Holiday Party Guide - Cookie Party!!!!


'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.  


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


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!


I think Thanksgiving may be our best holiday.  Christmas is actually my favorite holiday because I really love candles and Christmas trees and advent calendars.  But, I think Thanksgiving is probably the best one.  I, like many of us, need reminders of the powerful effect of thankfulness.  I like to say I'm not a worrier,  I’m a, ahem, troubleshooter.  This means that to keep from getting down on life, I need to give myself little pep talks.  If I sit, and really, truly think about, and let myself feel thankful for, the many wonderful things I have – life, health, family, clean sheets (not that often, but it’s great when I do), creativity, the lake, branches against the sky, a nose (seriously, never forget to feel lucky that you have a nose on your face; stick figures don't) – I feel much better.  Sometimes, when I really feel like I'm messing up on things or something seems totally wrong, I make myself sit and feel thankful for the fact that I will somehow find the wherewithal and energy to make it better.  And I think it helps.  Which is like weird hippie voodoo combined with The Secret.  Soooo, let’s change the subject.  Pumpkin pie! Is really what Thanksgiving is about.  I look forward to it all year long.

Some of my best ever Thanksgivings have been celebrations with friends, rather than family.  Or, as it is now widely known: Friendsgiving.  I am thankful (eh, eh, see? Thankful!) to live near my family now, and we can celebrate Thanksgiving together.  But, rather than Thanksgiving and Friendsgiving being alternatives to one another, I now like to see them as complementary.  i.e. a way of getting two meals with pumpkin pie (or at least something like it). 

The most efficient and least stressful way of celebrating Friendsgiving, is to make it a potluck.  But, if your friends are anything like Caitlin, our media manager, they’ll all just bring chips and salsa.  So, if you are hosting, give your friends guidance as to what dish they should bring, based on their culinary affinity.  You can even send them a suggested recipe (or two) each.  That way, you’ll be sure to have a complete meal.  To help you plan, we have assembled a menu for you, tailored for an arbitrary – yet compelling, we think – cast of archetypal characters.  Which we made up entirely based on who could come to our actual potluck.  We’ve assigned each person something to make complete with a link to the recipe(s).


You the host:  Eschew a full-blown turkey for something simpler, but still Thanksgiving-y, by making turkey meatballs.  Accompany these with a super simple cranberry-apple chutney.  Then, make some mashed potatoes, or roasted sweet potatoes, or both!  And, as the host, you’re in charge of a welcome cocktail.  Here is a stunning seasonal favorite of ours that is easy enough that it requires no measuring, so you can set it out on the buffet and give basic instructions to people.

Pear Mule -  Add one shot of Øvrevann Aquavit to a tall ice-filled glass.  Top with a couple ounces of pear juice (or pear nectar) and a couple ounces of ginger beer.  Squeeze in lime to taste.


Your friend who can’t cook:  Tell them it’s ok, then ask them to bring crackers and a cheese plate (if they look bewildered, say: get a sharp cheddar, a brie, and a goat’s cheese, plus some olives).  And they can bring a bottle or two of red wine (my personal suggestion would be pinot noir from Oregon or New Zealand).    


Your friend who is a self-proclaimed foodie: Put them in charge of notoriously finicky Brussels sprouts.  They may have a favorite recipe already, but if not, ask them to make Momofuku’s zinger of a side, which combines roasted Brussels with a funky, spicy fish sauce vinaigrette.


*Your friend who worked on the farm during college:  They know what’s in season and what to do with it!  Ask them to prepare a medley of roasted seasonal vegetables, like these roasted root vegetables with miso-maple sauce.  (Tip: suggest that they use lime juice in the dressing instead of rice vinegar to give the earthy veggies extra brightness.)


Your friend who does CrossFit:  Let’s face it, in addition to talking about how many burpees they did that morning, they talk about bacon all the time, so tell them to bring something with bacon.  An especially delightful option is sautéed pears with bacon-mustard dressing.

*Your vegan friend: Make sure they have enough to eat by assigning them something substantial like roasted squash stuffed with wild rice dressing.  (Note: the linked recipe includes butter, but this can be replaced with olive oil to make the recipe vegan.)  If they’re willing, see if they could also make a mushroom gravy for everyone to enjoy.  (Tip: for any gravy, the flavor of the stock or broth makes a big difference, so for a vegan gravy, make sure the vegetable stock is really good. Adding some miso also adds more richness.)


