / or vegetal notes that sometimes creep into this style of rum. Maelstrom Agricole would perform admirably in just about any classic Tiki drink. One of our tasters praised it for “an almost wasabi-like nasal burn (in a good way).”

11 Wells Spirits | Rye
The arcane and dizzyingly detailed numbers on the side of each bottle of 11 Wells prototype rye refer to everything from the char level to the cooperage to the yeast type to the mash bill of the spirit. The depth of knowledge conveyed is impressive; it also looks wicked cool. We dug this “mellow,” “tannic,” “soapy,” “gentle,” spirit, which also boasted a bit of low-key apple character. A longer aging period might pump up the intensity a bit.

Hamantaschen

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table
Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

Jewish holidays share a common pattern: They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat. (That’s not my joke. Feel free to share it as you please.)

Purim is just a little bit different: They tried to kill us. We won. We extracted vicious revenge. Let’s drink. In fact, let’s drink until we can’t tell the good guy (Mordechai) from the bad guy (Haman — cue raucous booing and groggers to drown out his name).

When you get to the “Let’s eat” portion of a Jewish holiday, there’s usually something substantial involved: Passover has its matzoh balls, Hanukkah has its latkes and Shavuot has its cheese blintzes. Purim, however, to soak up all that alcohol you’re commanded to drink, has cookies. Just cookies — hamantaschen, or Haman’s hats. (More raucous booing.) Eating our enemy’s very hat is just more vicious, delicious revenge, extracted millennia later in kitchens and in synagogue social halls every year.

The sisterhood organizations at most area synagogues probably spent last weekend baking up a storm to prepare for the start of Purim on March 14. You can also buy them at a handful of bakeries around town. But kvetching about how the hamantaschen you find around here just aren’t as good as — fill in the blank: those in New York City, those in Montreal, those your bubbe used to make, the ones you used to be able to find two decades ago or, inevitably, Fishmans’ — that’s as much a tradition as downing a glass or three after the purimschpiel.

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table
Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

But, before we join in the kvetching, a little primer: hamantaschen (the singular is hamantasch but, seriously, nobody ever says, “One hamantasch, please”) are triangular cookies with various fillings — poppy seeds, apricot, and prune are canonical; chocolate, almond, cherry, blueberry, and the like are acceptable. The New York Times may try to tell you that you can make them savory. The New York Times is playing with fire.

You can close up the triangles completely. You can leave a little hole at the top so the filling is visible. You can make them thin and flat. You can make them tall and substantial. Either way, someone will tell you you’re doing it wrong.

The Toast: June 2013

Banner for the Toast: Drinking Well in the Upper Midwest

ReadersDo you have details on the latest new local brewery? Snap a great picture at a winery outing? Taste a cocktail you can’t stop thinking about? Email Toast Editor John Garland at john@heavytable.com or tweet @johnpgarland and let us know what you’re toasting. Each month our favorite submission will receive a Heavy Table pint glass and may be featured in the next Toast!

Cheers to… Local Spirits! About a dozen craft distilling operations are in varying stages of startup in Minnesota. In this Toast, we check in with two of them, discovering a variety of products that will, in part, define the state’s first wave of small-batch liquor. Cent’anni!

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Getting Bent

In a corner of the Pour Decisions Brewing Co. warehouse in Roseville, Bartley Blume (above) shows us a gorgeous 200-gallon fermenter. It was built from western red cedar by a friend of his in Alabama and will be used exclusively to craft his Bent Brewstillery‘s upcoming bourbon.

“I wanted to get a different wood character in there, and it’s more traditional,” he says, on not using stainless steel to ferment his bourbon base. “Back in the day, that’s all they used. They hammered stills out of copper, and coopered fermenters out of barrels.”

As the name suggests, he will be both brewing and distilling. He’s slated for a two-year lease at Pour Decisions, where he’s been contract brewing for months. A small copper reflux column from Hillbilly Stills has been sourced for experiments and small batches. A larger StillDragon column will top a 500-gallon production still custom fabricated from a brewery’s grain hopper.

His inaugural lineup of spirits — a white whiskey, gin, and bourbon — is right in line with what other regional distillers are producing. The way he describes his brewing plans, on the other hand, sounds more about finding niches in a crowded market.

“One of the harder things to do in the craft beer market is make something original,” says Blume, with southern accent nicely befitting the metro’s newest distiller. “But if it’s good, and people like it, I guess it doesn’t matter if its original or not.” He’ll debut his American “emperial” stout, Dark Fatha, at the Saint Paul Summer Beer Fest on June 15th, before working on gaining accounts in the Roseville area and contracting a distributor.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Upcoming beers:

Dark Fatha – “It’s super dark but really clean finishing, a little bit anti-stout” says Blume of his flagship, brewed with brown sugar and vanilla. “It’s not very forward like a vanilla porter … the dark roasted grains take over.” He expects to bottle it in 22oz bombers around August or September.

