Because: summer time.
It’s father’s day! I’ve been a dad for a few years now, which doesn’t make me an expert by any stretch, but is apparently qualifying enough that Emily asked me to write this post. Also I have a pretty solid dad myself. Here’s what I know about being a dad:
1. It’s really fun
2. It’s sometimes rather impossible
3. It’s a hell of a lot easier and less fraught than being a mom
4. It’s nonetheless very important
Given number three, father’s day feels rather irrelevant compared to mother’s day, so I tend to feel a little sheepish about it being celebrated at all. But hey, let’s not let that stop us! Bring on the pie!
Since father’s day tends to bring out the most stereotypical impulses in our consumer-society-cultural-marketing-apparatus, I like to respond by fully (if a bit ironically) inhabiting the stereotype. So here’s what I want for father’s day:
1. A tie clip
2. Breakfast in bed
3. Power tools and/or a wheelbarrow
4. Dinner on the deck featuring me as grill master
5. A nice dram of whiskey
I could offer a host of more sensitive ideas, but who am I kidding? I make whiskey! I wear boots! I have calluses! I’m a walking embodiment of bearded working-manliness. At least that’s what Emily let’s me believe about myself while she does all the real work.
So for this father’s day, at the very least pick your dad up a bottle of whiskey. I’m partial to our Iron Range American Single Malt, which you can still buy at the distillery. Or make a less conventional pick and grab a bottle of Voyageur Aquavit, which is essentially whiskey for Vikings, and is available at most decent liquor stores in MN and WI and a few other states besides. That way you’ll support our family so I can go on being a dad.
But then probably also do what I’m actually hoping for this father’s day. Spend the day hanging out with your family. Go for some walks. Play on a swingset. Run through a sprinkler. And pretend it’s mother’s day by pulling your actual weight.
Happy father’s day fellas.
I am here today to tell you that Mother's Day is very important! It's a time to celebrate the best mother you've ever had - your own mother - for all the love and care she has given you, and no matter how crazy she sometimes makes you :). Now that I'm a mom, I've realized that I kind of feel more strongly about mother's day than even my birthday. After all, all you do to get your birthday is be born. But, being a mom, now that's hard work every day! I don't need cards or presents or flowers for mother's day though, just some good time with my family. And, I also definitely wouldn't say no to someone doing the cooking for me. So, if you are the (excellent! thoughtful!) kind of person who makes breakfast for your mom or for your children's mom - or both! - on Mother's Day, I've gathered a lovely set of recipes for you.
This menu is all inspired by my favorite way of cooking and eating: food that's relatively simple, but made carefully and with awesome ingredients. First prep a nice bowl of chopped fruit and berries. And you should probably make some bacon as well (I find it easiest to cook bacon in the oven). Then round out the brunch with a flavorful frittata (inspired by an old leek quiche recipe, but frittata is infinitely easier than quiche) and tender raspberries muffins. To drink, serve classic Greyhounds. Make sure to use freshly squeezed grapefruit juice - preferably juice that you squeeze yourself because it is so much less bitter. The traditional version of a Greyhound uses vodka, and our Lake Superior Vodka makes a stellar Greyhound. BUT, a worthwhile thing to know is that fresh grapefruit juice goes with very nearly any spirit at all, and will be equally delightful with any of our gins or aquavits, if that's what mom prefers. (I'm a big fan of aquavit and grapefruit juice, personally.) And don't forget coffee, always coffee.
Leek and Feta Frittata (serves 4-6)
- 1 lb, or a bit more, leeks
- 1 Tbs. butter or olive oil
- 8-9 large eggs
- 1/2 cup cream or half-and-half
- zest of one lemon, plus a squeeze of lemon juice (1-2 tsp.)
- about 4 oz. feta cheese, cut into slices
- Salt and pepper
- Heat your oven to 375F
- Cut the dark green portion off of the leeks and discard. Slice the leeks in half length-wise, and rinse very well making sure to get rid of any grit or dirt between the layers. Shake off as much water as you can, then thinly slice the leeks.
- Heat the olive oil or butter in an oven proof frying pan (use a 9-inch or so pan. Like how all my measurements are "about" and "or so"? Frittatas are really flexible.), then add the leek slices and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat until the leeks are very soft, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- In a bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, lemon zest and juice, and some more salt (about 1/2 tsp.) and pepper. Pour this mix over the leeks in the pan, then spread the feta slices across the top.
- Bake until puffed and cooked through, around 30 minutes. Take out of the oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Brown Butter Raspberry Muffins (Makes 10-12 muffins (depending on your tin filling tendencies)) I've found one of the keys to wonderfully tender muffins is to make sure your dairy and eggs are at room temperature. So, I usually set these ingredients out the night before.
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs. sugar
- 1/2 cup buttermilk AT ROOM TEMP
- 1/2 cup creme fraiche AT ROOM TEMP
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten, AT ROOM TEMP
- 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten, AT ROOM TEMP
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup fresh raspberries (you could also use frozen - don't defrost if you do)
- In a small saucepan, melt the butter, and cook over medium heat, stirring nearly constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan as you go, until the butter turns brown and smells nutty. Mine takes about 7 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature or slightly warmer.
- Preheat your oven to 350F and grease, or line with muffin cups, a muffin tin.
- In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In another bowl, whisk together the the sugar, buttermilk, and creme fraiche until totally combined. Whisk in the egg and egg yolk until smooth. Finally, whisk in the browned butter and vanilla.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet and start to gently fold it together. When it is still quite lumpy and not fully combined, stir in the raspberries. Continue to stir gently just until you see no more dry patches. Don't overmix!
- Spoon the batter into the muffin tin, filling each well about 3/4s of the way (or a touch more) full.
- Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a tester inserted in the center of one comes out clean. Let cool for just a minute or two, and then turn them out of the pan quickly (otherwise the bottoms steam) and cool briefly on a cooling rack. Then eat them warm, with plenty of butter, because that is really what one ought to do with fresh muffins.
For each cocktail, add 1 1/2 oz. Lake Superior Vodka (or another spirit - I also recommend our Spruce Gin or our Aquavit, for example) to a glass with a couple cubes of ice. Fill the glass with freshly squeezed grapefruit juice.
(If mom hates grapefruit juice, definitely don't make this cocktail. I'd suggest something like a French 75 instead - Shake 1 oz. gin and 1/2 oz. each of lemon and simple syrup with ice. Strain into a champagne flute and top with champagne. You could, of course, also always make mimosas. Nobody ever didn't like a mimosa.)
I know that we are located in what a lot of the country would consider flyover country (although I suppose it’s even more likely people think of our part of the Midwest as Southern Canada, ha). On the national stage we’re always playing a fourth fiddle to the coasts and the south, and this, in spite of the many, many differences across the region, knits the Midwest together with a sort-of middle child syndrome. People rarely notice us, no matter how good our grades are. But, we know, and you know, that the midwest is rich with culture. Because of this, we went into our first visit to Omaha with high expectations (even if most of our knowledge of Omaha was based on a Counting Crows song ;). And they were certainly met. Omaha has a hopping food and drinks scene combined with a close-knit sense of creative community and some of the sweetest people we’ve met anywhere. In other words, it has all of the ingredients of the Midwest’s special sauce.
We threw ourselves right into the middle of things by hosting a cocktail competition. Cocktail competitions are usually the prerogative of huge liquor companies with equally huge budgets, but you know what they say: fake it till you make it! Plus, what better way to meet a whole slew of super-talented bartenders and taste a barrage of super-delicious cocktails all at once, right?! The night of the cocktail competition gathered bartenders from across the city at Spirit World for an evening of friendly rivalry. All of the drinks were excellent, but the winning bartender rose to the top with cocktails that exhibited especially meticulous flavors and balance, and that we were floored to learn were almost sugar free - but more on that in a moment.
