The Elements of a Proper Punch—and a Summery One to Drink Now

At the risk of being quotidian, I’m going to take a moment to talk about the weather. Sources—for example, the calendar—say that we are within high-fiving distance of the official start of summer. Many people, I think, have felt embedded in summer for a while now. But here where I am in Northeastern Minnesota, well, today, as I wrote this, the high was 52° F and a northeast wind whipped through the trees so they danced wildly. At this time of year, it becomes hard to identify culinarily with a lot of the world, except, perhaps, for Iceland. And some of the more southerly reaches of the Southern Hemisphere, like the parts where penguins live. Our peonies barely have buds, the rhubarb is just showing its fresh face, and local asparagus is still a hazy green dream.

But, summer (while reluctant) is coming our way as well. I think. I hope. And I’m mentally preparing for grilling outside and icy pitchers of punch.

As we all know, there are a few key drink-related elements for a summer party. They are: volume, effervescence, volume, refreshingness, volume, and the color pink. (Okay, some of these elements may be negotiable, but nothing else contains all the elements quite like a punch… or the periodic table. Get it?) Anyway, besides all that, one of the particularly great things about punch is that it makes it easy for everyone to have a mixed drink in hand without anyone needing to be stuck at a bar station assembling drinks individually, making punch perfect for the low-keyness of a summer gathering.

A fun technical fact about punch: A punch has to contain a particular set of elements to merit the name—a spirit, sugar, water, citrus, and spice. Without any one of these, it’s not a true punch. Then again, when there’s a flowing bowl, it’s hard to worry too much about technicalities—but I think it does point to the fact that punch is meant to have some complexity mingled with its refreshing and effervescent quality. This can be achieved through a variety of ways, whether it’s making a spice-infused syrup, using tea as an ingredient (green tea in a summer punch with lime is fantastic), or one of the many spirituous ingredients that is full of spice, like vermouth, Campari, and others.

A good punch should be considered and constructed with care regarding balance and flavors—strength, richness, lightness, and citrus all working together. I’m not opposed to utterly thoughtless, frivolous fruity summer drinks, but for me that’s something like a spiked lemonade. It’s not punch.

However, summer is so abundant with fresh fruits and berries and herbs, it’s the perfect season for adding these to your drinks. And thus, in spite of, or perhaps in pleasant juxtaposition to, the hit of spice punch calls for, summer demands fresh, simple ingredients in your punch bowl. BUT (and this is a personal thing, you may disagree, but I do feel strongly about it) I prefer to do this through infusing syrups, or muddling things in and then straining them out. I hate trying to distribute chunks of strawberries or thyme sprigs or cucumber slices gracefully between multiple drinks. I’ve had some catastrophic spills related to trying to pour out a drink with mint sprigs into guests’ drinks. So, I pre-strain.

This punch, which I named Southern Belle punch (Sobelle for short, of course) because it’s bourbon gussied up in pink, was a favorite of mine last summer. Bourbon and Campari give it heft and bitterness while ginger gives it kicky spice. It sounds like a winter punch in the making, but raspberries, lemon, and Champagne fruit it back up again. It’s like a teenager in the summer: cut-off shorts, tanned skin (heedless of future wrinkles), big sunglasses, but still plenty of drama, and an ability to handle both cheeseburgers and a pie. It’s the first thing I’ll be making once summer finally arrives here in Minnesota.

Southern Belle Punch

Southern Belle Punch

  • 12ounces bourbon
  • 5ounces raspberry syrup (see below)
  • 4.5ounces Campari
  • 4.5ounces lemon juice
  • 12ounces ginger beer, a nice spicy kind with a bit of kick
  • 16ounces dry sparkling wine

Raspberry Syrup

  • 1 1/2cups raspberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1cup sugar
  • Zest of one lemon in strips
  • Zest of one small orange in strips

-Emily Vikre


Originally published on

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 [ ] 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

Syttende Mai

GRATULERER MED DAGEN! Today is the most important day of the year: Syttende Mai!  In celebration of Norway's independence, we hope you have your Norwegian flags flying, your bunad on, are eating plenty of ice cream and hot dogs, and of course, toasting with aquavit!  Don't know what aquavit is?  Or, know what aquavit is but want to know more our take on it? We've created this video just for you to help you discover the joys of aquavit and how we make it at Vikre Distillery, presented by our very own Norwegian-American dual citizen, Emily Vikre!

May Boozescopes

 Happy Birthday to Taurus! Art by Cameron Conlon

Happy Birthday to Taurus! Art by Cameron Conlon

When someone asks us, “nature or nurture,” we say, “cosmos!”  Because what could be more fun or inspiring than looking at what the stars and planets may tell us about ourselves and our innermost desires, especially when our innermost desires are centering around what we should order to drink with dinner... 



March 21st - April 20th

Ah, energetic, enthusiastic Aries.  Your instincts are to fight fire with fire, so when you’re looking to quench your thirst, it’s a good thing there are cocktails out there that are just as exciting and commanding as you are.  Next time you are out on the town (which we suspect will be in the very near future) grab yourself a Negroni.  From the red color down to the flaming orange peel garnish, this classic cocktail will set your energy ablaze.  As a trailblazer, you'll want to be the first to try our Cedar Negroni.  Discover the recipe on our cocktail page.




April 21st - May 21st

From April 19th to May 20th, it is officially Taurus time!  Relish in it, oh earthy one.  Your birthday (even if it is a couple weeks past) is the perfect excuse to indulge in the things that you love.  And we know that for you that includes good food and drinks.  Taurus types process through the jaw, mouth, and facial senses.  That means that your nose is strong, sensitive, and able to really take in a beverage’s aromas, subtle or strong.  Spend some time enjoying the fragrance of a nice glass of aromatic wine like an Austrian Riesling or a red Burgundy.  Perhaps you’d prefer to inhale the peaty smoke of an Islay Scotch.  Or have a beautifully balanced classic cocktail where fragrant floral liqueur shines, like an Aviation (may we suggest using our Juniper Gin :)



May 22nd - June 21st

No one loves a good cocktail party as much as you, Gemini.  So how about playing hostess with the mostest for an evening?  Bartending will come easily to you, as folks with a Sun in Gemini tend to have hands for making as well as the gift of gab on their side.  As for the menu, keep it fresh and interesting (just like you.)  We suggest whipping up a round of Ramos Gin Fizzes.  This cocktail is airy (also just like you), and the history behind it will provide you both with a story to tell your guests and entertainment for your active mind.  