Nordic Blonde – an “amber blonde ale” he describes as a very normal, classically balanced American ale. Probably destined for six-packs and bottled around the same time.

Upcoming spirits:

Unpure – A portmanteau of “un-aged” and “pure malt”. It’ll be a clear whiskey, distilled from a beer of smoked brewer’s malts before being filtered through a charred oak barrel full of charred applewood chips.

This is the problem young distilleries face with regards to whiskey: what to do when you initially lack the all-important aging period? They could opt to make a purer spirit by distilling to a higher proof, one closer to (though legally still below) that of a vodka. The spirit may end up less recognizable as “whiskey” per se, but with more impurities rendered out, could result in a more palatable spirit.

Rather, Blume appears to be taking the same approach as Loon Liquors, the Northfield distiller who will bottle a white whiskey filtered through birch charcoal. That is, not attempting to hide the flavor of the base spirit, but to balance it with ones equally distinct. It’s a gamble, as this market is largely unfamiliar with the taste of un-aged whiskey and many drinkers seem outright opposed to the style. It will be interesting to see which (if any) of the local moonshine iterations really catch on.

Currently Unnamed Gin – The second spirit coming off the line from the Brewstillery will be a gin forged through a collaboration with Bittercube. Blume has contracted the local bitters producer to direct the formulation of the gin’s botanical blend, as well as to handle brand ambassadorship and cocktail formulation once it’s complete.

Currently Unnamed Bourbon – Blume will source local corn for the majority of the mash, with brewer’s malt comprising the remainder. The bourbon will age in locally coopered 30-gallon oak barrels for an as-yet-undetermined time period. “It all depends on flavor,” he says. “I’ll be monitoring it, I can’t say if it’ll be two years or five years.”

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Seed-To-Glass

Another way that young distillers can confront the young whiskey problem: employ a “baby bourbon” strategy. Smaller barrels (5 to 15 gallons) with a higher ratio of surface area to volume help impart oak characteristics to the spirit in much less time. Tuthilltown’s Hudson Baby Bourbon is a notable success in that vein.

The newly established Far North Spirits is set to do just that. 600 cases of their rye whiskey will receive limited aging in small barrels and be ready by Fall 2014. In the meantime, some gin and rum will debut this year from what will be the northernmost distillery in the contiguous United States.

Courtesy of Cheri Reese / Far North Spirits
Courtesy of Cheri Reese / Far North Spirits

And they’ll grow their own grain. Not but a handful of distilling operations in America go the extra step to farm themselves. It’s what husband and wife team Michael Swanson and Cheri Reese landed on when figuring out what to do with the family farm.

“It’s an old agricultural model,” says Swanson. “When farmers needed a little extra cash, it was easier to transport your crop to market if its a case of whiskey as opposed to a wagon load of corn.”

Their parcel in Skane Township near Hallock, MN, was established by Swanson’s great-grandfather in 1915 and had historically grown wheat. Deciding not to scale up the acreage to grow commodity grains, Swanson introduced rye and heirloom corn with the aim of distilling his harvest.

Heading up sales for Far North is Ian Lowther, current head bartender at Solera, whose keen palate has been instrumental in planning the spirits’ profiles. They’ll also rely on advice from Dave Pickerell, former master distiller at Maker’s Mark, whose expertise with rye whiskey is evident at WhistlePig.

Upcoming spirits:

Solveig (SOUL-vai) – gin with a rye-heavy constituency. Many of the botanicals will also be grown on site, though any citrus and organic juniper will be sourced. Each botanical will be distilled in separate small batches to allow for greater control over the final flavor. 1,500 cases ready in November.

Ålander (OH-lan-der) – pot-distilled rum from Demerara sugar, spiced with vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, and clove. Swanson points out that Minnesota and North Dakota are 2nd and 4th in the nation for per capita rum consumption, and they expect to produce a spirit from local beet sugar in the future. 2,000 cases ready in December.

Roknar – Whiskey from rye (~65%) with some supporting wheat and corn (~25% and 10%, respectively). Half of the initial run, 600 cases, will be briefly aged in small barrels. The other half will spend at least two years in larger barrels to meet the legal requirements for a “straight rye whiskey”.

