The Toast: May 2014

Banner for the Toast: Drinking Well in the Upper Midwest

Readers: What’s the toast on your mind this month? Which patios are you sipping cocktails on? Any wines really impress you lately? What’s the best new brew in town? Email or tweet @johnpgarland — our favorite tip each month receives a Heavy Table pint glass.

This month we’ve got Northern Stars, Noble Stars, pink wine and roughly 7,200 minutes of craft brew celebrations remaining in the week. Cheers!

L’Étoile Du Nord

Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table

Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table

Minnesota’s new collection of craft distillers is continuing its breakout year with the debut of L’Étoile Du Nord Vodka. (That’s lay-TWALL, if you don’t parlez Français, but it’s our state motto, so you should at least know that phrase). Shanelle and Chris Montana (left and right, below) of Du Nord Craft Spirits have been working between day jobs to formulate the Minnesota-grown hooch that hit shelves last week.

The vodka (80-proof, MSRP $24) is distilled from corn — grown on Shanelle’s family farms — and sugar beets in roughly equal measure. “Corn just leaves a residual sweetness; you taste it in whiskeys, too,” says Chris. “The beets were partly out of necessity, because of the way we process the corn. It’s a longer process; we needed something to jump-start the yeast. Then we figured it’s a great tie-in. This is Minnesota. This is what we grow.”

Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table

Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table

The finished spirit offers just a slight graininess on the nose, with a subtle sweetness beginning the sip. It tastes substantial — bulky and present on the tongue — with a compelling viscosity that allows the sweetness to linger before the mild ethanol burn defines the snappy finish. And don’t mistake its “sweetness” for one of those big brand vodkas that add glycerin to smooth out the edges. Think of it as a more of a quiet undertone, as in Tito’s Handmade Vodka.

Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table

Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table

Since we last spoke to the Montanas, their South Minneapolis distillery (above) has filled out nicely. A border of diamond plating remains in the former motorcycle shop and new sheetrock separates the distillery space from a separate room for cocktail service. Unfortunately, it could remain vacant for a while. The provision for distilleries to run hospitality rooms is caught up in this year’s troubled liquor omnibus bill. Opposition to Sunday growler sales at breweries resulted in the bill being tabled in the Senate yesterday afternoon.

You can find the vodka on shelves at, among other places, France 44, Stinson in Northeast, Elevated BWS off Hiawatha, Zipp’s Liquors, and various MGM locations. Or, watch it get mixed into ’70s-style cocktails for RetroRama at the Minnesota History Center on the 16th. Stay tuned for their upcoming Fitzgerald Gin in July.

Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table

Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table

Solo Vino Rosé Tasting

Tickets are still available for the epic 6th Annual Solo Vino Rosé Tent Tasting on Sunday, May 18. Chuck Kanski will be erecting a 40’x80′ tent in the parking lot of his Selby Avenue wine shop and stuffing it full of 110 rosés, 30 whites, and a handful of reds. There will also be a dozen or so craft beers to sample, some big trays of Kramarczuk’s sausage, and Easy & Oskey-made cocktails featuring Far North Spirits’ Solveig gin and new Alander rum. Last year’s event was held during a monsoon-level storm and it was still a blast. It’s a parade that literally cannot be rained on, so get your tickets!


Upcoming 10,000 Minutes Events

As if you needed an excuse to get out there and drink more local brews, there’s a lot happening this week in conjunction with 10,000 Minutes of Minnesota Craft Beer. Click the logo above to get the full rundown of events. Here are a few highlights you may want to check out:

Wednesday: The Herkimer is hosting Beer Lovers Speed Dating from 6-9pm, while Indeed Brewing will be tapping firkins at Grumpy’s NE.

Thursday: Barley John’s will tap of 5-gallon keg of Rosie’s Old Ale (a raspberry-Brett concoction) from 2007, and an all-Minnesota Tap Takeover at The Happy Gnome starts at 4:30.

Friday: Bent Paddle is hosting an open brew day in Duluth, where you can take away some wort to brew at home, and Surly releases Pentagram at Amsterdam Bar and Hall at 4pm.

Schell’s North Country Brünette

John Garland / Heavy Table

John Garland / Heavy Table

The August Schell Brewing Company is on a remarkable roll as of late, and their newest semi-sour is keeping that momentum going. 

The North Country Brünette is the third in Schell’s Noble Star Collection of Berliner Weisse interpretations, following the outstanding Framboise Du Nord we enjoyed back in February. This one is an attempt to resurrect a long-lost hybrid style of Märzen Weisse. So, there’s some Munich malt among the wheat in the mash. Basically, it’s Weisse meets Oktoberfest (and Schell’s has that style nailed down).

The Brünette (5.4% ABV) pours a Märzen-tinted hazy tan color in the glass, with heavy carbonation and that distinct sour aroma you’d expect over a whisper of maltiness. The flavor begins pleasantly piquant with Granny Smith-like acids that turn lemony by sip’s end. Bone dry, with some Oktoberfest character on the mid-palate, it’s not a bracing sour — there’s nuance between the Brettanomyces and malt. Crisp and lively, woodsy and endearing. A noble effort, indeed.

Up next for the venerable New Ulm brewery: Later this month, they’ll jump on the hoppy lager trend with the release of Arminius, and a new Hefeweizen series is on the way as well.

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About the Author

John Garland

John Garland is a freelance writer living in the East Isles neighborhood of Minneapolis. His area of expertise is wine - thanks to schooling from the International Sommelier Guild and more than a few winery visits during his time at the American University of Rome. He also contributes to Beer Dabbler's Growler Magazine and is always available for writing opportunities and happy hours.

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