June 22nd - July 22nd

Cancer, a water sign, is ruled by the moon, which represents emotion.  With your sensitive and watery nature, it’s no wonder that Cancers love a life textured with all their favorite things.  Cancer finds comfort in the home, so whether it’s spending time with your closest friends and family or curling up with a bottle of wine for some blissful quiet time to yourself, you do you, Cancer!  When you find yourself craving a cocktail, go with one that reminds you of what you hold dear or one that lets you indulge in a little of your nostalgic tendencies, like the cocktail you had on your first date with your significant other or one your family always makes on your favorite holiday. 



July 23rd - August 23rd

Bold Leo, you’ve got our attention.  As a fire sign, Leo is, unsurprisingly, associated with the colors we typically see flickering in flames: orange, red, and gold.  No need to hold back, you light up a room.  You certainly don’t mind standing out, so why not order a drink that matches your mighty roar.  We know what you’re thinking: shots of Fireball? Sure, that’s an option, but it’s not your only one.  Why not try a Last Word.  This classic and potent combination of gin, lime, and two unique liqueurs is as intense, powerful, and bold as you are.    



August 24th - Sept. 22nd

Forget show-offs and show-stealers, flashy and overdone isn’t your style, Virgo. For you, elegance, beautiful simplicity, and excellent execution is where it’s at.  At a good cocktail bar, a perfectly crafted Martini - timeless, sophisticated - may be just what the doctor ordered.  If you feel a little less reserved than usual, order it dirty or have a Gibson.  If you are the one in control of drink-making, utilize your craftsmanship skills and unique attention to detail.  Stay true to yourself by topping your cocktails only with classy and practical garnishes.  You’ll wow the crowd with the final product, no need to cover it with excessive cherries on picks or colorful umbrellas.




Sept. 23rd - Oct. 23rd

Libra, symbolized by the scales, is always looking for balance.  Since bartenders always strive to craft perfectly balanced drinks, it seems only right that we should enlist our Libran friends to be our official taste-testers.  As the judge of the Zodiac, Libras are always assessing right and wrong.  This air sign also appreciates sharing, building relationships, and 1-on-1 exchanges.  So, Libra, if you want to drink in a way that compliments your natural tendencies, feel free to take any cocktail recipe you try and adjust the flavors to your own preference using your keen sense of balance.  Not enough lime in that daiquiri recipe? Add another splash.  Too much vermouth in a standard Manhattan?  Tone it down.  You’re the one holding the scales.   Also, stay clear of drinks with weird electric colors.  Blue Chartreuse or Kinky is just not going to be for you, as you gravitate toward pastels and neutral colors. 




Oct. 24th - Nov. 22nd

When the Sun travels into Scorpio, days become shorter and light fades away.  Whether it be the dark back corner of a dingy bar or the hidden depths of your subconscious, Scorpio relishes time to be with the darkness.   In this fixed water sign, sexy and badass mingle in one powerful package.  No wonder Scorpio is associated with the rich, gothic colors red and black.   Stinger by your side, you have no problem showing the world you mean business.  Next time you’re making nice with midnight, hone your edgy desires with a glass of Absinthe or maybe even try your hand at mixing up a gothic cocktail.  If nothing else, get something with Angostura bitters. You share similar qualities.    




Nov. 23rd - Dec. 21st

Yeehaw Sagittarius, live wild n’ free, baby!  Voted most likely to have fire in their eyes and a flask of whiskey in their pocket.  Catch one if you can, but certainly don’t count on it.  This sign is associated with the archetype of the explorer and is constantly on the go.  If you are a Sagittarius, consider catching your next Happy Hour post motorcycle or mountain bike ride. If you are a Sagittarius who loves cocktails, consider making a pilgrimage to important bars from cocktail history (think The Roosevelt in New Orleans or Bar Basso in Milan).   You can accomplish anything you set your mind to.  


(P.S. Bruce Lee was a Sagittarius.  Just sayin’.)   



Dec. 22nd - Jan. 20th

Strong, sturdy Capricorn.  You were born in the cold, barren, winter and made to survive and thrive.  Hard working Capricorns will use everything at their disposal in order to endure.  So for you, unwavering one, we suggest barrel-aged anything. Scotch, bourbon, aquavit, aged rum, anejo tequila... You’ll be able to appreciate the craftsmanship and intention present in each sip.  Maybe you even want to try buying a small barrel and aging your own cocktail!   And because Capricorn rules the skeletal structure, when you find a spirit you love, you won’t just taste it, you’ll feel it all the way down into your bones. 



Jan. 21st - Feb. 18th

Dear Aquarius, you are a rebel with a cause. You’re known for your fresh ideas and you will work to see positive changes on a community level.  You think about who you want to be in this world, and live out that vision.  Your ideal cocktail is made with local and ethically sourced ingredients.  Sipping a drink made up of components you can get behind will satisfy your desire to act in favor of the greater good and your thirst for adventure.  Learn the stories behind the spirits you enjoy.  And why not visit your local farmer’s market, where you can participate in your community and look for cocktail inspiration from what’s in season!  Rhubarb, radishes, berries, basil, melons, apples...with your creativity, you can create unique juices, infusions, syrups, and shrubs from any ingredient that speaks to you.  



Feb. 19th - March 20th

There’s no better way to describe you than to say that still waters run deep, Pisces.  Fish gotta swim, and whether it be into a pool of emotion, a sea of unknown, or a puddle of passion, a Pisces is more likely than any one to dive right in.  This is one of your best qualities, dear watery one; take full advantage of your ability to let the moment sink in.  Spend time at bars that offer the experiential aspect you hold so dear. Tiki joint?  Local dive?  It’s up to you.  Once you’re there, map uncharted waters and order that cocktail no one else in your group would. Or, you could always grab a glass of nice red wine, because, you know, Pisces is associated with Dionysus, God of Wine! 


-Squid the Star Dog & Cosmic Cait


Painting by Cameron Conlon.  Follow her instagram, @burtthaflirt

Cocktails 101

Emily Vikre, Melissa Coleman AKA The Fauxmartha, and Erik Eastman of Easy & Oskey got together and did not utter a word about cocktails. Just kidding. Truth be told, they spent the entire day recording recipes, recommendations, and more.

Watch The Fauxmartha's nomcast: "Cocktails 101 - How to stock a home bar and shake a killer martini. Or is it stirred? Special Guests: Vikre Distillery and Easy & Oskey Bitters."and keep an eye out for more videos, coming soon to an internet near you!

Photo by Thomas Osmonson




Hack Your (Home-grown) Hangover

by Chelsy Whittington, our visitor experience manager

Last week our cocktail room played host to the 18th annual Homegrown Music Festival and everyone went to bed early and drank not very much at all.



That’s not right.