Our winner, Doug Strain, followed a circuitous path towards cocktailologizing. After working for a spell in the medical field as a Certified Nurisng Assistant he decided he was tired of sticking needles into people’s fingers, and he trained to become a licensed massage therapist. As a massage therapist he began to delve into the world of essential oils, learning all about botanicals and the wide ranging impacts that aromatics can have on an individual. Meanwhile, he was becoming interested in cocktails and craft spirits, and he began to hang out at the Berry & Rye, a then-new craft cocktail room in Omaha, absorbing the action behind the bar. When a job-opening popped up, he figured he might as well apply. He basically blew the interview. Instead of answers to questions about service and bartending, he gave blank stares. But, as luck would have it, the faltering conversation eventually turned to aromatherapy, and Doug described all the work he was doing with botanicals and aromatics. Some sort-of lightbulb must have gone off because the bar manager, Luke, called Doug back and told him that even though Luke was really looking for a bartender with experience, Doug was welcome to come start working as a barback and to begin learning cocktailing under him. Doug spent a year and a half working his way up, honing his bartending skills and falling especially in love with the culinary aspects of cocktail creation.
And this is the part where, someday when Doug writes the book about his life and career, the action really begins. He was about to take on the position of head bartender at Laka Lono Rum Club, a sister bar to the Berry & Rye and Omaha’s first tiki bar, when he got an urgent call from his doctor’s office. They wanted him to come in immediately to discuss some lab results. Cue the ominous music. Doug was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. This is the type of diabetes that is an autoimmune disease wherein your body attacks your own pancreas, shutting down your ability to produce insulin. It’s really bad news. It basically means that you have to monitor your blood sugar levels constantly and inject yourself with insulin several times a day otherwise your cells can’t absorb energy. You also have to be really, really careful about how much sugar and other carbohydrates you eat. In Doug’s own words, “just imagine the irony – I devote two years of my life to learning how to put sugar, ice and alcohol into pretty glasses for people and right before I get my chance to help lead a program to put LOTS of sugar, ice and alcohol into pretty glasses I find out that it’ll kill me if I drink it. Ha.”
For most, this would be the end of a career in cocktails, but Doug has risen to the challenge, exploring new sweeteners that don’t cause the spikes in blood sugar that regular sugar does. And he’s taking it a step further, working to understand sugar-free cocktail making well enough that he can teach this different set of tools and principles to others in the industry. After all, people with diabetes deserve to have just as much fun as the rest of us! An important tool is the sugar alcohols, like xylitol. They’re extracted from natural sources, and while they can be used in similar measurements to traditional sugar, they have a much smaller and slower impact on your blood sugar. Even the sugars in fruit juices - even tart juices like lemon and lime - present a potential problem for diabetics, if they’re not carefully monitored. Doug has discovered ways of combining citric acid for sharpness and citrus oils from peels expressed over the drink to trick your senses into tasting citrus. You can see these clever techniques at play in his winning cocktails.
The Gimless is a riff on none other than the simple and delicious Gimlet. Traditionally, this popular gin-sour variation is made with Four Roses lime cordial but these days, many opt for a version using fresh lime juice and simple syrup. Like any good mad scientist, Doug spends much of his time in his lab. While experimenting, he discovered xylitol and citric acid can interplay in a way very similar to simple syrup and lime juice. He put this carb-conscious mixture to the test in a few classic cocktail recipes, starting with the Daiquiri. And the Gimlet is basically a Daiquiri with gin instead of rum, and the rest is history. Doug’s favorite Gimlets use a stiff, aggressive, gin so he went with Boreal Spruce Gin to make the Gimless bright and bold.
How to make the Gimless
- 2 oz Vikre Spruce Gin
- .75 oz xylitol gomme
- .75 oz Citric Acid Solution
Shake and strain and express lime peel into drink. Garnish with lime diamond (Cut lime wheel and slice off edges to form square and set on pick)
The Improved Lavender Cocktail
Before the Old Fashioned was old fashioned, it was what people called a cocktail. The original “cocktail” was composed of any spirit, plus sugar, and bitters. In the late 1800s, the creative cocktail juices began flowing, ingredients like maraschino liqueur, absinthe, or otherwise were added, and the “Improved Cocktail” was born. When Doug created his Improved Lavender Cocktail, he tried his recipe with each of our three Boreal Gins. The Cedar Gin stood out for its unusual but friendly, soft, botanical elements. The finished cocktail was garnished with a lemon peel and a cinnamon stick. The sight and scent of the lemon peel and cinnamon stick garnishes promise a taste of a floral yet cozy cocktail, which is exactly what you get.
How to make the Improved Lavender Cocktail
- 2 oz Vikre Cedar Gin
- .5 oz Sugar Free Cinnamon Lavender Syrup*
- .25 oz Pierre Ferrand Orange Curacao
- 4 dashes Absinthe
- 4 dashes Creole Bitters (Peychaud's)
Build over ice sphere. Express lemon peel into glass and wrap around torched cinnamon stick for garnish.
*The Cinnamon Lavender syrup was created by double boiling 24oz of xylitol gomme syrup with 15 grams of dried lavender flowers and six 4 inch cinnamon sticks. By using the gentle heat from a double boil, the lavender isn't scorched or burned and it still extracts the flavors. Using the existing syrup as a base facilitates flavor extraction as well, as opposed to using water and adding xylitol later.
Doug has recently teamed up with Maven Social and has taken the position as Director of Maven Labs, a craft cocktail subscription service that will be incorporating his sugar-free ingredients into several of it's boxes in the upcoming months as well as selling them in stores.
Get more recipes from Doug on his blog, http://diabeticbartender.com/
There is only one day in the year when I eat jellybeans, and that is on Easter. And when it is Easter, I eat jellybeans for breakfast. If you’re young, and you’re allowed to hunt for your Easter basket first thing in the morning, I think it’s practically impossible that you will not eat jellybeans for breakfast. And then if you go to church for a Midwestern church basement Easter breakfast and there are jelly beans all over the table, you will eat more jelly beans for breakfast while you wait for the egg bake to be served. And if this habit has been firmly established by the time you are seven, it will probably last a lifetime, or, you know, at least into your thirties.
This year, through some complex logic and higher reasoning, I decided I would further legitimate my jelly-beans-for-Easter-breakfast tradition by combining it with the tradition of brunch mimosas, which is itself legitimated by it being a holiday and a celebration. I’ve been assured the Easter Bunny approves.
Because jelly beans are basically sugar plus another form of sugar plus food coloring (yeah, I know—but, it’s just once a year!), they start to dissolve if you put them in vodka, quickly flavoring and coloring it. Making a jelly bean liqueur is as easy as choosing which color or flavor (in jelly beans, I rather think the color is the flavor, i.e. the flavor purple, the flavor yellow, etc.) you want to use and adding a few tablespoons of them to a cup of vodka.
When testing out my idea, I chose to use orange-flavored jelly beans because I was riffing on mimosas, but I think for Easter I’m going to infuse a separate jar of vodka with each color of jelly bean and then let people choose which they want to use as the base for their cocktail. Rainbows of cocktails! Again, the Easter Bunny approves.
Let the jelly beans sit in the jar of vodka for a couple hours, shaking it occasionally, then strain the remnants of the beans out (or you could let them fully dissolve, depending on how much sweetness you want). Add an ounce of your jelly bean liqueur to a Champagne glass, along with a small squeeze of lemon juice, and top it with Champagne. Voilà: jelly bean mimosas!
