Making Negronis with Emily Vikre and Erik Eastman

About a million years ago, we took over our lovely friend Melissa, aka the Faux Martha's, kitchen to make negronis and talk about them.  Because, seriously, how else would you want to spend a day?  It was awesome.  Anyway, because it's officially Negroni Week, we thought we'd share the whole, mostly unedited (except for a few little bleeps and bloops snipped out) conversation.  And, though the prevailing advice of the internet is that no one has a longer attention span than 30 seconds these days, we believe in people.  We believe there must be at least 2-7 other people out there who want to spend 30 minutes thinking about negronis.  It's like a podcast.  With some video.  It's a video cast!  It's TVikre!  Here it is:

The Vikre Voyage

We went on a voyage!  Well, a small voyage. A voyage around town.  Why? Because Duluth is rockin’, and we thought it would be fun for everyone involved to showcase what’s happening in Duluth bartending these days - using Vikre spirits, because we’re partial to them ;).  And we did it on Norwegian Constitution Day because May 17th is one of the most celebratory days of the year!

We had 13 venues participate, bringing their passion and their own restaurant/bar’s particular style to their cocktail contributions.

 
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We know what you’re thinking. “13 bars!?!” Yup, 13 bars.  With some help from our friends at Day Tripper and a designated driver, and mini cocktails (mini cocktails are cluuuuutch), our group of cocktail curious voyageurs stopped by more spots than you can count on two hands.

 
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Our judging panel was made up of local bartenders who submitted scores and comments to the Vikre team for tallying.  Because judges came and went, we crowned our winner by finding the best average score. Despite our deepest desires, we avoided the temptation of giving out extra points for snacks provided at our pit stops, but we are definitely giving extra props to the venues that took care of our eating needs in addition to their signature tipples.  You’ve earned a special place in our hearts. Because the way to our hearts is most certainly through our stomachs. Also, everyone take note, tea and ginger appear to be the trends for the summer!

 
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And now, we invite you to come on a cocktail voyage with us! The winner is named in their photo description. (Click on the photos and hover to see the complete descriptions! If on mobile, look for the *tiny* circle in the lower right hand corner of your device. Tap the circle for the complete descriptions.)

Special Thanks to Day Tripper of Duluth for the sweet van, Josh Nickila for photographing every drink WITH a menu (so helpful), and all of our judges!

 
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Until next year, cheers!

 

We Are Hiring!

Tasting Team

Seeking in: Minneapolis, Duluth, Madison, Milwaukee

Vikre Distillery is an award-winning craft distillery located in Duluth, Minnesota.  Founded in 2013, we make distilled spirits inspired by a passion for flavor and informed by our terroir. We have a fun, ambitious, committed team of 25 people and a sales network that spans 12 states. As we grow, we are looking for motivated people to focus on increasing our sales in existing accounts and strategically growing our distribution footprint.

Responsibilities

Sell and showcase Vikre spirits 

  1. Attend in-market events and store tastings and provide samples of our spirits and cocktails. Provide friendly customer service, be an excellent ambassador, and share a thorough understanding of what makes Vikre unique. 
  2. Provide account-level sales support 

Help guide brand growth in market(s)

  1. Review market interactions with strategic, data-driven insight
  2. Provide personal insight into ways to increase sales, based on experience in market

Other duties as assigned

Expectations

  1. Travel, including driving
  2. Ability to work up to 2 hrs away from home
  3. Flexibility and creativity to thrive in a young company 
  4. Integrity, independence, being a good person
  5. Timeliness, professionalism
  6. Ability to get along with these people http://www.vikredistillery.com/meet-our-team
  7. Commitment to these values http://www.vikredistillery.com/triplebottomline/

Qualifications

  1. Minimum of 2 years experience in customer service / bar/restaurant industry
  2. Prefer someone well connected in the bar/restaurant industry
  3. Demonstrated ability to work independently 
  4. Proven customer service and sales skills
  5. Ability to carry up to 20 pounds
  6. Method of transporting self, and supplies, to and from events

Compensation

  1. $15/hour, 7-15 hours a week 
  2. In-town/area transportation (under 30 minutes) is not reimbursed. Above 30 minutes, the below rules apply.
    1. Personal vehicle travel reimbursed at $0.25/mile
    2. Parking reimbursed in addition to mileage rates

Next steps

  1. Send your info to abigail@vikredistillery.com 

Vikre X Red Wing Heritage

We were super honored to get to be part of Red wing Heritage's Spring/Summer women's catalog.  It's always fun and amazing to get to work with other companies who are passionate about craft and process.  And it sure doesn't hurt when they let you wear their super comfy and durable shoes and boots for the day!