What I meant to say is that everyone partied admirably hard and spent the daylight hours mainlining coffee and worrying what sort of pictures were going to surface on Instagram. For those of you not from these parts, Homegrown is eight days of music and art sprawling throughout countless venues in the Twin Ports. What started as a birthday party for Father Hennepin’s Scott Lunt has become an epic undertaking, staffed almost entirely by volunteers, featuring only local bands who do it for the love of the game and maybe some free drink tickets.

In the spirit of the day after (for the entire week of Homegrown virtually all of Duluth is having one big fat day after), I thought a selection of, shall we say “recovery beverages” might be in order. We’ve all tried our hand at Bloody Mary's (or Bloody Marins, if you’re doing the recovering at Vikre) but I’d like to propose a few new additions to the roster, featuring my ever so favorite spirit: Øvrevann Aquavit.


And while our best advice to you is to be a homegrownup and not drink so much as to become hungover in the first place…


We all know it happens, even to the best of us.


So without further ado...let’s start with some beverage backstory. Perhaps it's a regionalism. Most likely, it's a regionalism specifically centered around my childhood home where my mom used to make me Orange Julius when I was under the weather. To be even more specific, she made me Orange Julius and served them in a limited edition light up Lord of the Rings commemorative chalice that I think maybe came from a fast food restaurant?


(Don’t worry, if you really want to recreate the healing magic of the chalice, I’m sure you can hunt one down on EBay.)


And so, when I was brainstorming a feel better beverage this was the first thing that came to mind. You get the sunshine-y pick me up of vitamin C, B vitamins from the milk and electrolytes from the salt. Will it will be delicious without Aquavit? Sure. But if you are truly in need of a little hair of a tiny Scandinavian dog here’s my secret: it will be better WITH aquavit.

Øvrevann Orange Julius


  • 3 oz Øvrevann Aquavit
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ 6 oz. can of frozen orange juice concentrate
  • 1 ½ cups ice
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Generous pinch Vanilla Salt**


      Blend it, pour it. This makes about 3 cups which as you can see is       enough to make a adequate beverage for yourself and a friend.

**If you take nothing else away from this post at least go make yourself some vanilla salt by scraping the seeds of one vanilla bean into ¾ cup of flaky sea salt then chucking the salt and the whole bean into an airtight jar and letting it hang out till you need it. You’ll need it sooner than you think.

Now, if you're not the type to mise en place an Orange Julius or have the forethought to make vanilla salt, I do have a second option for you: The Aquavit Pickleback. Though this combo was popularized with whiskey, Aquavit is a natural choice seeing as how dill is one of the traditional botanical components often used in the spirit. And then, let's take it even further up the recovery scale and use delicious lactofermented pickles and get all of that good bacteria working for our weekend. Again if you want to skip the Aquavit, some folks swear by just a shot of pickle juice the morning after. The choice is entirely yours…

The Aquavit Pickleback


  • 1 oz. Øvrevann Aquavit
  • 1 oz. Lactofermented pickle juice


      Shoot Aquavit. Shoot pickle juice. Feel like a champ.

Distillery Mamas

Happy (almost) Mother's Day!  On this weekend, when we celebrate the most important women in our lives (Hi mom!  Love you!), we thought we would also take a moment to celebrate all the fiercely fantastic women who keep our distillery running.  The many moms of our distillery baby, if you will.


You see, both the fields of distilling and bartending are hugely dominated by men.  Mostly gruff bearded men in work hats, or tatted-up mustachio'ed men in dapper vests.  We have some of them working with us, in fact, and we love them very dearly!  BUT, we are extremely proud of the fact that when you take a look (seriously, just look at our staff page), at Vikre we have A LOT of women running the show.  As evidenced, for example, by this totally not staged photograph.  Ok, it's a tiny bit staged, but only because we're usually moving around too fast to capture us in one place.   


One of our two co-founders and the president of our company is a lady.  As are the two people who do the bulk of the actual distilling.  Our brand and media manager is a lady and so is the person who runs all the visitor experience services, i.e. our bar, tours, events, and community outreach.  And we have so many epically amazing women bartenders too.  

 Sarah Lee and Erin, t he women of our production team

Sarah Lee and Erin, the women of our production team

So let's hear it for the ladies! And, in the immortal words of Beyonce, I give you this query and answer: "who run the world? Girls."  And remember, always listen to your mom. And DEFINITELY give her a call on mother's day! :)  


Extreme Coldness

Extreme coldness. It’s what makes Duluth, Duluth. Our partisans (see: Emily) call it “pristine,” and “wild.” They say it makes them proud to live in Duluth. It makes them feel like they earned it.

As a relatively new Duluthian, whose brain hasn’t been through too many freeze-thaw cycles, I just call it “ridiculous.” It makes me feel brave…on the days when it doesn’t make me feel scared.

As a distiller, the cold is an inescapable physical reality. When it’s -30F outside, which is a regular operating condition in Duluth, mechanical systems work differently. The diesel in our distillery truck turns to jelly. The cold air in our chimney is too heavy for the hot exhaust gases from our boilers to fight through, so instead of rising, smoke just pours out into our mechanical room. That’s if the boiler isn’t too frozen to fire at all. In the winter of 2013 our boiler partially froze, and Canal Park Brewery’s boiler partially froze, and Bent Paddle Brewery’s boiler froze solid – all in the same week.  It was one of those scary weeks.


The primary distiller’s downside to cold is that it slows barrel aging. This is part of why Kentucky Bourbon ages in 5 years but Scotch whisky takes 10. Whisky in Scotland basically takes the winter off from aging.


But mostly, for a distiller, cold is a good thing. Because distilling is about boiling and condensing, and the condensing takes cold. In Scotland, distilleries traditionally did their condensing with creek water. In the summer, when the surface water got too warm to do the job, they’d take a few months off. Between the whisky taking the winter off, and the distillers taking the summer off, it’s a wonder any whiskey ever got made!

 condensers on the still

condensers on the still

Here in Duluth, we have cold water year round. Our tap water comes from Lake Superior, which is ridiculously cold. In the winter it comes out of the tap around 40 degrees. In the summer it runs around 50 degrees. So when we began, we began by using this cold water to do our condensing. This was an energy efficient choice, but not a water efficient choice. In the last year we’ve been using as much as 200,000 gallons of water a month, and while this is not at all an unusual amount for a distillery, it was not a resource use we felt good about. So when we came up with our strategic plan for 2015, we set a goal of reducing our water use by 50%.


