Beginning as soon as next week, watch for bottles of vodka and rum from Minnesota’s newest distilling operation. The Norse-themed Skaalvenn Distillery out of Brooklyn Park was licensed in April and sent its first two products to distributors this month — a remarkable timeline for a two-person operation.
Skaalvenn owners, Mary and Tyson Schnitker, join the ranks of dozens of Minnesotans producing liquor, but their approach is decidedly different. With the resourcefulness of Eagle Scouts and the DIY attitude of frugal homeowners at Home Depot, the Schnitkers make clear their desire to be good stewards of their small-business loan and of their own abilities. They apologized for their “boring space” — a result of allocating more funds towards their products than to visual impact.
A self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades, Tyson has utilized his varied background not only to create his recipes, but to assist in building his own still, adding a new dimension to the idea of “start-up.”
Skaalvenn’s first two products, vodka and rum, are the result of many trial runs and recipe tweaks. At the time of our visit, the vodka was not yet ready, but the recipe does contain 100 percent Minnesota-grown hard spring wheat. The company has plans for an aquavit in the near future, but Tyson is adamant about not rushing something to market. “We don’t want to set a poor foundation,” he states. He refers to the possibility of tainting inexperienced American palates with a poor example of the classic Scandinavian spirit, in the way that the Pontiac Aztec made many people hate crossover vehicles.
Mary explains that their products are intentionally somewhat mild in character, making them more suitable for mixed drinks — a statement rarely heard among craft distillers.
Mildness doesn’t render the rum indistinct, however. It is crafted using panela, a raw cane product not unlike turbinado sugar, and distilled using the bain-marie technique. This process, in which the grains remain suspended in the liquid at the bottom of the still, yields more flavor in the glass.
With mild vanilla and toffee notes, Skaalvenn’s unaged rum is enjoyable and approachable. It opens up well with an ice cube or two, showing off its smooth character, a result of tighter cuts and quality sources of sugar. It would work beautifully in a mojito or classic (meaning, hold the fruit) daiquiri.