Tradition is upheld, and if not improved, at least made bubbly.
Jelly Bean Mimosas
Makes enough for about 6 cocktails
- 1 cup vodka
- 2 to 3 tablespoons jelly beans of a single flavor of your choice
- 1 lemon
- Dry Champagne or other sparkling wine like cava or prosecco
1/8 oz. Easy & Oskey Orange Bitters
2 oz. Vikre Boreal Juniper Gin
1 oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth
1 lemon coin (cut off a small, round sliver of a lemon peel)
Stir all ingredients with ice until very well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass.
Your choice of four of our spirits,
house tonic, soda & lime
_____ & TONIC
Your choice of clear spirit,
house tonic, lime
SVEN & MOLÉ*
Voyageur Aquavit, pepita orgeat,
NOT A GIN DRINKER*
Lake Superior Vodka, juniper syrup,
Cedar Gin, miso caramel,
cherry, grapefruit, lime
sage-fennel vermoose, celery
Juniper Gin, jerk-spiced syrup,
lime, egg white, salt
A RUSSIAN EXPAT IN NORWAY
Øvrevann Aquavit, sugar
SIEUR DU LHUT
Iron Range American Single Malt,
Vermoose, house bitters
REALLY OLD FASHIONED
Choice of clear spirit, sugar, bitters, orange twist
With Voyageur +3 With whiskey +5
Neat or on the rocks
SWEET & SPICY NUTS
EPIC SNACK PLATE
Northern Waters Smokehaus salmon, salami, beet pickles, sweet spiced nuts, blue cheese ball with caraway brittle, dill butter, goat cheese, rye crackers
I have been a member of the Minneapolis chapter of the USBG (U.S. Bartender’s Guild) for about eight months now. For many reasons, I hadn’t attended any of the guild events in the twin cities until last month. I rode down with our Brand and Media Manager to attend the meeting and spend the evening with a few folks. I had no idea what to expect.
We showed up at Hola Arepa a bit early and watched everyone arrive over the next twenty minutes, grab coffee or punch, and mingle. I was struck by how many hugs were passed around, and how many smiles and handshakes were offered to us, unfamiliar faces to most of the guild. We went from being the awkward first few folks to making acquaintances and connections with everyone in our vicinity quite quickly. The sense of camaraderie was palpable. These bartenders aren’t in competition with each other. They are friends, and most have worked with or for each other at some point. It is a group of craftspeople at various points in their careers. There were smiles all around, some playful banter, and a lot of learning about each other’s jobs.
I said hello and hugged a few of the friends I’ve made, and the meeting began. It was some old and new business, some charity talk, some upcoming events, and then a presentation by Baker’s bourbon. At the end of the presentation, a round of Arepas was delivered, these ridiculous corn sandwiches with pork and pickled onions and magic. Punch was a bourbon Campari thing, the Baker’s Dozen, very tasty. It felt like we were taken in by a family for a day and I felt so welcomed by all involved. It was good to meet and share stories with some people I have known of in this industry for some time.
We met up with a Copper & Kings rep, had some amazing tacos and cocktails at the new place called Mercado, and talked shop. There were a few other industry folks there, just chilling on a Monday afternoon, studying or getting some computer work done. Food and drink were excellent.
We proceeded to the cleverly-hidden Volstead’s Emporium. To get in, we strolled down an alley and past some dumpsters, and after a few raps on the door, the metal slat opened and someone peeked out. The door guy let us in, sent us downstairs and into a luxurious, dimly lit bar. We snagged three of the five seats at the bar and met some real lovely dudes behind the stick. We chatted about some real nerdy stuff, as I’m wont to do: industry trends, weird cocktails we’d seen, and one of the tenders poured a small sample of a lamb-distilled mezcal. Some mezcals, called Pechuga, are distilled with raw poultry suspended above the pot to add a sort of savory, round richness. This mescal used lamb instead. Super weird, real delicious. We sort of parked and just ate and drank and made conversation with new friends and our rep buddy and his fiancé. It was very inspiring to see the sort of engagement these bartenders have with their craft. They made us a lovely Martinez with our Voyageur Aquavit. We closed out and the bartenders sent us with their greetings to Dustin, a dear friend who works with a few bars in Minneapolis, who we were to meet at Restaurant Alma.
We got to Alma and sat at the bar, presented with a three-column menu and a fixed price. Cocktails were ridiculous, intentional and clearly well-crafted. Turns out, the manager on duty that night was an old elementary school friend of mine. Our plan was to have a drink and share three courses between the two of us. Dustin arrived, and we decided to add another three courses. It was supposed to be like two dinners shared. What ensued was a dining experience so outstanding and lovely it made me laugh on more than one occasion, earning some weird looks from some of the service staff.
Dustin helped design some of the cocktails on the menu, and he knew a bunch of the service staff. I think our connections and the slow-ish pace of the evening prompted some fun from the kitchen and our bartender/server. We were handled by a lovely, professional gal named Scarlett and the new guy who was training. He did most of the talking, and was just charming as hell. It was never merely “what can I do for you?”. It was “how are you feeling tonight, what kind of direction do you want to travel with this experience?”. We listened to him describe the few dishes he had tried, and he described them with such alacrity and poetry that it was difficult to choose anything but his recommendations. We picked our 6 things, and sipped our drinks. The kitchen sent out an amuse bouche salad for each of us. The service staff chose a wine and we each got a solid few ounces. Each course that followed contained one extra dish, so we each had a plate in front of us. We went at it like friends, just passing the plates around to try everything. Each plate of each course also came with another well-curated wine pairing. The server brought us each three glasses every time food was brought out and walked us through the pairings. Bonkers. The food was extraordinary on its own, but the wines just made it explode. When the second course of three was brought out and it happened again, three more amazing wines paired to our food, I think that’s when I started laughing. The entrée course was accompanied again by an extra dish from the kitchen. We were thinking about closing our tabs, as dessert only seemed likely when we were contending with just two dishes per course. Our server suppressed any hope of leaving immediately by bringing us each a small dollop of sorbet, instructing us to cleanse our palates and prepare for the dessert course. Because there was a dessert course. There was some crazy ricotta dish, nice and savory, and then a sweet thing that escapes my memory, I believe it had some orange marmalade and a cake-y thing. And another wine, a magical Moscato d’Asti. The attention and service we received were seriously insane. A wee cup of espresso made its way out for each of us after our marvelous desserts.
I can’t even.
The shared snack we sought evolved into hours of food and wine and laughter, and I can imagine no more fitting an end to our evening than that tiny cup of espresso and sharing smiles and handshakes with our service team.
There is a fun rapport that develops between bartenders/servers and regular guests. There is another, similar type of rapport that develops if a guest is a fellow industry employee. It’s not like we try to impress when we are working, really. I guess that is a part of it, but it’s more like we acknowledge and respect the contribution each other makes to the whole industry. When we walked into those bars and made industry-specific conversation, the atmosphere changed. We skip a certain amount of small-talk and we proceed to genuine chat about drinks and food, about our tattoos or jewelry selection, about our weird nerdy passions in and out of the industry.
At every turn, we were greeted as if we were family. The Alma dinner was a romantic gesture on behalf of the bar and kitchen staff, a sort of “you are welcome here, and we hope you are not only having a good time, but that you leave here in better spirits than when you arrived; here is a token of appreciation for no other reason than you’re a part of our community.” The romance is what keeps me in the industry, those moments of transcendence when providing or receiving such service.