Given Duluth’s extreme cold, you’d think cooling process water would give you an embarrassment of options. Over the last year, I’ve investigated many many options. I considered an open cooling loop to the lake. I considered a closed loop with a heat transfer coil in the lake. I considered a closed geothermal loop digging down from an old storm sewer under the distillery. I talked to engineers, to engineering professors, to engineering students, to geothermal contractors, to industry cooling contractors, and to process water experts. I called every imaginable resource, including the city, the utility company, non-profits that specialize in energy use reduction and making manufacturing more environmentally friendly.  But, mostly they suggested solving the problem with electricity by mounting a big old electric chiller on the roof and calling it a day. This would mean running a big compressor all year long to create cold – in an atmosphere already overflowing with extreme coldness! This, interestingly, is the way almost all breweries do their cooling, even in cold places like Duluth.


But, this did not satisfy me. I did not want to reduce our water use by dramatically increasing our electricity use, particularly given that most of our regional electricity comes from coal.


So, I kept talking with people until, I found a couple folks willing to help. One is a process cooling specialist from Alabama, and the second is a civil engineer in Duluth. This is what we did (in case you’re interested):


Our cold process water runs through the condensers on the stills, and the fermenting equipment (more on our fermenting equipment – which we affectionately call “the brewery” – soon!). It comes out hot. This hot water runs over to our barrel room, and through a few refurbished fan coil units. These are basically just radiators with fans that we found in a basement, and they push some of the heat out of the water and into the room. This means the barrels get heated up during the day when the stills are running, and then cool off at night. In the winter it’s enough heat to keep them around room temperature instead of freezing. In the summer it’s enough to make the barrel room miserably hot. This diurnal variation is exactly what we want to facilitate whiskey aging.

 the radiator in the barrel room

the radiator in the barrel room

Then that still-quite-warm water runs back over to the distillery and into a 2,000 gallon reservoir. From the reservoir, the water is pumped through a heat exchanger where it’s cooled off, and then back out to the distillery and brewery process.  All in a nice closed loop.

 the heat exchanger and pumps 

the heat exchanger and pumps 

Now the heat exchanger works by transferring the heat from the water to a second medium, which is glycol. The glycol (basically food-grade antifreeze, and a key ingredient in Fireball™, hehe) is pumped through the heat exchanger, and it takes on the heat from the water, before it runs up to a hybrid adiabatic cooler on the roof. What the heck is a hybrid adiabatic cooler, you ask?  It is essentially just a giant radiator with a fan. Most of the year, given our extreme cold, that’s all it takes to shed the heat. In the summer, when the ambient temperature is higher than we want our process water to be, the cooler sprays water into the air as it passes through the radiator, allowing it to shed a couple extra degrees. That’s the “adiabatic” part. We benefit here from the fact that it stays pretty cool on the lake even in the middle of the summer, and it’s almost always windy up on our roof.  The glycol leaves the cooler, well, cooler, and comes back down to the heat exchanger to take on some more heat from the water.  

 roof top cooler unit 

roof top cooler unit 

The water reservoir allows us to store cold, and to buffer changes in the temperature of the process water, which can really mess with the distilling process. By the end of the day, the reservoir will be pretty warm, but overnight it cools back down so in the morning we have nice cold water to start with. This allows us to run a smaller system than we otherwise would.

 water reservoir

water reservoir

We’re still in the first month of operating this cooling system, so the numbers are still shaking out. I think we’ll have reduced our water use by about 90%. And we’re still getting the controls hammered out so it can efficiently regulate itself. In spite of everything we’ve done to anticipate the challenges, I’m sure we’ll have some problems to solve when it’s -30F next winter because there’s almost nothing that doesn’t freeze at -30. But at the very least, we can say we’re saving lots of water for the sturgeon and for the next bottle of gin.

 Lake Superior 

Lake Superior 



Our New Spring Cocktail Menu!


Your choice of four of our spirits, 

tonic, soda & lime


_____ & TONIC - 7

Your choice of clear spirit,

house tonic, lime



Choice of clear spirit, sugar, bitters, orange twist

With Voyageur Aquavit +3   



Øvervann Aquavit, lingonberry grenadine, roasted pineapple syrup, orange hazelnut falernum, lime, molasses Voyageur Aquavit float. (Serves two)



Boreal Spruce Gin, mango lillet-ish, lime, 

grapefruit, chili



Boreal Cedar Gin, orange juice, grenadine, 

rosemary anise bitters



Boreal Cedar Gin, preserved lemon syrup, rosewater, fig bitters, sumac sugar rim



Boreal Juniper Gin, lemon, lime, sarsaparilla syrup,  orange blossom water,  

cream, egg white,  fizz



Lake Superior Vodka, black currant liqueur, lemongrass riesling syrup, lemon



Boreal Juniper Gin, Lake Superior Vodka, lemongrass riesling syrup, snap peas, tarragon



Voyageur Aquavit, golden spice syrup, heavy cream




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



** are you a designated driver for your group?  Let us know and we'll hook you up with a free non-alcoholic cocktail.**

Where to Buy Sugarbush Whiskey

Updated on 4/1/16.

Last time we released Sugarbush Whiskey, it sold out in Minnesota in less than a month.  Based on the amount of inquiries we're getting, we can expect lot 2 to go just as fast.  

We want to help you get your hands on a bottle, so here is a list of stores that should have Sugarbush Whiskey in stock and ready to sell.  Over the next few days, new stores will get shipments of Sugarbush Whiskey and some stores will run out.  We will do our best to keep this list as updated as possible.   



  • Coming soon!


If you are lucky enough to find a bottle, let us know on social media!



What Does the "Craft" in "Craft Spirit" Really Mean?

Craft distilling has rocketed onto the scene in the last decade. According to the American Craft Distilling Institute (A.D.I.), there were 24 craft distilleries in the whole of the United States in 2000. By 2011, that number had grown to 234, and as of 2014, there were almost 600, with more opening all the time.

Market researchers claim that more and more people are looking for brands with craft credentials, spirits made by real people in a traditional way.

When we were researching the craft spirits market four years ago, before starting our distillery, sales of craft spirits (in this case as defined by the analysts as a distillery selling 100,000 cases a year or fewer) were an unmeasurably small portion of the spirits market. Now they make up over 2% of the market, and some project that these numbers could follow the trajectory of craft beer, growing to 15% over the next decade.

With stats like these, it makes sense that suddenly everyone wants to be craft—and that many companies that make spirits in a very non-craft way have claimed the craft mantle.

It's challenging because "craft" is ill-defined. When it comes up in a discussion at our distillery, even we can’t agree what the definition of craft should be. We know what we do, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable declaring this is the only way to be craft.

Perhaps it's more useful look at different issues within the craft value proposition—flavor and qualitysize, and the production process—to understand the wide spectrum of practices and characteristics within the brands people think of as craft.

That way, you can decide which elements are important to you and learn to look for them.

The flavor and quality issue.

The craft distilling movement is often compared to the craft brewing movement, but the parallel is imperfect. When craft brewing began, big beer companies were brewing only a single style of light, easy-drinking lagers. There was a gaping flavor and quality hole to fill; old styles of beer that had all but disappeared were rediscovered and new flavors were created.