Check out some more of the photos from the day and an interview with Emily over on the Red Wing Journal in their Faces of Red Wing series.

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Deep Winter Menu

TASTING FLIGHT - 8

Your choice of four of our spirits, 

house tonic, soda & lime

 

_____ & TONIC - 7

Your choice of clear spirit,
house tonic, lime

 

ORANGE WHIP* - 9

Øvrevann Aquavit, Bent Hop syrup, orange, lemon, grapefruit, fizz

 

PLANET OF THE APRICOTS* - 11

Lake Superior Vodka, apricot wine,
green tea liqueur

 

GRAPE GATSBY - 11

Lake Superior Vodka, Boreal Spruce Gin, red grape "Vermoose"

 

AMBASSADOR - 12

Voyageur Aquavit, saffron orange liqueur, lemon, orange blossom water

 

FLEMING FLOREY & CHAIN - 12

Honor Brand Hay & Sunshine Whiskey, lemon, ginger,

honey, lapsang souchong float

 

EASY LOVER - 11

Honor Brand Hay & Sunshine Whiskey, whole egg,

lemon, simple syrup, sherry reduction

 

MULL IT ØVER - 9

Øvrevann Aquavit, cranberry, glogg spices

 

MAMMA MIA - 1O

Boreal Spruce Gin, lemon, mastic tincture, white grape

 

REALLY OLD FASHIONED - 8

Choice of clear spirit, sugar, bitters, orange twist  

w/ Voyageur Aquavit or Hay & Sunshine Whiskey +3  

w/ other whiskey +5

 

WHISKEY - 9/10

Neat or on the rocks

*On Tap


EPIC SNACK PLATE - 12

NW Smokehaus salmon, salami, beet pickles, sweet spiced nuts, blue cheese ball with caraway brittle, dill butter, goat cheese, rye crackers

 

JUST THE NUTS – 3

 

Click here for our cocktail room hours and tour information!

 
 

Holiday Party Guide - New Year's Eve

I worked at a gallery for a few years, and at this place they played the same holiday music over and over.  I particularly remember hearing sumptuous voice of Ella Fitzgerald singing, "maybe it's much to early in the year, oh but I thought I'd ask you just the same, what are you doing, New Year's, New Year's Eve."  Which is a great song.  The first 500 times you hear it.  But anyway, my point here, really, is that maybe it's much too late in the year, oh but I thought I'd ask you just the same, what are you doing New Year's, New Year's Eve? 

My problem with New Year's is that I like bubbly drinks and sparkles.  A lot.  But, I also like being at home once 10 pm rolls around.  The solution?  New Year's at home with friends while still wearing sparkles!  It's doable.  I swear!  And, even if you've already got your New Year's plans figured out, we have some cocktail and food suggestions that are so dang good, you'll probably want to add them to your plans because you're not going to want to let this year end without giving them a try!  Read on...

THE DRINKS

The Bitter Frenchman - like a French 75, but with a sophisticated edge from a splash of Campari.

  • 1 oz. Boreal Juniper Gin
  • 1/2 oz. Campari
  • 1/2 oz. simple syrup
  • 1/4 oz. lemon juice
  • dry champagne, or other sparkling wine
  • Shake all the ingredients, except the champagne, with ice until chilled, then strain into a cocktail glass or champagne flute and top with the champagne.

Teatime with the Romanoffs - what you get when you take a Moscow Mule and replace the ginger beer with ginger syrup and champagne.  Completely worth fomenting a revolution for.