Bartending has been elevated these past decades from its post-prohibition position as a menial, transitional or dead-end job to a craft, a career worthy of some respect. There is a myriad of skills required to truly transport a guest from the world outside our doors to a place of comfort and community. Even more recently, the craft cocktail service has moved from a pretentious knowledge gap back to genuine hospitality. I read a sign every day I walk to work, outside an old church close to downtown Duluth. It paraphrases a quote from Henri J. M. Nouwen, “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.” Nouwen was a Dutch priest and theologian, and was writing about spirituality, but it gets at the kernel of magic revealed by truly exceptional service. It doesn’t matter as much anymore that your bartender knows the seven potential origins of the Martini, or has sampled age-old bottles of Chartreuse and considers the modern iteration sub-par. We go back to bars that treat us well, where we have developed friendships and had a great time. The kind of treatment we received isn’t only available to industry folks. It’s offered to friends, and any guest can become a friend.
For me, the most significant part of the trip wasn’t the extraordinary food or superb drinks. I loved watching and being included in the big family of bar and service folks. I think the biggest strength of a tightly-knit industry like hospitality is the sense that, no matter if our establishments are competitors, we are all on the same team. We all work and play together, eventually.
Wait. In the words of the Arthur theme song:
Everyday when you're walking down the street, everybody that you meet
Has an original point of view
And I say HEY! hey! what a wonderful kind of day!
Where you can learn to work and play
And get along with each other
You should reasonably have that song stuck in your head if you watched PBS in the 90’s at all. I’m not sorry. Cheers!
-Nicholas "Scuzzi" Pascuzzi
Photos: Caitlin Nielson, Vikre Distillery
©2017 Vikre Distillery. All rights reserved.
The holidays have got us dashing through the snow - no sleigh needed. Today we unwrap the 12 Days of Aquavit, quite literally, 12 days of Aquavit recipes, guaranteed to make your spirits bright.
To find Vikre spirits in stores and online, click here!
THE FIRST DAY OF AQUAVIT
Combine 1 ½ oz Øvrevann Aquavit, 1 oz St. Germain, & 3 oz blood orange juice. Top with a splash of soda water and strain into a glass over ice (unless it is realllyyy cold out)
THE SECOND DAY OF AQUAVIT
Add a shot of Voyageur Aquavit or Øvrevann Aquavit to a mug of strong coffee. Add brown sugar to taste and top with cream or a dollop of whipped cream.
THE THIRD DAY OF AQUAVIT
In a pint glass, combine 2 oz Voyageur Aquavit, 1 oz sweet vermouth, and 2 dashes Angostura Bitters. Add ice, stir, and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry!
THE FOURTH DAY OF AQUAVIT
Add 1 1/2 oz Voyageur, ¾ oz Lillet, ¾ Cointreau, & ¾ oz lime to your shaker. shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a coupe.
THE FIFTH DAY OF AQUAVIT
Make a grapefruit-sage syrup by stirring together 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup grapefruit juice, and a small handful of sage leaves until the sugar dissolves. Allow to infuse in the refrigerator overnight. Then, stir together 3/4 oz. of the grapefruit-sage syrup, 1 1/4 oz. Øvrevann Aquavit, and a squeeze of lime in a tall glass. Add ice and top with soda water. Garnish with a sage leaf.
THE SIXTH DAY OF AQUAVIT
Aquavit Old Fashioned
Stir together 2 oz Voyageur Aquavit, 1 tsp maple syrup, 3 dashes of grapefruit bitters. Serve on the rocks.
THE Seventh DAY OF AQUAVIT
AQUAVIT hot chocolate
Add one shot of Voyageur Aquavit or Øvrevann Aquavit to your cup of cocoa. Top with lots of whipped cream, AKA the best food group.
THE EIGHTH DAY OF AQUAVIT
Add 1 oz Øvrevann Aquavit, ¾ oz Ginger Liqueur (try Domaine de Canton), ½ oz lime juice, shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a flute glass, top with brut (dry) champagne.
THE ninth DAY OF AQUAVIT
aquavit bobby burns
In a pint glass, combine 2 oz Voyageur Aquavit, ¾ oz sweet vermouth, and ½ oz Bénédictine. Add ice, stir, and strain into a coupe glass.
THE tenth DAY OF AQUAVIT
Combine 1 ½ oz Øvrevann Aquavit, 1 oz lingonberry juice (sub cranberry juice), 1 oz orange liqueur (Cointreau), ½ oz lemon juice. Shake with ice for 20 seconds and strain into coupe glass.
THE eleventh DAY OF AQUAVIT
Put 1 ½ oz Øvrevann Aquavit, 1 Tbsp fresh lime, and 1 Tbsp maple syrup in your favorite mug. Top with hot water and stir until the maple syrup is dissolved. For an added twist, toss a few dried cranberries into your drink. Definitely eat them at the end.
THE TWELFTH DAY OF AQUAVIT
traditional drink option
Sip ice cold aquavit straight, accompanied by a beer (preferably a pilsner). protip: Chill your bottle of aquavit by leaving it in the snow.
It's repeal day! Prohibition officially ended four score and three years ago. (That's how they said 83 in the olden days). But guess what?! They didn't flip a switch and magically create a legal playing field/free market, nor did they magically flip a switch and eliminate the influence of criminal elements in the industry, nor did they magically flip a switch and create a wholesome and positive culture around alcohol.
Indeed, some of the compromises that were required to make repeal socially reasonable and politically palatable still significantly affect our work in the industry today. Add to those compromises the intervening decades of political wrangling and industry infighting between the big suppliers and distributors, and we work in a complicated patchwork of legal and practical limitations that make it hard to succeed as a small company. When we want to enter a new state, we have to investigate an entire array of new laws and practices, get the relevant licenses and comply with new reporting requirements, and find a new distributor who is willing to co-invest in developing a small brand, in spite of the many structural factors that make big brands much more attractive to distributors.
This history is the answer to many of your questions, including "Why can't you sell me a case of whiskey?" and "Why can't I buy your product in ___?" and "Why can't you just ship me a bottle?" and so on.
In the last zero score and four years (That's how they said not-very-long in the olden days.), Joel and Emily have been involved in local efforts to make life a little easier for craft distilleries. They've lobbied for legislation and testified before various state committees (with baby Espen in tow!), helping in a small way to pass the new laws that have allowed sampling at MN microdistilleries, then cocktail rooms, then very limited bottle sales.
These changes are important, and have made it much easier to get our product onto the tongues of all you good people. But we still have a long way to go to creating a level playing field for small producers, a healthy "drink less, drink better" culture, and of course to Vikre Distillery becoming the big company that can restrict newcomers from entering the industry. Just kidding.
Hey, at least it's legal to drink! So enjoy a glass of Northern Courage, and then work up the courage to call your legislators.
I'm pretty sure the best part of the holidays is the anticipation. Baking cookies, putting up lights and decorations, choosing a tree, and opening a door of your advent calendar each day of December as you wait for Christmas to arrive. Many of us have memories of opening up one paper door per-day to find a treasure. Maybe you were one of the kiddos who had an advent calendar with chocolate behind each door, or who got to fish a small present from a pocket on a wall hanging. (If you did, kid me was a bit jealous of kid you. Though I did love my paper calendar with surprise pictures.)
But, let's be serious, grown-ups deserve advent calendars too, right?
Conveniently... Advent has 25 days. A bottle has 25 ounces of spirit.
Coincidence? I think not!