Barley wines, stouts, Belgian ales, and super hoppy I.P.A.s were all obviously craft—they were something the giant, corporate beer companies were not making. This is not true of the spirits market.There are many bad industrial spirits out there, but many spirits made by massive liquor conglomerates are excellent, and a wide variety of styles are already produced.

A few craft distilleries are innovating flavors and styles in the world of spirits, but many, maybe even most, are trying to make the same styles of whiskey and gin that are already out there, just on a smaller scale. Sometimes this leads to the creation of remarkable quality spirits.

But all too frequently, especially because craft distilleries are young and haven’t had time to age their spirits for decades, what they make just isn’t good. It’s really hard to “out-Maker’s-Mark Maker’s Mark” (a phrase we first heard at a conference from master distiller Dave Pickerell, who actually was the distiller for Maker's Mark), and it’s expensive, too; it costs a ton to make spirits in small batches without the massive economies of scale that large industrial distilleries have.

In an interview with Mash Tun Journal, the founder of Letherbee Distillers in Chicago bluntly explained:

Imagine how slow the craft beer movement would have been if nobody could make better beer than A-B (Anheuser-Busch)! The spirits world did not have the same quality vacuum that beer has had. So, new start-ups catching up to the value and quality of America’s Bourbon industry is no small feat. It will take a generation’s time and lots of capital.

He also compared craft whiskey to a “polished turd.” Edgy!

Does size matter?

If we can’t necessarily rely on the quality of the product to differentiate craft spirits, the next obvious indicator is size. That’s been the ever-moving yardstick craft beer has used, both to differentiate itself in the public imagination and also for tax and regulatory advantage.

The two main national associations in the U.S. for craft distillers are theAmerican Craft Distilling Institute and the American Craft Spirits Association, both of whom offer membership to distilleries that sell about 50,000 cases a year or fewer (the precise number actually depends on the proof of what’s in those cases).

By comparison, it’s estimated a large brand like Johnnie Walker (which itself is owned by Diageo) sells in the hundreds of millions of cases a year, and a smaller industrial brand like Bulleit (also owned by Diageo, and mostly produced at the same distillery that makes Four Roses!) sells a few hundred thousand cases a year.

There are a couple of things that are confounding about the size issue. One is ownership. As a craft brand becomes nationally recognized and competitive, there is a tendency for larger liquor companies to swoop in and offer the distillery owner a check to buy their company and make it part of the larger company (we’ve met people who have said the check was literally blank; they could pick their number).

Often the distillery can be run precisely the same way it had been, by the same people, producing the same products. But if it is owned by Diageo, or Pernod-Ricard, or one of the other big guys, is it still a craft distillery? By the definition of some associations, like the A.D.I., it isn't. A.D.I.’s craft certification program will only certify distilleries for which less than 25% is “owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by alcoholic beverage industry members who are not themselves craft distillers.”

Conversely, large companies also create their own “craft” brands. They produce much smaller volumes under these labels, but these spirits are made at the same huge distillery as the company’s non-craft labels. This is the rule, not the exception in the industry, and has been since prohibition.

For example, Buffalo Trace (which makes fantastic whiskeys, no bones about it) is a vast distillery that produces not just Buffalo Trace, but also Eagle Rare, E.H. Taylor, Stagg Jr., Blanton’s Single Barrel, Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, Sazerac Rye, W. L. Weller, and everyone’s favorite Pappy Van Winkle. (And they’re all owned by the Sazerac Company.) They’re completely upfront about this on their website; it’s not an industry secret that this is how things work. But, it’s not widely known by the drinking public. So I ask you: Is something that’s available in as small of quantities as Pappy but made in the same large distillery as many other labels "craft"?

A related question: What do we think of craft distilleries that grow beyond the size designations for craft? As one would hope, pioneers in the craft distilling industry—those prescient people who opened small distilleries two decades ago, before anyone else was even thinking about it—are now being rewarded with opportunities to grow, expand, and produce ever greater quantities of their spirits for sale while remaining independently owned.

So does it make sense for there to be a certain size or volume point at which suddenly these distilleries are too big to be craft? Perhaps it depends on whether they continue producing their spirits in the same manner as they always have or whether they switch to giant industrial stills and mechanized processes? And that brings us to the issue of how spirits are actually made, and whether they’re even made at the craft distillery.

The production process.

Here is one of the stickiest issues in craft: whether or not a craft spirit is made by hand or from scratch. There is a remarkable spectrum in how distillers define "handmade," making it as tricky a term as craft itself. And terms like "handmade" or "made from scratch" or "small batch" are certainly not regulated.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that there are several components of the process that may or may not be done by hand, including whether the distillation of the spirit itself is done by the distillery or whether already-distilled spirits are purchased in order to be modified, infused, or blended.

Allow me to explain a little further. I think most people, when they think of a craft distillery, think of a smallish space, a few stills, and a team of distillers making all the product right there. That’s certainly what I thought when we got into this business. It turns out this is not necessarily the case for a variety of reasons. Many distilleries, both small and large, use something called neutral grain spirits, or G.N.S., as the base for flavored spirits like gin or liqueurs.

G.N.S. is very clean neutral alcohol that is made in large industrial factories, the same kind of factories that make fuel ethanol, actually. It's very cheap to buy and has some another big thing going for it: It’s actually very hard for a small distillery to make an ethanol that is clean enough to use as a neutral base for a spirit like gin. 

Many small distillers we know feel like they simply couldn’t afford to make gin if they made it this way, so they buy G.N.S., infuse it with their choice of botanicals, and distill it a final time. This is, in fact, the traditional process that has been used by all the big gin brands like Tanqueray or Hendricks since they began because in England it was required to use G.N.S. as a base for gin!

So, if something is traditional is it craft? Or should G.N.S. products be considered differently than spirits distilled entirely at the distillery? And what about the other far end of the spectrum, like the small handful of distillers who don't just do 100% of the distilling process, they also grow their own grain? Are they different categories or are they all craft together? (As a side note, many distilleries also buy G.N.S. for making vodka. Just add water, or perhaps filter it once, or maybe distill it one final time and your vodka is ready to go! One major craft brand of vodka that I dare not name is made this way: distilled at a factory in the Midwest, then distilled one last time on site to give it the veneer of craft. )

There are similarly confusing lines around whiskey. Plenty of distilleries are making whiskey entirely by hand onsite. But, there are also many that don’t. It can be hard to know whether a whiskey from a craft distillery has actually been made at the distillery, or made elsewhere but blended at the distillery, or bought elsewhere and simply bottledat the distillery.