  • 3/4 oz. Lake Superior Vodka
  • 1/2 oz. ginger syrup 
  • 1/2 oz. lime juice
  • dry champagne, or other sparkling wine.
  • To make the ginger syrup, combine 1/2 cup finely sliced fresh ginger, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil, simmer for a couple minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to steep for at least an hour before straining.  Refrigerate for up to a week.
  • To make a cocktail, shake the vodka, ginger syrup, and lime with ice until chilled. Strain into a coupe or flute and top with the champagne.

Old Lang Syne Fashioned - an aquavit and maple old fashioned. Old acquaintance may be forgot, but not this cocktail.

  • 2 oz. Voyageur Cognac Cask Aquavit
  • 1 tsp. maple syrup
  • 2 dashed orange bitters
  • Stir all the ingredients with ice until well chilled.  Strain into an old fashioned glass over a large ice cube.  Garnish with an orange twist, if desired.

THE FOOD

Sauteed dates with sea salt - also known as one of the very easiest and very best appetizers I've ever made.

Spiced nuts - because it's not a party without bowls of nuts (I made this recipe without pretzels because of the number of us who are gluten free).

Butternut Squash compote and ricotta on toast - a) everything is good on toast and b) this butternut squash concoction is so good, you don't even need toast.

Fennel, apricot, and prosciutto salad - light but filling, and Italian-ish, which definitely equates to classy:  Trim and core 2 large fennel bulbs, then slice thinly with a mandoline and toss with 6 thinly sliced dried apricots.  Whisk together 2 Tbs. olive oil, 1 tsp. rice wine vinegar 2 tsp. lemon juice, and a tsp. each of dijon mustard and honey and a pinch of salt.  Use this to dress the fennels and apricots, then spread on a platter and nestle in torn pieces of prosciutto.

Orange, avocado, and olive salad - just because there are no vegetables growing at this time of year doesn't mean salads have to be boring:  Cut the peel off of 4 oranges, and slice them into disks.  Arrange these on a platter with sliced avocado (I used 2 avocados), a handful of olives, and a handful of fresh mint.  Drizzle with some lemon juice and olive oil and a sprinkling of salt.

Chocolate bark with mangos and ginger - follow these directions, and top the bark with chopped, dried mangos, chopped crystallized ginger, and a couple pinches of sea salt.  

 

a new Vikre

When we started this silly distillery enterprise, as an attempt to make sense of our lives and create something meaningful and rooted in its place, it was only natural to share our lives with you. Those of you who’ve been a part of things from the beginning have seen a lot. You’ve seen plumbing and construction, experimentation and foraging and recipe development, and a lot of cocktail pictures. But you’ve also seen our little distillery family grow into an awesome team of 25 people. You’ve seen our son Espen born and grow into an absolutely-age-appropriately-psychotic four year old. And you’ve seen our dog Squid gray considerably. Well, a new thing has happened; we’ve had another baby boy. This time it hasn’t gone the way we would have hoped. But things sometimes go sideways, that’s just part of the deal. Ask Dr. Seuss.  Here’s the story so far:

I’m sitting at the bedside of our new baby boy, Vidar. He’s a beautiful little guy with big eyes and pouty lips and a full head of hair. He’s lived outside the womb for a little over 10 weeks now. The entirety of that time has been spent in the intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. Vidar was born with a suite of structural heart abnormalities. We had about four days with him when, thanks to a magical medication that keeps the fetal circulation open, he seemed healthy. On the fifth day, he had surgery to repair his heart.

After what was by all measurable indicators a very successful surgery, Vidar did not recover the way his doctors expected. Deep one Tuesday night, about a week after the surgery, his blood pressure slithered out from underneath him, the way the waves carve the sand out from underneath your feet. The doctors revived him, in one of those TV hospital scenes where the room is full of doctors and nurses in gowns, shouting out medications and yelling things like “Don’t die on me now!” A study in the morning hours showed the walls of his heart were so thick that they couldn’t relax to let blood in to pump, like a muscle bound bro whose arms can’t hang down straight at his sides.

The doctors classified Vidar’s condition as idiopathic, meaning they didn’t know what caused his heart to swell. Over the weeks, we grew to like that word a lot. Something that arose mysteriously can disappear mysteriously, right? Instead of focusing on the negative possibilities, we just focused on hope, on positivity, on loving Vidar and appreciating the time we have with him. This worked on us. But more importantly, it worked on him.