So, we made a sticker - complete with hand-painted rosemaling by yours truly (Emily) - that you can affix to your bottle and TURN IT INTO AN ADVENT CALENDAR!!!!!! One little nip of spirit a day will keep you in the holiday spirit, wouldn't you say?! I like the idea of having a sip of aquavit after dinner each day until Christmas as a brief moment of meditation and calm in the midst of the bustle of a busy season.
We have them cutely printed up and ready for you to grab in our cocktail room at the distillery. We also dropped a handful off at Mt. Royal Bottle Shoppe and Lake Aire, if those places are easier for you to get to. They're totally free - no purchase necessary (though honestly, what's the fun of an advent bottle sticker without a bottle to put it on ;) ). We just want to spread cheer and holiday anticipation.
If you can't make it to one of these spots, no worries!
You can join in on the fun too! All you need is a printer, a pair of scissors, and a bit of tape.
I think Thanksgiving may be our best holiday. Christmas is actually my favorite holiday because I really love candles and Christmas trees and advent calendars. But, I think Thanksgiving is probably the best one. I, like many of us, need reminders of the powerful effect of thankfulness. I like to say I'm not a worrier, I’m a, ahem, troubleshooter. This means that to keep from getting down on life, I need to give myself little pep talks. If I sit, and really, truly think about, and let myself feel thankful for, the many wonderful things I have – life, health, family, clean sheets (not that often, but it’s great when I do), creativity, the lake, branches against the sky, a nose (seriously, never forget to feel lucky that you have a nose on your face; stick figures don't) – I feel much better. Sometimes, when I really feel like I'm messing up on things or something seems totally wrong, I make myself sit and feel thankful for the fact that I will somehow find the wherewithal and energy to make it better. And I think it helps. Which is like weird hippie voodoo combined with The Secret. Soooo, let’s change the subject. Pumpkin pie! Is really what Thanksgiving is about. I look forward to it all year long.
Some of my best ever Thanksgivings have been celebrations with friends, rather than family. Or, as it is now widely known: Friendsgiving. I am thankful (eh, eh, see? Thankful!) to live near my family now, and we can celebrate Thanksgiving together. But, rather than Thanksgiving and Friendsgiving being alternatives to one another, I now like to see them as complementary. i.e. a way of getting two meals with pumpkin pie (or at least something like it).
The most efficient and least stressful way of celebrating Friendsgiving, is to make it a potluck. But, if your friends are anything like Caitlin, our media manager, they’ll all just bring chips and salsa. So, if you are hosting, give your friends guidance as to what dish they should bring, based on their culinary affinity. You can even send them a suggested recipe (or two) each. That way, you’ll be sure to have a complete meal. To help you plan, we have assembled a menu for you, tailored for an arbitrary – yet compelling, we think – cast of archetypal characters. Which we made up entirely based on who could come to our actual potluck. We’ve assigned each person something to make complete with a link to the recipe(s).
You the host: Eschew a full-blown turkey for something simpler, but still Thanksgiving-y, by making turkey meatballs. Accompany these with a super simple cranberry-apple chutney. Then, make some mashed potatoes, or roasted sweet potatoes, or both! And, as the host, you’re in charge of a welcome cocktail. Here is a stunning seasonal favorite of ours that is easy enough that it requires no measuring, so you can set it out on the buffet and give basic instructions to people.
Pear Mule - Add one shot of Øvrevann Aquavit to a tall ice-filled glass. Top with a couple ounces of pear juice (or pear nectar) and a couple ounces of ginger beer. Squeeze in lime to taste.
Your friend who can’t cook: Tell them it’s ok, then ask them to bring crackers and a cheese plate (if they look bewildered, say: get a sharp cheddar, a brie, and a goat’s cheese, plus some olives). And they can bring a bottle or two of red wine (my personal suggestion would be pinot noir from Oregon or New Zealand).
Your friend who is a self-proclaimed foodie: Put them in charge of notoriously finicky Brussels sprouts. They may have a favorite recipe already, but if not, ask them to make Momofuku’s zinger of a side, which combines roasted Brussels with a funky, spicy fish sauce vinaigrette.
*Your friend who worked on the farm during college: They know what’s in season and what to do with it! Ask them to prepare a medley of roasted seasonal vegetables, like these roasted root vegetables with miso-maple sauce. (Tip: suggest that they use lime juice in the dressing instead of rice vinegar to give the earthy veggies extra brightness.)
Your friend who does CrossFit: Let’s face it, in addition to talking about how many burpees they did that morning, they talk about bacon all the time, so tell them to bring something with bacon. An especially delightful option is sautéed pears with bacon-mustard dressing.
*Your vegan friend: Make sure they have enough to eat by assigning them something substantial like roasted squash stuffed with wild rice dressing. (Note: the linked recipe includes butter, but this can be replaced with olive oil to make the recipe vegan.) If they’re willing, see if they could also make a mushroom gravy for everyone to enjoy. (Tip: for any gravy, the flavor of the stock or broth makes a big difference, so for a vegan gravy, make sure the vegetable stock is really good. Adding some miso also adds more richness.)
Your friend who stress-bakes: Will probably be more than happy to be in charge of dessert. If they are like me, nothing is more soothing for the soul than making pie crust. In this case, by all means let them make the pie of their dreams. But, if they’re one of the 98% of people who freaks out at the thought of making pie crust, suggest a crustless pumpkin custard accompanied by a plate of molasses-spice cookies. You, as the host, can supplement with whipped cream (and if you’re extra on the ball, some sorbet or baked fruit for anyone who is vegan or gluten and dairy free).
Your friend who knows what amaro is: Can have their chance to shine by providing ingredients for a bracing after-dinner cocktail to aid the digestion. Amaro and aquavit are both wonderful after a rich meal, so we came up with this digestif cocktail, if your friend is looking for inspiration.
The Bitter Norwegian - Stir 1 ½ oz. Øvrevann (or Voyageur) Aquavit, ¾ oz. Cynar, and ¾ oz. sweet vermouth with ice to chill. Strain into a glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with a cherry, if desired.
Skål! Happy Thanksgiving friends!
*Dish recommendations inspired by original recipes from Ellen Vaagen, Creator & Author of the soon-to-be-released blog, Vaagen's Vegan Sauce. Keep an eye out for more Vaagen & Vikre collaborations!
Follow Ellen on Instagram at @vaagensvegansauce
When visitors come on tours at our distillery, less than half know that whiskey is brown because of the barrel it aged in. Actually, any distilled spirit—whether it’s vodka, gin, whiskey, brandy, or rum— comes off of the still clear. When spirits are aged in barrels, though, they pick up color from the barrel. But, barrels don't just contribute color that barrels to the wine and spirits that age in them. Barrels are integral to the flavor of spirits and wine in several different ways.
Whether you’re one of the people who knew why whiskey is brown or one of those who didn’t, I’m now here to tell you about as much as you could possibly want to know about the beautiful marriage of alcohol and wood, without getting intensively into organic chemistry.
Very close to 100% of the barrels used for aging alcohol are oak. This was originally a happy accident that happened way, way in the past. At least 2,000 years ago, people were making oak barrels, which came into popularity as a vessel for transporting wine during the Roman Empire. Oak was, and is, a remarkable wood in that it’s both water tight and slightly porous. Because it was water tight, wine didn’t leak out, and because it was porous it allowed tiny amounts of oxygen to travel through it. People discovered this aeration improved the wine that was in the barrel, making it softer and smoother. Similarly, as spirits began to appear in the 1400’s and 1500’s, they were stored in barrels out of necessity—glass bottles didn’t really appear on the scene until the 1600’s—and drinkers found spirits that had been shipped in oak barrels tasted better than, well, the moonshine that comes straight from the still.