All of these approaches are commonplace. For example, Templeton has fairly recently come under fire (of the law-suit variety) for selling rye whiskey they touted as being made in Iowa according to Prohibition-era recipe but that turned out to be made in a whiskey factory in Indiana called Midwest Grain Products (M.G.P. as everyone in the industry calls it). And Templeton is far from the only company bottling M.G.P. whiskey and selling it as their own. Thanks to a recent enforcement push requiring the state of distillation be listed on whiskey bottles, I’m discovering a whole lot of whiskey marketed as craft actually come from Indiana! The whiskey is good, smooth and flavorful, but it’s definitely mass-produced.

Some distilleries take more of an individual and artistic approach by buying whiskey produced elsewhere, but blending it to create a new whiskey (aptly referred to as a "blended whiskey"). Blending is its own type of craft with a long history, but it’s a different craft from the craft of distilling.  Good blending is an art; good distilling is another art.

And since whiskey has to age for years, sometimes new craft distilleries begin by buying whiskey and selling it (or blending then selling it) while waiting for their own whiskey to age. This is the approach some well-respected distilleries like High West and Hillrock Estate have taken.  The good guys make what they're doing clear, though it can still be easy to come away with the wrong idea, if you don’t know what you’re looking for. It’s reliably fun to ask a High West enthusiast how an 8-year-old distillery is making 10-year-old whiskey.

The ones that don’t make it clear are recently getting sued. You should have seen my husband’s disappointment when he found out WhistlePig was sourced from Canada.

So what does it all mean?

What craft means when you see it on a label or in an advertisement is about as clear as mud. Craft is confounding, and for the moment at least it means different things to different people.

To this end, there are some things that are helpful to look at on a spirits label to understand how a spirit was actually made: Ignore words like “craft,” “handmade,” “artisanal,” and “small batch” and instead read the small print on the various parts of the label. Does it say “distilled and bottled by” before the name of the distillery? Or just “bottled by”? Or “blended and bottled by” the distillery? Or “produced and bottled by”? If it says “distilled by” that means they distilled it at least once, but not necessarily from scratch.

The bottle is also supposed to tell you the state of distillation (though that is only recently being enforced), so that you can check if it was distilled in the same state as the distillery or elsewhere. You’ll also find small print that tells you whether something is “distilled from grain,” “distilled from neutral grain spirits,” or from other ingredients like “distilled from molasses,” though these rules vary from one spirit to another. Sometimes you’ll find in tiny print on a bottle that the distillery is actually owned by another company, but most of that type of digging you have to do with an internet search.

Our own journey with this has been slightly fraught. We started by partnering with a small brewery a couple miles from us. They do the fermentation, then we do the distillation. This is how we make all of our products, from vodka to whiskey. We’re installing our own brewery now so we can have the whole process in-house. Meanwhile, we’ve struggled financially, and we’ve endured millions of questions while we wait for our whiskey to be ready.

And while we know how much love, sweat, and tears we put into each of our products on a daily basis, we’ve had other craft distillers tell us we’re not craft since we had partnered with a brewery.  And compared to some distilleries that grow their own grain, we ourselves sometimes feel like our “craft” hardly even counts. And this isn’t even touching on the specifics of the production process: the equipment, the level of manual controls versus computerized controls, and so on. So there you go: Even for people who live and breathe it, it’s complicated.

So here’s what I think: Drink something that tastes good to you. If you like its story, do enough Googling and reading of the small print on the labels to find out if it's true or not. If it turns out not to be true, decide how much that matters to you.  If it matters a lot, then you can try something else that tastes good to you. If you want. And while you sip, you can ask the question of yourself, “What is craft?”  Which may make you want to bang your head against a wall. ;)

- Emily Vikre

Originally published on

The Monkey Gland Cocktail

The pantheon of cocktails is filled with ridiculous cocktail names. For every evocatively named Vesper or Negroni, there’s a more explicitly named Fuzzy Navel or Sex on the Beach.

One of the weirdest names of all, in my opinion, is the Monkey Gland. It’s hard not to see “monkey gland” on a cocktail menu without laughing, recoiling, or at least furrowing your brow a little. Knowing the background story of the name doesn’t help, as it’s not too far off from a 1920s' version of calling something "Sex on the Beach." It’s a somewhat delicate subject, I’d say, and perhaps not something that should be discussed at length in good company...

You see, in the 1920s, there was a doctor by the name of Serge Voronoff who had come up with a special surgical procedure that he claimed enhanced men’s, ahem, vitality. The procedure involved grafting important parts of men’s anatomy with, wait for it, monkey glands. The procedure became widely known enough that famed bartender Harry McElhone (the same person credited with inventing the Bloody Maryand the Boulevardier!) created a cocktail with a name that alluded to it. Thus was born the Monkey Gland.

As challenging, and potentially off-putting as the name is, the cocktail itself is anything but. With equal parts gin and fresh orange juice, it’s quite juicy and easy-drinking. Using freshly squeezed orange juice is an absolute necessity in this cocktail, and makes it a great winter sip when citrus is at its peak.

The breezy, sunny flavor of the orange juice offsets the piney aroma of the gin, and a splash of grenadine (or raspberry syrup, which may have been the ingredient used in the original version at Harry’s bar) and absinthe, give it richness and an interesting and pleasing bitter edge.

In the cocktail room at our distillery, we make a version using rosemary-anise bitters in place of the absinthe, which is also wonderful because rosemary and orange are such flavor chums. In spite of its name, or perhaps because of it, the Monkey Gland is definitely a classic cocktail worth giving a try.

The Monkey Gland Cocktail

makes 1

  • 1 1/2 ounces London dry gin
  • 1 1/2 ounces freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon grenadine
  • 1 teaspoon absinthe

-Emily Vikre

Originally published on Food 52.

Cheers to a New Year!!!

This is the time of year we cry, "out with the old, and in with the new!" Yet it is also a time of reflection.  We pause on the threshold of the new year, looking back at what has happened, how we've changed and what we've learned.  Filled with the hopefulness of new beginnings, we also set intentions for the year to come.  Now, we wanted to show that we can reflect and resolve with the best of them!  But, one needs a focus for these things, donchaknow.  Soooo, we decided to stick with what we know best, and we asked a few members of the Vikre team to share their best drinking experiences of 2015, and what they are looking forward to enjoying in 2016.  One of the main takeaways: it pays to have access to Kevin's (our long-time friend, "coincidentally hot intern," and distiller's) whisky collection. Cheers to 2016, friends!  