After about a month of negative spiraling, Vidar slowly began to improve. Bit by bit they’ve been able to wean his medical support. He went from two IV poles dressed up like Christmas trees with bags and pumps and so many lines that they literally spent hours labeling and relabeling them, to now just a couple of pumps and lines. He went from IV sites in literally every limb, his neck, and his umbilical cord, slowly down to just one in his leg.

About two weeks ago they removed Vidar’s breathing tube. It was a complete and utter joy to see the bottom half of his face again. But Vidar became very agitated, and as he became agitated his heart would pump faster and faster, and his breathing would grow shallower and shallower, until the situation was quite dangerous. “I’m not sure he’s going to fly,” one of the doctors said. We just held him and bounced him and shushed him, attempting to calm him down, which is a challenge when you’re freaking out yourself. I felt a bit like the Heisman trophy, protecting the baby in my arms like a football, holding back the forces of re-intubation with a straight outstretched arm. As a short Jewish guy whose greatest hope on the sports field was to be picked second to last, this was a new feeling for me. But Vidar needed us to give him a chance.

It took about a week from extubation, but Vidar is a new baby now. He is calm. He’s gained some weight. They’re weaning his sedatives, so when he’s awake he’s more awake. Crucially, we can hold him now! So for most of every day, he’s lying in our arms in a rocking chair, just mooning up at us with his big deep eyes and cycling his feet like it’s the Tour de France. He’s begun to smile, and it’s like getting pierced in the heart with a happiness dagger every single time.

Emily and I instinctually tend toward privacy. Yes, we share some parts of our lives on the internet, but mostly the instagrammable parts, not the difficult stuff. Before Vidar’s birth, we were expecting to spend a week or two at the hospital, so we just put up maternity/paternity leave auto-replies on our email and skipped town. But the longer this has gone on, the more help we have needed. And our friends and family have stepped up in a way that surpasses imagination. Food and lodging and money have appeared just as we’ve needed them. And emotional support – visits and letters and pictures and candle lighting and toasts and prayers, have given us space to cry and be hugged. My faith that we have guardian angels, that there’s enough goodness in the universe to stand up the bad, has been restored. As I say that, I wonder if I ever really believed it until now.

Christmas is coming, and we have a very detailed plan to run around like chickens with our heads cut off, trying to balance the competing goals of being with Vidar, having a great Christmas with Espen and our families, ideally relaxing for a second, and eating a lot of Christmas cookies. We hope you have a wonderful holiday as well. New Years is approaching, and the days are beginning to get longer, and we are hopeful for Vidar’s continued healing and growth as the daylight returns. Please join us in praying for him and toasting to him and sending him healing vibes.

 

Love,

Joel & Emily

 
 

12 Days of Aquavit

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

Frostbite

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

Norsk Coffee

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

Voyageur Manhattan

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

Norse Reviver

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

Post-Parka Paloma

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 

The In-seiche-able

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 

lumbersexual

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 

Hot toddy

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.

 

Holiday Party Guide - Cookie Party!!!!

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'Tis the season folks!  And no matter what you're celebrating at this time of year, the long darks nights, and short days do beg to tinseled up with some festivities, plenty of parties with friends and family to remind us how cozy winter can be.  We love, loooove, gathering with friends and neighbors.  Our goal is always to host the party we want to go to ourselves.  And while that in no way makes us party experts, we still thought we'd share with you a few of our party plans for this year, in case you're looking for ideas and excuses for getting a few of your nearest and dearest together.  Just, you know, don't forget to invite us too! ;)

 First up, a cookie party!  Because cookies are even MORE FUN when you have drinks! and people to help with rolling and sprinkling!  And, Emily is so good at making cookies, hers have wound up in cookbooks.  Here's the sum total of your game plan:  Clear off as much counter space as you can in your kitchen, make the dough for a couple types of cookie ahead of time - so it's ready for rolling and baking right away - and gather up the ingredients to make some other kinds of dough with guests, then get ready for a flour-y and fun afternoon.  The great thing about cookie baking parties is they are the most fun when they are utterly casual and slightly chaotic.  At least, we tell ourselves that because we're pretty much always (more than) slightly chaotic.  