Lucid and Badger Hill Beer Dinner at Bar Abilene

Beer at Bar Abilene
Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Bar Abilene is in the midst of reinventing itself. “We’d like to guide people on what beers should be had when,” says Assistant General Manager David Paradeise, who took on his position in July. He’s been working to transition the restaurant from 12 to 24 taps, meeting with lots of local breweries, and designing a revolving list of craft beers to suit the seasons.

As part of the transition, on September 26 Bar Abilene hosted Lucid and Badger Hill breweries for a beer dinner that just pulsed with the kind of camaraderie that can bring out the best in many. Lucid and Badger Hill’s alternating proprietorship over their 10,000-square-foot brew space in Minnetonka is the kind of fledgling relationship that makes you hold your breath (we spoke in depth with Lucid in 2011 and Badger Hill this summer). But so far, so good. And with Chef Angel Campoverde’s menu as a travel guide of sorts, we finally tested their unique flavors side by side.

Within their partnership, you could call Lucid “The Dabbler” and Badger Hill “The Rock.” Lucid’s arsenal swings from an energetic IPA to a light, session-worthy beer, while Badger Hill is slowly establishing itself as a master of balance.

Brewers and Chef at Bar Abilene
Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

“We talk about it [our brews] in advance and we never butt heads,” says Lucid’s Jon Messier, who first met the Badger Hill crew at Barley John’s one famous St. Patrick’s Day. Like a good friendship, the two groups complement one another. “And we drink a lot of beer together,” says Messier.

At Bar Abilene, Badger Hill’s Three Tree rye arrived with the chef’s buttery salmon carpaccio. “This was a big risk for us,” says Badger partner Brittany Krekelberg. “A lot of people do really hopped-up ryes, but we wanted to do something different.” Brewed with seven grains, Belgian malt, and 23 percent rye, Three Tree comes off as a pleasant, non-aggressive beer that opens up as you sip. Its hoppy side is balanced with a gentle maltiness, and the beer slipped in perfectly between bites of the soft, decadent salmon.

With beef tenderloin and roasted Brussels sprouts, we drank Badger Hill’s flagship beer, Minnesota Special Bitter. Despite its name, MSB is even-tempered and played a supportive, palate-cleansing sidekick role to the hearty meat and nutty sprouts. As one fellow diner put it, “It’s not extreme in any way. It’s a go-to ale.”

Bar Abilene beer dinner
Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Lucid brews bookended the meal. Their new pleasantly bitter IPA, called Foto, cut the somber attitude of an earthy, throat-warming lentil soup, and played well with a wonderfully tangy and crunchy quinoa and jicama salad. For dessert, Lucid Air was the obvious companion to Chef Angel’s swoon-worthy take on tres leches cake. A gland-zapping drizzle of passionfruit puree energized the cinnamon-spiced cake. There was lime zest too. And Air was refreshing enough to wash it all down, as well as citrusy enough to keep you drinking after the last bite.

“I’m hoping after this that we can start looking at the menu,” said Paradeise. Chef Campoverde, who infused the night’s menu with good, warm spices characteristic of many Hispanic cuisines — like cumin, chiles, and epazote — doesn’t often get to stretch his talents. According to Paradeise, the restaurant’s menu rarely changes, and they only feature two or three specials a week.

Thirty plus people left Bar Abilene feeling good. The amicable partnership of two distinct breweries, who lent their goods to a restaurant in transition, is a true snapshot of Minnesota’s growing craft beer community, and the sort of eating and drinking going on in the Twin Cities. “Celebration over competition” is one way to describe it. Bar Abilene’s General Manager (also David’s father) Francois Paradeise takes it a mouthful further: “People with passion and fire in the belly — they are the ingredients of success.”

Tres Leches cake at Bar Abilene
Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Q&A With Ian Gray and Morning Roundup

A taste of local mushrooms from The Mikeology Store, a Q&A with Ian Gray of Gray House, Rye snags a Bon Appetit mention as one of the Best New Jewish Delis in America [as a .jpg] (here’s our attempt to grapple with their ups and downs), Lucid Brewing has signed up with the Original Gravity distribution network [PDF of press release], some St. Paul bakery musings (featuring Bread and Chocolate and PJ Murphy’s, The Lexington hopes to add rooftop dining, and lunch at On’s Thai (our review’s here).

Zimmern Snubs Rye and Morning Roundup

Zimmern takes Rye apart at the seams (we quite liked it), possible Rachel Hutton successor Emily Weiss debuts with a review of Maeve’s in City Pages (ours is here), new rules could help urban farms prosper in Minneapolis, Madeline Island tops a “best secret islands” list by Yahoo, an account of a quiet Thanksgiving at Manny’s, and the Well Fed Guide to Life hits :D-Spot (a place we loved).

