When In Doubt, Make It!

One of the best things about being in a business where you’re making something is, well, making things!  I guess we have that ingrained into our psyches because even with a lot of the things that we could be hiring out to other people or buying finished, we generally opt to make it or do it or fix it ourselves.  Call it the brashness of the viking spirit (vikings totally made things, they didn’t just pillage them, I promise), or maybe it’s just lack of knowing that you could hire people to do these things.  Either way, here are a handful of the things we have made ourselves that you might not have known about…

1. Our furniture!  Ok, so maybe it makes people think of a Portlandia episode [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTcvmmOkqJI ] when I say, “Joel builds furniture.”  But he DOES!  Actually it was a mind-boggling experience for me when I discovered he built furniture for real.  We were living in our Boston apartment when he declared he wanted to build us a dining room table.  And I was like, ‘ok dear, that’s a really nice idea.  You do that, but maybe we should get an IKEA table for the interim (in my mind probably several years) time while you work on making the table.’  But, Joel refused an interim table, visited some reclaimed lumberyards (of course, because if you’re a guy who makes furniture, you’re going to use reclaimed lumber), and a couple weeks later we had a beautiful oak table.  A real one.  That was extremely sturdy, and in fact we are still using it now like 7 years later.  My mind was blown to smithereens.  But after I picked up the pieces and reinserted them into my head, I have never again rolled my eyes when he says he wants to just build something himself.  And thus, the tables, the bar, the counters, and the shelves at the distillery have been built by Joel in his woodshop in our basement.  

2.  Our plumbing!  Because, what better way to really know what does what on your equipment than by plumbing it all in yourself.  And, apart from all the burns, could soldering really be that hard to learn?  Only kind of.  Overhead soldering is not easy.  Anyway, our plumbing looks like a Rube Goldberg contraption, but this is actually because Joel has planned out every step of it ahead of time, making elegant curves and bends instead of just taking the easiest way out and then having to re-do or work around as new bits of plumbing get added.  Joel got into this partly because he wanted to do plumbing.  Wish granted!  I think he now spends 95% of his time plumbing.


3.  Our cocktail programme!  When Minnesota’s state laws changed to allow micro distilleries to have a cocktail roomme, we thought, let’s do it!  We didn’t know anything about running a small bar, or a big bar, or any kind of bar or even about bartending.  And we certainly didn’t know that an intelligent thing to do would be to start by hiring someone from the cocktail world to design a menu and a bar program and all that that entails, which is the normal thing to do.  Amazing the things you can figure out how to do yourself, though, when you don’t know there are other options.  So we started to teach ourselves all about liqueurs, and bitters, and amari, and ice, and cocktail equipment.  Luckily, liquid learning is not at all an unpleasant type of learning, and over time our lovely cocktail room was born and continues to be an exciting work in progress.  

4.  Our tasting flight boards and menu boards!  See entry 1 – Joel builds furniture.  Also, we got the leather for the menu boards from Candace.  She is one of our esteemed bartenders as well as an extremely talented leatherworker and shoemaker.   


5.  Our stanchions!  Did you know you can buy stanchions?  Of course you did.  And technically we did too.  But why would you buy them when you can build them out of used barrel heads, and posts, and make Ted triple braid strands of cord instead, amiright?


6.  Our sumptuous entrance-covering curtain!  Duluth gets cold.  Really cold.  This fact has been established, frequently and firmly.  In the winter, every entrance of a guest into our cocktail room was accompanied by a gust of below zero air.  After a few entrances, everyone felt like a block of ice.  You need ice to make cocktails, but you don’t want to be the ice you wish to see in the world, er, drink.  So, we decided to put up a curtain around the entrance to keep the air out.  And, as we happened to discover that our production manager Erin has a sewing machine, boom, she got volunteered to sew it.  We didn’t make her job easy either because we chose two different kinds of fabric (the store didn’t have enough of the one we wanted!) with different weights, and thread direction, and elasticity.  But, Erin did a marvelous job.  Her grandmother would be very, very proud.  We’ve taken it down for the summer (maybe this was a bad idea?  It’s still only 40ish degrees out.), but it’ll reappear next fall because that thing is not just elegant and sumptuous, but also sewed to last.  

7.  Our chalkboards!  Technically Dave did our chalkboards.  He’s another one of our esteemed bartenders.  But, we found out he was also an artist.  The moment we let him get a piece of chalk in his hands, our chalkboards were instantly transformed.  No, they’re not for sale, sorry.

8.  Our photography!  Maybe it’s obvious that we don’t hire professional photographers.  If it is, please don’t tell us.  Caitlin and I are both self-taught photographers – though I did do a brief stint as a photo assistant in the studio at Stonewall Kitchen, but somehow I don’t think 3 months of photo assisting qualifies a person as a professional – and it’s one of the best parts of our jobs.  I used to want to be a food stylist and photographer back in the day, so photographing cocktails scratches that itch.  


9. The spirits.  Obviously. ☺

-Emily Vikre - Co-Founder, President, and Arbiter of Taste