And here's what to serve!  

Here are some of our favorite cookie-making drinks:

Cedar Hot Toddy (makes 1)

  • 1 1/2 oz. Vikre Boreal Cedar Gin
  • 3/4 oz. lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz. maple syrup
  • 2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • hot water       

Stir together the gin, lemon juice, maple syrup, and bitters in a sturdy mug until well combined, then top with hot water.

Aquavit Milk Punch (makes 1)

  • 2 oz. Vikre Øvrevann Aquavit
  • 2 oz. heavy cream or half-and-half
  • a couple drops vanilla extract
  • 1/2 oz. simple syrup
  • nutmeg

Shake all the ingredients with ice until very chilled, then strain into a glass and sprinkle with a little grated nutmeg.  It's like egg nog, but no messing around with raw eggs!

For the kids (and chocoholics of all ages) make some perfect hot chocolate.  

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And here are a few of our very favorite cookie recipes:

Serinakaker - a traditional Norwegian buttery thumbprint cookie

Em's magical cardamom currant snickerdoodles 

Hazelnut chocolate grahams - for anyone who is gluten and dairy free

and Dorie Greenspan's World Peace cookies

A VERY-VIKRE ADVENT

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.  

Click here to download your Advent calendar plus step-by-step instructions!

FRIENDS GIVING PARTY GUIDE!

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.

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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).    

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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.

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*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.)

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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.)

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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.         

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Skål!  Happy Thanksgiving friends! 

xoxo Emily

*Dish recommendations inspired by original recipes from Ellen Vaagen, Creator & Author of the food blog, Vaagen's Vegan Sauce

Follow Ellen on Instagram at @vaagensvegansauce

Opera inspired cocktails

The vast, horizon-encompassing presence of Lake Superior gives rise to more than daring outdoor pursuits and nature inflected spirits.  The Lake also inspires incredible art and music made in Duluth.  And, while the town may be better known for Low the Band and Trampled By Turtles, it is also home to a remarkable professional opera company called Lyric Opera of the North (LOON).  I sat down with LOON’s General and Artistic Director Sarah Lawrence to chat a little about opera in Duluth, and to get some cocktail inspiration.

EV: You've said before about LOON, "We always use our outdoor voices," which I love.  What exactly does that statement mean to you, though?

SL: We DO use our outside voices! Opera is a sort of distillation of the human experience, sung out loud by voices trained to be heard in giant rooms, over an orchestra, usually without amplification. Even when we’re singing softly, we have to accomplish that in a way that is audible to everyone in the room.  It is, essentially, trained yelling.  Opera is remarkable in the way it can knock us sideways with bravura and volume, or it can slay us with tenderness. Opera takes any – all - of the most intensely personal experiences of a human life: new love, hope, joy, heartbreak, anger, envy, grief, loss – and sings those things out loud.

I asked Sarah which arias, or other bits of opera music, would make the best inspiration for cocktails.  She gave me a few of her favorites, and I ran with it.

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Sull’aria (The Letter Duet)

Marriage of Figaro, by Mozart

Countess Rosina’s husband, Count Almaviva has become infatuated with the lovely young Susanna, a servant in their household.  (Meanwhile Susanna is engaged to be married to Figaro.)  In this duet the Countess and Susanna come up with a plot to catch the Count in his attempted infidelity.  But, I think we should ignore the precise subject of the duet and focus on its ethereal quality.  This is the piece of opera music in the movie The Shawshank Redemption, about which Morgan Freeman’s character says, “to this day I don’t know what those two Italian ladies were singing about…I like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words and makes your heart ache because of it…And for the briefest of moments, every last man at Shawshank felt free.”  As incandescent and light as a summer breeze tickling you through an open window, this duet deserves a cocktail with those same qualities.