EMILY VIKRE (co-founder)

"Hmmmm.  A year is actually kind of a long time to try to remember back through isn't it.  Can I just say champagne?  My favorite thing is always champagne.  Or cocktails with sparkling wine.  This summer I made a big batch of fresh rhubarb syrup and mixed it with some Boreal Juniper Gin and lime juice and topped it with sparkling wine.  That was my summertime obsession.  Along with plenty of Aperol Spritzes.  I also got to have some pretty good Scotch at Kevin's house... :)

What I'm looking forward to next year...well, because we have a 2-year old we don't actually get out much.  But, we have work trips scheduled to Chicago and San Francisco, and I'm hoping to get out and find some extremely excellent cocktails while I'm in those places.  (That reminds me, I did have a wonderful Pink Lady cocktail at a bar we went to when we were in Austin for a a conference last spring.  I think the bar was called Whisler's.  Espen was with us, and I was mostly chasing him, but even so I remember it as being very enjoyable.)"

JOEL VIKRE (co-founder)

"I suppose it's inevitable, but after dedicating pretty much my entire existence to it for the last 4 years, our Sugarbush whiskey was my favorite drink of the year. To my more-biased-than-otherwise-possible palate it tasted of hope and dreams realized, blood and tears, and the salty tang of the sweat of my own brow. Also, a kiss of maple syrup. 

In the coming year, I'm most looking forward to tasting some unique expressions of Ardbeg at the distillery in Scotland. Emily and I promised ourselves we'd make this trip once our business was established, so sometime this year we're hoping to make it over there and drink right from the mother's teat, so to speak. I couldn't be more excited."


TED BJORK (Director of Distillery Operations)


"When I think back on drinks this year, the first thing I think of is the “Brass Phoenix".  I’ve tasted a lot of wonderful cocktails at Vikre Distillery, but that drink especially makes me pause and say, “Oh my god, this is good.”  The different flavors, the nuances, the layers, and even the name.  The name evokes a lot of memories for me.  Back in the day, the “Brass Phoenix” night club was the hot place to go in Duluth.  It was a wonderful time to be a young man.  

To pay me back for fixing his chandelier, Kevin went online and bought an expensive single malt scotch whiskey called Einar by Highland Park.  It just so happens that Einar is my middle name, and my Dad’s name too.  I like to joke about how I kept my middle name a secret until 7th grade, then I had to learn how to fight.  I’d tasted the spirit once before.  I discovered it while traveling in France.  We were staying at an old abbey that had been turned into a Bed & Breakfast.  I saw it on the shelf and had to give it a try.  That’s when I learned that the spirit was named after a guy named Einar, and he is somewhat of a norse hero.  They even have his axe, a wicked war axe, on the bottle.  Apparently, he was a conquerer who set up a settlement in Scottland.  That would have been nice to know in Junior High.  There was no way to know, and if my dad knew, he never told me.   

The Einar is currently in my possession, but I’m waiting to drink it.  My wife Sue and I are going to Arizona in a few months, and I am bringing it with.  They say, “when the mountains are pink, it’s time to drink.”  So when the mountains are pink, I’m going to pour myself a glass of the scotch and think about life, this place (Vikre)... and Kevin."  


"I’ve had quite a few excellent drinks this past year, but the most memorable has got to be the Manhattan No. 2 from the cocktail wizards at Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis.  First sip was stunning.  This take on a classic incorporated Sherry and Calvados (a delicious and uncommon apple brandy from France).   I ordered it twice, as I do with any extraordinary drink, and the impression was the same.  A cocktail that shines twice in a row is a treat.  

I am most excited about Vikre’s Northern Courage Smokey Rye Whiskey.  I’ve tried it at barrel strength before it matured, and even then it was delicious.  But apart from that, I can’t wait to get down to Scena Tavern to try their Crudo menu with specific cocktail accompaniments.  I’ve heard great things."  




"My favorite cocktails of 2015 would have to be Vikre's own Hubba Abba and the Cold Fashioned. Both cocktails were featured on the Summer 2015 menu and I think of them often and fondly. My absolute FAVORITE spirit of 2015 was Vikre's Sugarbush Whiskey. Other beloved bourbons of the year include a taste of Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 20 year and Blaton's Orginal Single Barrel. All are strong, simple, smooth, and straightforward!

I am all about the BOLD and the BRIGHT in 2016. I am open to trying any spirits and cocktails that wander into my realm. Definitely hoping to try Amrut Whisky (India's first single malt) and travel back down to Kevin's basement for some Scotch. Also looking forward to more seasonal menus, more shrubs, and more SURPRISES! Cheers!"

What Is Aquavit? (& 4 Cocktails to Use It In)

If there is one question we receive from a visitor to our distillery, it is nearly always, “What is aquavit?”

The question comes so often and so predictably, we joke about making our staff wear buttons that say, “Ask me what aquavit is.” (They would probably all quit if we did that though.)


Though some in-the-know bars have integrated aquavit into their cocktail programs, aquavit remains solidly planted in the “obscure liquor” category for people outside of the northernmost reaches of Europe. So, let us take a moment to answer our favorite question: What is aquavit?

Aquavit is a traditional Scandinavian spirit. Just as gin has to have a dominant flavor of juniper berries, aquavit has to have a dominant flavor that is either caraway seeds or dill seeds (or both!) to earn its name. Aquavit, also spelled akevitt or akvavit, and sometimes just called snapps, comes from the Latin aqua vitae, or water of life. Interestingly, this is the same meaning as the French word for brandy, eau-de-vie, and the Celtic origins of the word whisky, usquebaugh.

Aquavit is the national drink of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, though being Norwegian, I know the most about the traditions in Norway, where aquavit has existed since at least the 1500s. As with many spirits, it was originally believed to be a cure for virtually anything that ailed you. At the very least, it kept lumbermen and farmers warm as they worked, and its popularity became so widespread that it became a cultural centerpiece.



Aquavit must be infused with caraway and/or dill, but it can also feature a cast of other supporting spices such as citrus, fennel, anise, star anise, grains of paradise, and juniper. The aquavit we make, for example, includes caraway, cardamom, fennel, cloves, ginger, pink peppercorn, and citrus peels.

Aquavit may be un-aged, a style often referred to as taffel aquavit, or aged in oak casks. Norwegians have most notably evolved an affinity for aquavit that is aged in used sherry casks for anywhere from a year to nearly two decades, which gives these aquavits a distinct sweetness and nutty and raisiny notes that bolster the caraway.

A particular style of Norwegian aquavit, called Linie aquavit (linie is Norwegian for line, and the old word for equator), is aged on ships that travel to Australia and back. The companies that use this technique assert that the rocking of the ships, combined with the changes in temperature and humidity along the voyage, creates completely unique aging effects. I know first hand that the U.S. government is not, at present, particularly open to letting small American distilleries try similar techniques. Indeed, according to U.S. regulations you can’t even call an aquavit aged. We make an aquavit that is aged in cognac casks, but we have to say it is “matured.”