Eat Street Social, Rye Delicatessen & Bar, Pig & Fiddle and more

Readers: Win Heavy Table pint glasses

The Tap loves restaurant tips from readers, so we’re awarding a Heavy Table pint glass to the best tipster each month. The Tap is the metro area’s comprehensive restaurant buzz roundup, so if you see a new or newly shuttered restaurant, or anything that’s “coming soon,” email Tap editor Jason Walker at jason@heavytable.com.

October’s winner: Kari Anderson of Minneapolis

Eat Street Social (opens this fall)

14 W 26th St, Minneapolis

Northeast Social owners Joe Wagner and Sam Bonin are coming to Nicollet Avenue this fall with Eat Street Social, a new bar and restaurant in the former Tacos Morelos space that hopes to replicate the laid-back yet elegant vibe and quality food, wine, and beer of their first restaurant.

Eat Street Social will also have liquor, and Nick Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz of Bittercube bitters are leading the cocktail program. Kosevich is well-known locally as the former bartending force at the Town Talk Diner, and Koplowitz cut his teeth at Chicago cocktail den Violet Hour. These guys live to make unique, delicious cocktails, and their hiring means Wagner and Bonin are serious about giving Eat Street Social a bar that means business.

“I’d say [Kosevich] is right up there, one or two with the top bartenders in town,” Wagner said. “And so we’ll be making our own tonics, of course we’ll be using Bittercube bitters. Most of the big stuff for the cocktails will be made in-house.

“The bar that we designed is going to be really neat. We’re using a sushi cooler for a lot of the ingredients to stay fresh. Kind of like food, you want to use the freshest ingredients. So it will be a display area where you can really watch the whole process.”

Geoff Little will be executive chef at both locations and design the menu at Eat Street, so the food will stick close to what Northeast Social already does: an approachable yet thoughtful array of well-crafted small plates, salads, sandwiches, and entrees. But Eat Street will be different in ways other than the cocktails, as the larger dining room will seat around 100 and there will be live music a few nights a week, as well as a banquet space (formerly Azia’s Caterpillar Room). It will also have an old-fashioned soda fountain, with housemade syrups and old-school soft drinks like raspberry sodas, tonics, and egg creams.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

“We can’t wait for it to open because we have a lot to show,” Kosevich (above) said. “I haven’t made drinks in this city for over two years. Since I left Minneapolis, since I left the Town Talk, we basically have been working Bittercube and designing cocktails all over the Midwest. So this is really the first time that we get to showcase that work, the culmination of two years of hard work, here in Minneapolis.”

Kosevich and Koplowitz, who essentially have been given free rein to create their menu, have some strong opinions about what makes for tasty, interesting liquor. One conversation with these guys, and you know the bar at Eat Street Social is not going to be typical.

“Most back bars you go in and it’s all kind of things that everyone knows and everyone’s heard of, some big factory distilleries,” Koplowitz said. “One thing that we’re really excited about with this project is to have a nice, broad spirits list with … a lot of things that are a little more esoteric and unique than the Johnnie Walkers of the world.”

“People are going to order something, and we may not have it,” Kosevich said, “because we’re showcasing something more unique that’s similar, comparable, or contrasting, but through the in-depth education aspect of our spirit program [bartenders] will be able to direct people in the right way, in the right direction that they want to go. Guests leave in a more positive way when they’ve been given something new, something fresh.”

“One classic example would be rather than having Jack Daniels, have George Dickel, which is another Tennessee whiskey that is really nice,” Koplowitz said. “It’s not craft, it’s still a really big company, but showcasing something that’s been around a long time and has been somewhat forgotten.”

But it’s not all about drinks. Wagner said he and Bonin’s goal for Eat Street Social was to create a place for real drinks, yes, but also solid food and cool vibes for the creative, funky Whittier neighborhood. The two moved to the neighborhood from Rochester together when they were 18 and never lost their love for the area.

“With MCAD being over there, there’s a lot of creative young people that gives a lot of energy to it,” Wagner said. “There’s a lot of fantastic food on Eat Street. We’ll bring kind of a new feeling and operate something that isn’t really in that area right now.

“There’s no real bars in that neighborhood. I mean, Uptown, even, there’s nothing really. The Uptown Bar was cool back in the day, but it’s gone. There’s no real bars to kind of replace it.”

Eat Street Social is shooting for a late fall opening.

Rye Delicatessen & Bar (opens this month)

1930 Hennepin Ave S, Minneapolis | ryedeli.com

Lowry Hill is getting a huge jolt of all-day food and cocktails. First came The Lowry and now it’s Rye Delicatessen & Bar, set to open in the former Auriga space on Hennepin.