  • 3 cucumber slices
  • 6 mint leaves
  • 2 oz. Vikre Juniper Gin
  • ¾ oz. lime juice
  • ¾ oz. St. Germaine
  • ½ oz. simple syrup
  1. Gently muddle the cucumber and mint in a shaker.  Add the other ingredients and shake extremely well.  Strain into a lowball over ice.  Garnish with more mint and cucumber.
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Largo al Factotem

The Barber of Seville, by Rossini      

You would likely recognize this aria because it is the one featuring “Figaro,” sung over and over again.  And there have been plenty of spoofs on it, most famously one from Bugs Bunny.  This piece marks the grand entrance of Figaro, the Barber of Seville himself, onto the stage.  In those days a barber was useful for much more than simple haircutting, and Figaro sings of all his many talents, from shaving to lancing boils.  All the women want him, all the men want to be him.  Everyone wants Figaro (according to him at least)!  I imagine Figaro to be the type of person who would waltz into a bar and order the most complicated cocktail possible, namely a Ramos Gin Fizz.  In this version, however, the classic has been livened up with a little Seville orange, in the form of marmalade.   

  • 1 oz. egg white
  • 2 oz. Boreal Juniper Gin
  • 3 drops orange blossom water
  • ½ Tbs. marmalade
  • ½ oz. (1 Tbs.) simple syrup
  • ½ oz. (1 Tbs.) fresh lemon juice
  • ½ oz. (1 Tbs.) fresh lime juice
  • ½ oz. (1 Tbs.) heavy cream
  • 1 oz. soda water
  1. In a cocktail shaker, whisk the egg white a little bit with a fork.  Then, add the remaining ingredients except for the soda water.  Shake with no ice for about 25 seconds. 
  2. Open the shaker up, add a cup of ice cubes, close the shaker and shake with ice for at least another 30 seconds (traditional Ramos Gin Fizzes were supposedly shaken for anywhere from 8-12 minutes!). 
  3. Strain through the cocktail strainer and through a mesh strainer into an 8 oz. glass (with no ice in it).  Gently add the soda water down the side of the glass, and serve.
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Vissi D’Arte

Tosca, by Puccini

Opera is full of heart-wrenching arias, but Vissi D’Arte ranks among the very best of them.  This reflection on a life of art and religious devotion brings the whole opera to a standstill as the diva Tosca, who has been told she must give herself to the evil Baron Scorpia or else her love, the revolutionary Cavaradossi, will be executed, laments the impossibility of her situation.  “I have lived for art; I have lived for love…Why, why Lord.  Why do you reward me thus?” It is rich, nuanced, and bitterly gorgeous.  The Bijou, a stiff, complex cocktail named after jewels strikes me as the appropriate cocktail for Tosca.  This version uses Benedictine in place of Chartreuse and adds a cacao nib infusion for an extra bittersweet throatiness.     

  • 1 ½ oz. Vikre Cedar Gin
  • 1 oz. Cocoa nib infused sweet vermouth*
  • ½ oz. Benedictine
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  1. Stir all the ingredients with ice until well very well chilled (around 30 seconds).  Strain into a cocktail glass.    *To make cacao infused vermouth: combine 500 ml sweet vermouth and ¼ cup cacao nibs in a covered container.  Allow to infuse overnight then strain and store, in a sealed container, in the refrigerator.
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Hab Mir’s Gelobt

Der Rosenkavelier by Strauss

Possibly the most beautiful trio ever written.  In Sarah’s words: complicated, gorgeous, and DELICIOUS.  The trio is sung by the three central characters of the opera Der Rosenkavelier, her royal highness the Marschallin, the lovely Sophie, and Octavian – a young man, but the part is always played by a woman.  Octavian is in love with Sophie and has been working to save her from a ghastly marriage to a womanizing old man, who is royal but a boar.  Octavian’s plan succeeds largely because the Marschallin arrives on the scene and sets everything right.  This trio follows.  The Marschallin and Octavian have been lovers, and she sings of having always known he would fall in love with a younger woman but regrets it has happened so soon.  Meanwhile Octavian expresses his confusion between his feelings for the Marschallin and his love of Sophie.  And Sophie is generally bewildered by the whole situation and in awe of the Marschallin.  The piece develops to a sparkling rainbow of climax, the characters’ voices unite as they become of one mind, and the Marschallin releases Octavian and blesses his union with Sophie.  Inspired by the power of three women’s voices intertwining, this cocktail’s three main ingredients are each from a company that was founded by a woman: champagne from Veuve Cliquot, apricot liqueur from Marie Brizard, and gin from Vikre.  A small dash of rosewater is a nod to the silver rose that brings Octavian and Sophie to their first meeting.  (You can definitely use a different brand of champagne and/or apricot liqueur to make this cocktail, it’s just less symbolic.)