So, what’s happening in the barrel?
Some of the structure of oak comes from a type of compound called lignins. These are an important component in the cell walls of all wood cells, so they’re not at all unique to oak. However, what’s special about the lignins in oak is they break down into flavor molecules that absorb into the alcohol inside the barrel. One of the most notable of these compounds is vanillin, which (no surprise) gives a vanilla flavor and smell. In fact, the amount of vanillin that comes from American oak is so high, oak lignin is sometimes used to make imitation vanilla extract. Other flavor compounds that come from oak lignins—like eugenol, furfural, and lactones—give wine or spirits fruity, spicy, nutty, or buttery flavors. These flavors come out most strongly if the aging barrel is new, that is, it hasn’t already been used for aging another batch of wine of spirits. If the barrel has been previously held something else—like sherry, or port, or bourbon—it will impart a little of those flavors into the barrel’s next occupant.
Now, as I previously mentioned, oak is slightly porous. Because of this, it allows for a process called micro-oxygenation. Basically, small amounts of oxygen travel in and out of the barrel. The tiny, gradual amounts of oxygen mean that the wine or spirit doesn’t oxidize, but it does catalyzes a variety of chemical reactions that can only happen when there is oxygen present. Molecules swap atoms and functional groups, and make new flavor compounds, particularly a group of compounds called esters, that taste better and more complex (for example, fruity, creamy, floral) than the molecules that were originally present. In particular, these are the hallmarks of a fine Scotch or cognac.
A final thing to think about is some wines and spirits are aged in American oak, while some are aged in French or European oak. European oak is denser, and it has more tannins. Yes, oak has its own tannins, separate from the tannins that come from the grape skins in wine making. These oak tannins can give some astringency, but also create active sites for reactions that create more delicate, complex scents and flavors. The denser structure of the European oak also means the micro-oxygenation process is slower. Yes, aging takes longer, but, again, in the end this slow-process can generate some of the incredible balance and complexity people consider integral to great wine and spirits.
Opposite of European oak, American oak is bolder and brasher (go figure!). It gives more intense and distinct flavors of vanilla, butterscotch, and even coconut. This is the signature flavor of most bourbon, as well as some of the butch American styles of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay.
See: The barrel’s a beautiful marriage of alcohol and wood. It’s something everyone, whether or not you knew beforehand why whiskey is brown, can agree on.
Your choice of four of our spirits,
tonic, soda & lime
Øvervann Aquavit, gløgg spices, hibiscus soda, lime
Boreal Cedar Gin, fresh pressed apple cider,
cardamom ginger switchel, beet juice
Voyageur Aquavit, faux-pari (bittersweet citrus liqueur), sassafras vermoose, orange twist
Choice of clear spirit (we recommend trying Boreal Spruce Gin!), house-made lime cordial
E.T. FOAM HOME
Lake Superior Vodka, cream, sweet corn simple syrup, blackberry foam
Boreal Juniper Gin, pear vermoose, citrus twist
_____ & TONIC
Your choice of clear spirit,
house tonic, lime
REALLY OLD FASHIONED
Choice of clear spirit, sugar, bitters, orange twist
With Voyageur +3 With Sugarbush +5
Neat or on the rocks
ONE EPICALLY DELICIOUS SNACK
NW Smokehaus salmon, salami, beet pickles, sweet spiced nuts, blue cheese ball with caraway brittle, dill butter, goat cheese, rye crackers
JUST THE NUTS
Vikre Distillery does not prize certainty. We don’t prize efficiency. We don’t aspire to dial everything in and let it run. We’re ambivalent about mechanization, automation, and procedure. We instead prize creativity, innovation, experimentation, improvisation, and above all, craft.
This led us to a recent apparently stupid experiment: malting our own barley. In old Scotland barley was grown near distilleries, malted on site in a process called floor malting, and kilned over peat fires. We’re working towards making a single malt whiskey that truly reflects our own wild place. So we have a couple local farms growing barley for us, and we have Lake Superior water, and we have local peat. The obvious next step was to malt our own barley.
About a week ago we took half a ton of this local barley and steeped it in a stock tank. It quickly took on a terrible smell of cheese. We started aerating it, which turned our stock tank into a giant bubbling cauldron of stinky cheese. After steeping we shoveled it out into big cheesy piles on the floor, turning it a couple times a day. We were looking for signs of germination, which we didn’t see, so we shoveled it back into the tank for more steeping. Then we shoveled it back onto the floor for a couple more days, and then raked it out into a uniform stinky cheese layer. After about a week, absent signs of germination and tired of smelling like cheese, we gave up.
We had failed. And we had made an absolutely epic mess.
We brewed the grain anyway of course, as one would brew raw rather than malted grain, and it’s fermenting away as we speak. Then we started cleaning up. There was barley in every possible nook and cranny, stuck in every grate and drain.
But guess what? It was sprouting! We had malted barley, everywhere!
We succeeded, sort of! Call it a learning opportunity, or a mostly failure, or a qualified success. Whatever you call it, we’re one step closer to that perfect local single malt, and we’re having fun. We’ll take it.
On August 7, 1947, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl and a crew of five other Scandinavians smashed their raft, The Kon-Tiki, into a reef just off the shore of an island in Polynesia. Remarkably, Thor and the whole crew made it safely to shore and the trip—a 4000-mile raft journey from South America powered only by drifting—was proclaimed successful. (Heyerdahl was trying to prove that it was possible that Polynesia had been populated by South Americans who had drifted there. He showed it was possible. But, his theory is generally considered incorrect based on other evidence.)
This literal smashing of Scandinavians into a corner of Polynesia was on my mind as I watched star bartenders Jon Olson and Adam Gorski (who have recently started a company called TruePenny serve up a special Scandinavian-Tiki menu at our distillery in northern Minnesota.
Remarkably, it wasn’t the first time I’d tried Scandinavian-Tiki. The first place I had come across Northern-inflected Tiki was at a pop-up Tiki bar inside the Twin Cities restaurant Eat Street Social, which opens unpredictably to serve expertly executed and dangerously drinkable Nordic-Tiki drinks.
The idea was instantly interesting to me, and I made note of it each subsequent time I stumbled across a mention of a Nordic-Tiki pop-up or cocktail in Minnesota (plus a couple in Norway and Denmark!). It’s just a handful, but added to the event we recently hosted ourselves, I’ve noticed enough drinks and mentions that I’m starting to think of it as a sort-of micro-trend.
Nordic or Scandinavian-Tiki sounds like incongruous fusion: Can you think of anything less tropical than Scandinavia? (The difference between Scandinavian versus Nordic is, in principle, the question of whether Finnish influence is included—Finns are Nordic but not Scandinavian—however in practice, at least in the Tiki-fusion realm, I think there’s no difference.)
Maybe it’s just because Tiki has seen a resurgence in popularity over a similar time frame as the growth of interest in Nordic cuisine. But, I think there’s more to it: The hot-cold duo feels less incongruous if you understand the escapist fantasy roots of Tiki cocktail culture.
The genesis of Tiki cocktails as we know them—fruity, boozy, dolled up with coconuts, parasols, and flaming limes—can be traced back to the 1930s and a gentleman named Ernest Gantt. Gantt, who became known as Don Beachcomber, opened the world’s first Tiki bar in 1934, serving tropical, supposedly Polynesian-inspired cocktails and food.
In post-prohibition L.A., his establishment “Don the Beachcomber” was an instant and enormous hit. It grew into a chain and spawned many knock-offs and one significant rival, the equally excellent Tiki chain Trader Vic’s (founded by “Trader” Vic Bergeron around the same time). Tiki became a sensation.
