Chris Montana is waiting on two pieces of equipment to arrive at Du Nord Craft Spirits before Friday. The first is a new 60-gallon still with an offset gin basket. “People are liking the lighter flavors, the vapor gins,” he says. “When juniper hits, it hits hard.” This new equipment allows for subtle botanical infusions and precise flavor control.
The second, and more immediately important, delivery is a shuffleboard table. On Friday at 4pm, Montana and wife Shanelle will open the first distillery cocktail room in the Twin Cities. “People ask me if a cocktail room is classier than a taproom,” he says. “Not necessarily, but it could be. I think 11 Wells‘ will be classier than ours, but we’ll be less rough around the edges than some. There will be a different vibe to all these places.”
Last May’s liquor omnibus bill made legal the opportunity for distilleries to mix cocktails on site – much like 2011’s Surly Bill first allowed breweries to host taprooms. Du Nord’s will be the second in Minnesota, after Vikre Distillery began cocktailing in Canal Park in November.
Du Nord’s cocktail room already looks nice sans-shuffleboard. Tables repurposed with ash tops, including a gigantic eight-person spool in the center, are scattered throughout the street-facing annex of the former motorcycle repair shop. “I don’t know if people will use the couches,” says Montana, “but we want people to know this is a place to hang out for a while.” He’s expecting to see the neighborhood’s food brought in (Gandhi Mahal and Ted Cook’s are awfully close). They’ll follow the taproom lead by hosting food trucks in the parking lot as well.
Du Nord’s L’Etoile Vodka and Fitzgerald Gin anchor the cocktail list, built by Mike Rasmussen (Bluestem, Marin, La Belle Vie). It includes standby classics (Moscow Mules, naked Martinis) and some terrific looking warm drinks (Toddys, spiked cider and cocoa) that just may be in demand this weekend.
With none of his bartenders in the building, we cajole Montana into mixing a Salty Dog. He has some experience, having manned the bar at Players Bar & Grill during the creepy heyday of Mall of America’s fourth floor. “We were just pouring beer back then. Don’t laugh,” he says of his shaking technique, which indeed looks rusty. He pours a tasty drink nonetheless.
Du Nord is also offering a membership in a Cocktail Club. Starting at $250, the card multiplies the initial fee into at least double (and up to five times) its value in taproom credits (a lot like Insight Brewing recently did with their Passport Club). The cards are available only until January 12th.
Further down the Du Nord docket for 2015: firing up their new still and releasing two new variations of Fitzgerald Gin. Formula No. 2 will ease off the juniper that defines No. 1, and No. 3 will contain the distinct herbal presence of Simcoe hops. They’ll also barrel a trio of whiskeys – rye, high rye, and bourbon – for release in the years to come.
Du Nord Craft Spirits, 2610 E. 32nd St. Minneapolis, 55406.
Taproom Hours (Beginning January 9th): Wed-Thu 4-10pm, Fri-Sat 4pm-midnight.