  • 1 oz. Vikre Spruce Gin
  • 1 oz. Marie Brizard apricot liqueur (or other good quality apricot liqueur, Rothman & Winter is excellent)
  • 3 drops rosewater
  • 3 oz. Veuve Cliquot, or other brut (dry) champagne
  1. Stir the gin, liqueur, and rosewater with ice to chill.  Strain into a flute glass or cocktail glass and top with champagne.
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Sous le Dôme Épais (The Flower Duet)

Lakmé by Léo Delibes

Another stunning duet for two sopranos, sung by Lakmé, the daughter of a Brahmin high priest, and her hand maiden.  The two young women go to pick flowers by the river and sing this duet.  During a moment alone, Lakmé is surprised by a British Officer.  A tragic (of course) love story ensues.  The flower duet is haunting in its sweetness and heady in its beauty, excellent qualities to inspire a cocktail.  In this cocktail, two strong spirits – cognac and aquavit – represent the two voices, the mix of vermouths is the supporting orchestra, and raspberry liqueur imparts a sweet floral quality.   

  • 1 oz. Vikre Øvrevann Aquavit
  • 1 oz. Cognac
  • ½ oz. Cocchi di Torino sweet vermouth
  • ½ oz. Dolin dry vermouth
  • ¾ oz. Chambord raspberry liqueur
  1. Stir all the ingredients with ice until well chilled.  Strain into a cocktail glass.

Into the woods

It's still camping season!  (In fact, if you're a crazy person like plenty of the people who live around here, even midwinter when it's below zero can be camping season.  You just need the right sleeping bag.  And maybe a dogsled team...)  And, one of the great joys of camping is warming up your innards with a simple cocktail at the end of the day.  

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We sat down with our friend Jake Boyce, who also happens to be the founder of the super amazing adventure guiding company Daytripper of Duluth, and we asked him for his favorite tips for making cocktails when you're out camping and working with a limited supply of (easily portable) ingredients. Unsurprisingly, he had plenty of advice based on his experience.  So, bring a flask or Nalgene of your favorite spirit and use one of these simple mixer ideas.

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Lemonade or lemon-lime electrolyte drink:  “Crystal Light lemonade is pretty much standard on all our trips, but any water enhancer/electrolyte mix is good,” says Boyce.  Just add some gin or aquavit to your lemonade once you’ve mixed it up, and there’s a drink right there.  If you have powdered ice tea with you as well, you can combine half lemonade and half iced tea with some vodka for a spiked Arnold Palmer.  Another option would be to smash some berries you pick along the trail with gin and add lemonade for a spiked berry lemonade delight!  If you use whiskey in place of the aquavit or gin, you have a trail whiskey sour.

Coffee:  You have coffee with you anyway, so you should certainly try using some for a cocktail.  Add some whiskey and brown sugar to a mug of coffee, and voila! Sort of Irish Coffee!  Use aquavit instead of whiskey and you’ll have a Norwegian Coffee.

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Sugar or Maple Syrup:  It’s not a camping trip without supplies for oatmeal and pancake breakfasts, which means you probably have some brown sugar or maple syrup with you.  Maybe both.  Mix a little of either with some whiskey and a spoonful of water, and you have something that’s almost an old fashioned.  If you have some clementine’s packed with you for healthy snacking, so much the better.  You can use a bit of clementine peel as garnish.  Now you’re fancy! 

And for those cool evenings, Boyce says, “how about a hot toddy with whiskey or gin?”  Smash some berries with sugar.  Add a shot of your preferred spirit, and top it up with some hot water.  “Perfect star watching drink.”

Hot cocoa:  Never forget to bring packets of Hot Chocolate mix with you when camping!  The only thing more relaxing than sipping cocoa by your campfire in the evening while listening for loon calls, is sipping cocoa with an added splash of aquavit or whiskey while listening for loon calls. Bliss.

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