Though Tiki décor and apparel drew on American conceptions of Polynesian culture, the cocktails (and the food, too, actually) were not Polynesian at all. In his book Potions of the Caribbean, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, one of the foremost current disciples of Tiki, explains how both Don Beachcomber and Trader Vic actually drew on traditional cocktails, punches, and ingredients from the Caribbean, but cloaked them in Polynesian garb because it seemed far more exotic to Americans who were hungry for a sense of escape to a land far away.
So, while we think of tropical-fruited, flower-garnished Tiki drinks as something to drink while sitting on a white sand beach in a tropical paradise, their actual purpose was to help you pretend you were in such a place when you definitely weren’t. And who, I ask you, is in more need than a tropical escapist fantasy than we who live in the minus forty-degree, snowed-in, icy lake-dotted frozen north?
But we can’t quite leave it there. As anyone who has ever listened to Garrison Keiler’s tales from Lake Wobegon knows, we Nordic types also believe in suffering. We think being cold and slightly miserable are slightly good for you, and we are secretly proud of the humble ingredients and culture we have.
We couldn’t let tropical drinks be just tropical drinks—we had to inflect them with a little cold stoicism, thus Nordic-Tiki: It takes the flavors of the tropics and layers them with flavors of the tundra, coaxing them into harmony. To Tiki’s pineapple, falernum, rum, and orgeat, we add dill and beets, hazelnuts, aquavit, and rhubarb. In a way, it’s a more earnest expression of Tiki’s promise of escaping while staying home. And Minnesotans are ever earnest.
Because the Scandinavian-Tiki inspired drinks I’ve tried have actually been quite wonderful, I think it’s a micro-trend worth knowing about—and maybe even exploring at home.
Like regular Tiki (as if there’s ever been anything regular about a drink scene that includes monkey head-shaped mugs!), Nordic-Tiki is more of an attitude than a new set of rules or principles for drink making. But, based on my observations and drinks I’ve tried, here are some things to consider if you do want to give a little tropical-tundra fusion a test drive:
- While Tiki drinks usually rely on rum, more northern-leaning spirits like aquavit, gin (juniper berries are a classic part of Nordic cooking and gin is juniper flavored), and apple brandy are also totally happy to make nice with tropical flavors like pineapple, lime, passion fruit, and even coconut.
- Orgeat, an almond syrup, is a Tiki staple, and what do you know?! Almonds are used in Scandinavian baking all the time— an easy overlap! To get even more Nordic, you could make your own orgeat with other northern nuts like hazelnuts and walnuts (the simplest way to do this is make a nut milk and then mix it with an equal volume of sugar and a spoonful or two of brandy to make your syrup).
- Tiki drinks also nearly always incorporate a spice element, especially nutmeg, allspice or cloves, and cinnamon. Add some cardamom to those, and suddenly you have the set of spices that are typically used across Scandinavia for baking and mulling wine.
- Tiki drinks tend to layer in fruit juices, syrups, or liqueurs. Tropical fruits make drinks taste Tiki, but you can combine those fruits with syrups or juices made from more typically northern fruits like lingonberries, currants, rhubarb, apples, or pears.
- Finally, perhaps most importantly of all, whatever you make just garnish, garnish, garnish! Because, I’m pretty sure the colorful garnishes are really what make you feel like you’re on vacation.
There are many things you don’t really need to make yourself. You don’t need to make your own furniture, or jewelry, or cheese. But, sometimes these things are fun and challenging to make, so you choose to make them yourself in spite of the fact, or perhaps precisely because of the fact, that you don’t need to.
For me, vermouth falls into this category. My favorite vermouth is Cocchi Vermouth di Torino. It’s a sweet (sometimes known as red or rosso) vermouth, and I love it. It’s perfect just as it is. Buuuuut, that hasn’t stopped me from tinkering, and tinkering, and tinkering some more in an attempt to make a vermouth myself that I like just as much (or, at least, almost as much). It seemed like a fun challenge.
Vermouth is aromatized, fortified wine. That is, wine that has been infused with herbs and spices (aromatized) and has had a higher-proof spirit added to it (fortified). Sweet vermouth also has caramelized sugar added to it. It was likely originally a way of taking wine that was not very good—or was getting past its prime—and covering up the off flavors. Additionally, the higher proof helps the wine keep longer before becoming completely oxidized.
So, I surmised, vermouth was something you could make at home to save sub-par wine—and there are no particularly fancy techniques and equipment involved in making it. Obviously, this meant I may as well try to make my own. The internet doesn’t precisely abound in DIY vermouth recipes, but they are certainly out there, and I think I’ve tried nearly all of the recipes a simple search turned up. And I haven’t liked any of them. But they gave me ideas, understanding, and a base from which to experiment.
Here are some of the important points I’ve learned in my journey towards making a vermouth I like:
1. Even though vermouth is not meant to start from good wine, you will taste the wine that’s in there, so don’t start with a wine you really don’t like. I tried making a couple of batches to use up some bottles of white wine that I didn’t like because I tasted fermentation flaws in the wine. I still tasted those in the vermouth, and it made it disgusting. Vermouth is usually made from dry white wine, and I like to use one that doesn’t have super fruity notes. Cheap, but not terrible, Pinot Grigio has become my go-to.
2. Don’t go overboard on the herbs and spices. It turns out a little goes a long way. Many recipes for vermouth call for too-large of quantities of many potent herbs, and the resulting vermouth feels like an apothecary is trying to punch you in the mouth. Of course, this makes it hard to make small batches of vermouth because for a single bottle of wine you might be measuring things in 1/12th teaspoons or a couple of grams. It’s annoying, but it’s doable.
3. Vermouth is supposed to have one or more bittering agents, including wormwood (from which vermouth gets its name) as well as other options like cinchona bark, gentian, dandelion root, or burdock root. Again, be very careful with how much you use, especially with gentian, which is potently bitter. I have had the best luck with using half as much (or less) gentian than most recipes seem to call for.
Some traditional recipes for vermouth call for really unusual herbs. You can find many of them from online sources, at Mountain Rose Herbs, for example. But be forewarned, if you start Googling and clicking without paying adequate attention, you might accidentally find yourself on a web forum for aspiring witches. (At least, that is what happened to me when I went searching for what mugwort was.) I haven’t included mugwort (nor some of the other obscure things, like blessed thistle, calamus, or centaury) in my own recipe.
4. There are several ways of steeping the herbs in your vermouth. You can steep them in the higher proof alcohol for a week. You can steep them in your wine for a week or two. Or you can heat some of your wine, steep the herbs in the hot wine, then add the rest of your alcohol, allow everything to cool, and then strain. I have found I like this hot steeping method best. There’s less over-extraction of the herbs, plus you get more instant gratification.
5. Adding some sherry or port helps give your vermouth the signature fortified wine flavor that you can’t get just by spiking regular wine (because the ingredients don’t get to age together in a barrel).
After learning all of these things, I have finally come to a sweet vermouth recipe that I really like quite well. It’s still no Cocchi di Torino, but it makes an excellent Manhattan or aperitif to drink over ice. Now, this has a pretty long list of ingredients, and I have a completely unfair advantage because I own a distillery and therefore have things like wormwood and angelica on hand. But once you procure the herbs, the rest of the process is pretty easy. If it sounds at all fun to you, give it a try!