These days aquavit is most often part of celebratory meals on holidays: Easter, Constitution Day, Midsummer, and most especially Christmas.Special aquavit varieties are made to pair with different feasting dishes: shellfish, pinnekjøtt (a Christmas lamb dish), lutefiskfjellmatt (“mountain food”), and so on.

And aquavit is an absolute must for the julebord (“Christmas table"), which are the epic Christmas feasts that Norwegian companies throw for all their employees. A good Christmas meal is likely to start with aquavit-spiked gløgg and then proceed with sips of ice-cold aquavit interspersed amongst rich, meat-heavy dishes.

Aquavit is not the most easy-going spirit to work with in cocktails. The caraway gives it a savory bent that tends to be assertive. But, even so, the results of a nicely balanced aquavit cocktail make it worth any effort it took to get there. I like aquavit best in simple cocktails.

Some notable examples:

  • A friend of ours who has a bitters company makes an aquavit negroni with our cognac cask-aged aquavit.
  • Our friends at a distillery called Tattersall make a concoction they call the North Side (a spin on the Southside, which is a gin cocktail) with aquavit, lime, and mint.
  • One of my favorite cocktails ever is a gimlet made with aquavit and homemade lime cordial.
  • And our friends at Marvel Bar in the Twin Cities gained note for their Tomas Collins, a bracing but balanced, Nordic-inflected twist on a classic Tom Collins.


  • 1/2 tablespoon simple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 ounces aquavit (I use our Øvrevann Aquavit, which is an un-aged taffel-style aquavit)
  • 1 teaspoon dill pickle brine
  • Club soda

-Emily Vikre

Originally published on

The Boreal Gin 3-Pack!

Good things come in small (well, small-ish) packages. And our new Boreal Gin 3-Pack package is even letterpress and comes complete with cocktail recipes and tasting notes.  You can find it at Minnesota liquor stores, and if it's not on the shelves at your go-to spot, just ask!  They can request it from our distributor and get it in within two days.  

How to hack cocktail equipment at home

I may own a distillery and work with cocktails for a living, but I don’t own a cocktail shaker at home.

Even though cocktail technique can make the difference between a so-so cocktail and a fantastic cocktail, not everyone wants to spend a bunch of money on fancy barware—especially if they only make cocktails on occasion.

Luckily, on the occasions when you decide you do want to concoct cocktails for yourself or friends, whether it’s weekly or just once a year,many pieces of barware can be substituted with kitchen implements you already have.

Here are some solutions to missing pieces of equipment for the home mixologist.

1. You don’t have a jigger.

This is absolutely fine. I’m a huge advocate of always measuring your cocktail ingredients because it guarantees consistency and small changes in the volume of a cocktail ingredient can often make a big difference in the final cocktail.

A jigger is simply a way of measuring volumes, and there are lots of other ways of measuring volume—like the measuring spoons and cups you already have in your kitchen. Just know that one ounce is two tablespoons, and you’re pretty set to figure anything else out from there.

 Make-shift cocktail shaker.

Make-shift cocktail shaker.

2. The recipe calls for shaking, but you don’t have a shaker.

Don’t just mix the ingredients together in a glass and add ice. Shaking is actually an important part of cocktail making in the recipes that call for it. It properly incorporates ingredients of different viscosities—spirits, fruit juices, sometimes dairy or egg—and aerates the cocktail for a lovely frothy texture. And lastly, it chills and dilutes the cocktail to the proper drinking strength. If you just serve ingredients over ice, eventually the drink will get chilled and diluted as the ice melts, but its flavor and strength will change from first sip to last, and your cocktail won’t have the proper texture.

So if you don’t have a shaker, use virtually any strong container with a lid that seals instead. My preferred shaker hack uses a mason jar.Measure your ingredients into the jar, fill the jar three-quarters full with ice, screw on the lid, and shake vigorously for 15 seconds.

 Straining from a mason jar.

Straining from a mason jar.

3. The recipe calls for straining, but you don’t have a strainer.

Nearly all cocktail recipes that are shaken or stirred call for straining in order to separate the drink from the used ice in the shaker/stirring glass so that you can serve the cocktail up (or over bigger pieces of ice so that the drink doesn’t over-dilute).

If you’ve used a mason jar for shaking, you can use the flat part of the lid as your strainer. Take off the ring part, offset the flat jar lid so there is a crack that will let liquid through as you pour while holding back the ice. Really any barrier that will hold back the ice while allowing you to pour out the liquid will do.

Proper cocktail strainers (a Hawthorne strainer for shaken drinks and ajulep strainer for stirred drinks) will absolutely give you a bit better final texture in the drink (frothy for shaken, silken for stirred), but nobody is going to turn down the excellent cocktail that you’ve just strained with a jar lid because it’s a little less aerated.

 Straining from a pint glass using a jar lid.

Straining from a pint glass using a jar lid.

4. The recipe calls for double straining and you think, “What?!”

Double straining is used when you’ve made a drink that has something like fruit or herbs muddled in it or an egg white shaken into it—any drink where there will be little pieces that could escape into the drink through your regular strainer. When you double strain a cocktail, you are literally straining it through two strainers. You pour it out of your shaker (or jar) via your regular cocktail strainer (or jar lid) through a fine mesh strainer that you’re holding directly above your cocktail glass.

The strainers that bars use for double straining are conical shaped to direct the liquid right into your glass, but if you don’t have one, you can use a tea strainer or another small fine mesh strainer; as long as it is smaller in diameter than the cocktail glass you’re using, you should be alright.

 Double-straining using a fine mesh sieve.

Double-straining using a fine mesh sieve.

5. Oh, you don’t have a muddler either?

Use the handle of a wooden spoon, preferably one that's pretty heavy. And, when you muddle, always remember that you're pressing the ingredients gently with just enough force to release their juices or flavorful oils. Muddling is not another word for pulverizing.

6. The recipe calls for stirring and you don’t have one of those long,pretty cocktail spoons.

This is definitely no problem! Stirring is usually used to incorporate, chill, and properly dilute cocktails comprised of all booze (i.e. no fruit juices or other non-clear ingredients). A cocktail stirring spoon is long and balanced; this allows you to nimbly rotate the handle in tiny circles between your fingers while the bowl of the spoon travels smoothly around the edge inside the glass, mixing the ingredients and ice together without aerating the cocktail.

But the same thing can be accomplished with virtually any long narrow, mostly flat object. A lot of people recommend using a chopstick; I actually prefer to use a knife. I like the slightly greater width and weight a knife has for balancing between my fingers while stirring.

 Stirring a cocktail using a knife.

Stirring a cocktail using a knife.