Vikre Distillery’s cocktail sampling room in Duluth opened last November and has been refining its menu ever since. The owners have transformed the space from a tasting room offering flights and tours to a bustling bar with some of the best craft cocktails in town.
The distillery’s new summer menu, released mid-June, has a variety of sweet and savory cocktails that are fresh and seasonally inspired, but based on classic recipes. The Cold Fashioned ($13), for example, uses Voyageur Cognac-Cask Finished Aquavit instead of whiskey, and maple syrup instead of granulated sugar, and it includes fig-saffron bitters.
The distillery is located on the edge of Canal Park, steps from the city’s picturesque lift bridge, and in the same building as The Rustic Olive, an olive oil and balsamic vinegar bar. The sandwich board on the sidewalk and two beautiful pine bushes in the doorway draw attention to the understated exterior.
The two-story sampling room with a small bar on the first level has an antique feel. The rustic, exposed walls are juxtaposed with copper paneling around the bar, reminding visitors they are in a factory, albeit a beautiful, artisanal one. Up a short flight of stairs is a boardroom-sized table and a steampunk-style chandelier. A seating area dominated by a leather couch overlooks the street. Folksy music creates a comfortable, even feminine, vibe in a taproom that is severe in parts, with its rough edges and cold metal.
The kitchen isn’t in action yet, but the attentive and accommodating bartenders allow patrons to bring their own food. Children and well-behaved dogs are welcome in the taproom.
Each cocktail came in a different style of glass — some short and shallow, some frosted and tall, others gold-trimmed and sparkling. And while the choice of receptacle seemed to be based on what would display the final product most elegantly, the varying glassware made choosing and drinking a cocktail feel intentionally hodgepodge and romantically special — like your grandma’s glassware collection, where each glass has a story and a warm memory.
We sampled a succession of standout cocktails that hit each of the taste bud regions; the Spokanimal ($11) was more than just a pretty pink cocktail. While the drink was definitely on the sweeter side, the egg white foam on top balanced out the lilac cordial and lemon to create a smooth, Cosmopolitanesque experience with a light juniper finish.
The Shipping News ($11), on the other hand, had a strong anise nose from the Øvrevann Aquavit. The citrus notes from lime and grapefruit juice paired well with the brandied cherry to create a simple yet elegant, light cocktail. Aquavit can be a challenging spirit to bridle in the cocktail environment, but the citrus bitterness made this one work.
Based on name alone, the Ace of Basil ($12) drew our attention. The cantaloupe-basil soda used with Boreal Spruce Gin created an overall umami with a tinge of sweetness. Served in a large glass with a paper straw, the cocktail was effervescent and easy to drink, almost to the point of being a vodka soda — one glass could have turned quickly into twelve.
And finally, the Bayfrontal ($9) was savory and round, like a Bloody Mary without the tomato juice. Celery added a peppery element on the nose and was strong upon first taste. But it mellowed, revealing the cucumber soda and a slight citrus finish from the lime. The Lake Superior Vodka was smooth and played nicely in the background, giving the drink a strong backbone.