Emily's DIY Sweet Vermouth
Makes about 4 to 5 cups
- 1 (750 ml) bottle dry white wine (I use pinot grigio)
- 1/2 teaspoon wormwood
- 1/6 teaspoon gentian root
- 1/12 teaspoon angelica root
- 1/12 teaspoon chamomile
- 1/3 inch piece of vanilla bean
- 1/3 tablespoon orange peel
- 3 rosemary leaves (like, the actual little leaves, not whole sprigs)
- 1 sage leaf
- 1 basil leaf
- 1/4 teaspoon thyme
- 1 cup tawny port
- 1 cup brandy
- 1 cup scant (about 9/10ths cup) sugar
Back in July, my younger brother and his girlfriend were in town, visiting from Oslo. They were here for my other brother's wedding, but while I had them captive I thought, why not put them to work in a project idea I had had tossing around in my mind for a while? Why not, indeed? I wanted to create a series of photos of very urban-looking bartenders serving fancy cocktails to people out in the beautiful wild spaces we have in Duluth. To try to capture the spirit of who we are, the idea that world class spirits can be made in far-flung, wilderness-y places.
I don't think my brother or his girlfriend had any idea what I was getting at, but they were game to come with us out into the woods. So, we gathered together our canoeing, fishing, hiking, and stand-up paddle board gear, along with fancy glasses, garnishes, shakers, and fake tattoos (for Caitlin and me. Neither of us have enough real tattoos to pull off the bartender look, haha). We picked up Even and Eline and headed out for a hilarious and fun day of bartending in the out of doors. Though they go for insanely epic hikes and XC-skis in Norway, Even and Eline didn't really know how to canoe or SUP. But they learned quickly while we focused on applying our tattoos and trying not to break any delicate coupes or let the garnishes wilt too fast in the heat of the day.
We thought we would share the photos with you because we think the best spirits really are made in the wildest places. And because I find them amusing. And yes, I definitely did fall off of a stand up paddle board fully clothed, which is why I'm standing in the water in the second picture. I did not spill any of the drink!
We believe in Happy Hour. Firstly, we like happiness. Secondly, we very much like the ritual of gathering together with a few friends in the early evening to share a nice drink, maybe a little snack, and have a bit of conversation before we hit the dinner hour.
So, when our friends at Northern Waters Smokehaus (hi guys! we love you!) asked if we'd be interested in coming up with cocktail suggestions for pairing with a couple of their gorgeous cured meats and other nibbles we thought we'd do them even one better and create five pairings - a whole work-week's-worth, if you will! - perfect for happy hour.
(Obviously there is no need to have happy hour every day for a week. But it seemed fun to assign each pairing to a particular day, right? However, feel free to use our suggestions any day you want, for a special day or to celebrate the ordinary.) (Also, as a side note: to keep things simple, we decided to do all cocktails that use our Cedar Gin, but you could also swap it for Juniper Gin to make a more piney, punchy version of any of these cocktails.)
Monday: I think a traditional Negroni is perfect as it is, but it's also a remarkable jumping off point for creative variations. The central flavor in a Negroni is Campari, and I think Campari is delicious with raspberries, so we muddled some raspberries into a lightened up Negroni for an ever so lightly fruity take on this bittersweet classic.
- 8-10 raspberries (you can use frozen ones, but defrost them first)
- 1.5 oz. Boreal Cedar Gin
- 1 oz. sweet vermouth (our favorite kind is Cocchi Vermouth di Torino)
- 3/4 oz. Campari
- Gently smash the raspberries in the bottom of a stirring glass. Add the remaining ingredients and stir with ice for about 20 seconds. Strain into a lowball glass over an ice cube (or two). Garnish with a coin of orange peel (you can flame it if you like, but you don't have to).
Pair with: Lonzino - the most amazingly buttery, nutty cured pork you can imagine (a bit like prosciutto on deliciousness steroids) and dark, sweet amarena cherries.
Tuesday: Do you know what a French 75 and a Bee's Knees are? Even if you don't, just know that if you mash-up those two cocktails and add a pinch of thyme, you'll get this delightful herbal, sweet-tart, bubbly little number. It's a well known fact that champagne makes everything better, including Tuesdays.
- 1 scant tsp. fresh thyme
- 1/2 oz. lemon juice
- 1 heaping tsp. honey
- 1 oz. Boreal Cedar Gin
- brut Champagne (or any dry sparkling wine), chilled
- Combine the thyme, lemon juice, and honey in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Stir until the honey dissolves. Add the gin and then ice and shake hard for about 10 seconds.
- Double strain (that is to say, strain through your cocktail strainer plus another fine mesh strainer like a tea strainer) into a cocktail coupe or champagne glass.
- Top with your sparkling wine.
Pair with: The Smokehaus's scrumptious saucisson sec, their boursin cheese (which, by the way, is mind-bogglingly good) and some crusty bread.
Wednesday: It's Hump Day! A Martini is in order. A Martini is the perfect pre-dinner drink; it whets the appetite like no other. However, instead of a traditional gin Martini, I like to trade the dry vermouth out for something just a little less dry (mostly I find dry vermouth to taste too oxidized for me), particularly Cocchi Americano (another type of herbed and fortified wine) to go with our musky Boreal Cedar Gin. Cocchi Americano can be hard to track down (if you're in Duluth, they do have it at Mt. Royal Bottle Shoppe), so if you can't find it you could try Lillet Blanc instead.
- 2 oz. Boreal Cedar Gin
- 1 oz. Cocchi Americano
- 3 dashes orange bitters
- Stir all ingredients with ice until very well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass. No garnish.
Pair with: beautifully smoky and piquant Smokehaus chorizo, plus some Castelvetrano olives. Because you are fancy.
Thursday: Thursdays call for a simple drink and a satisfying snack. So, we paired up a straightforward, but delicious, Cedar Collins with some pork loin. It did the trick.
- 1.5 oz. Boreal Cedar Gin
- 1 oz. fresh lemon juice
- 3/4 oz. simple syrup (to make simple syrup, just combine equal parts sugar and water and stir until the sugar dissolves)
- soda water
- Stir together the gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a tall-ice filled glass. Top with soda water and stir to make sure everything is combined.
Pair with: Smoked pork loin from the Smokehaus - which makes me think of Christmas and 4th of July picnics all rolled into one remarkable sliced meat. It's so good. Then, add apricot preserves (they also have that at the Smokehaus), crackers, and some toasted, spiced nuts. You may not need dinner.
Friday: Ok, personally I don't get brunch, and I don't get Bloody Mary's. And no amount of attempting to convince me will change my mind. Sorry! However, I accept that many people like them very much. And so, on Friday, perhaps you're already looking forward to the weekend so much that you want to taste it by having a Bloody Mary. But instead of a standard Bloody Mary, let's up our game with a tomato shrub. It sounds complicated, and it tastes complex, but it's a breeze to make. And it's just as amenable to a meal's worth of garnish as a regular Bloody Mary.
- 1 cup chopped fresh tomato
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup white wine vinegar
- Worcestershire sauce to taste
- Combine the tomato, sugar, and vinegar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cover and bring to a gentle simmer. Allow to simmer (still covered) for about 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes have rather broken down and released their juices. Strain into a jar, allow to cool, then stir in some Worcestershire sauce to taste, if you want. (You can keep the remaining tomato solids and use them kind of like a tomato jam, if you don't mind peels and seeds, I suppose.) The shrub will keep for up to a month covered in the fridge.
- To make a cocktail: Shake 2 oz. Boreal Cedar Gin and 1.5 oz. of the tomato shrub with ice. Strain into an ice filled glass and garnish with your favorite Bloody Mary garnishes.
Our Garnish: A chunk of Smokehaus bison buddy, a piece of sharp cheddar, an olive, and a rolled anchovy.