Your friend who stress-bakes: Will probably be more than happy to be in charge of dessert.  If they are like me, nothing is more soothing for the soul than making pie crust.  In this case, by all means let them make the pie of their dreams.  But, if they’re one of the 98% of people who freaks out at the thought of making pie crust, suggest a crustless pumpkin custard accompanied by a plate of molasses-spice cookies.  You, as the host, can supplement with whipped cream (and if you’re extra on the ball, some sorbet or baked fruit for anyone who is vegan or gluten and dairy free).

Your friend who knows what amaro is: Can have their chance to shine by providing ingredients for a bracing after-dinner cocktail to aid the digestion.  Amaro and aquavit are both wonderful after a rich meal, so we came up with this digestif cocktail, if your friend is looking for inspiration.

The Bitter Norwegian -  Stir 1 ½ oz. Øvrevann (or Voyageur) Aquavit, ¾ oz. Cynar, and ¾ oz. sweet vermouth with ice to chill.  Strain into a glass over a large ice cube.  Garnish with a cherry, if desired.         


Skål!  Happy Thanksgiving friends! 

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.


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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The Most Important Meal


When you get a group of 20 rather creative people together to brainstorm ideas for theme nights, you get some pretty fun and silly results.  So far this summer we've hosted a "tropical goth" night, "nocturnal animals," and most recently, "breakfast for dinner."  What does that mean?  Cocktails inspired by waffles, eggs benedict, and Froot Loops, of course!  Next up: Northwoods Rodeo on Wednesday, September 27.  We have just started distributing our spirits in Texas with a new partner, Pioneer Wine and Spirits.  A couple of their employees lost their homes in the flooding from Hurricane Harvey, so we will be donating a portion of the proceeds from our theme night on the 27th to the fundraising efforts Pioneer has set up to support those families.



We are hiring!

UPDATE: Thank you to everyone who applied! This position has been filled.

Director of Distribution and Sales

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 7 states. As we grow, we are looking for someone to focus on increasing our sales in existing territories and strategically growing our distribution footprint.


Leverage and grow distributor partnerships to advance sales

  1. Maintain & grow existing distributor relationships
  2. Design and implement programming, incentives, and discounts in partnership with distributors, including new product and territory launches
  3. Provide training and support to distributor sales force
  4. Lead expansion of distribution network, by building relationships and negotiating contracts with distributors in new territories nationwide

Provide strategic, well-coordinated leadership of in-house sales team

  1. Manage and analyze sales and depletion data to guide sales, distribution and marketing strategy 
  2. Manage, train and grow our team of brand ambassadors to represent the brand in all major territories
  3. Coordinate account-level sales support using in-house team, and provide direct sales support to key accounts

 Help guide brand expansion

  1. Partner with the CEO and President of the company to develop and execute overall brand, marketing, distribution and sales strategy 
  2. Partner with finance director to manage overall sales and distribution budget for maximum sales impact

Other duties as assigned


  1. Travel up to 50%, including driving
  2. Ability to work out of Duluth or Minneapolis/St. Paul
  3. Flexibility to adapt and thrive in a fast-evolving company and industry
  4. Integrity, independence, empathy
  5. Ability to get along with these people
  6. Commitment to these values


  1. Minimum of 5 years experience in product sales and distribution, preferably in alcoholic beverages
  2. Prefer someone well connected in spirits distribution
  3. Demonstrated ability to lead and manage a team
  4. Proven negotiation and strategic leadership skills


  1. Base salary plus commission
  2. Health and disability insurance
  3. Generous vacation benefit

Next steps

  1. Send your info to

New Menu


Your choice of four of our spirits, 

house tonic, soda & lime


_____ & TONIC - 7

Your choice of clear spirit,
house tonic, lime



Spruce Gin, Whimm's #1,
ginger soda



Øvrevann Aquavit, lime,
sugar, mint, fizz



Lake Superior Vodka, apricot wine,
green tea liqueur



Øvrevann Aquavit, herb liqueur, papaya, passionfruit, lime, angostura 



Honor Brand Hay & Sunshine Whiskey, pineapple vermoose, bitters



coffee-infused milk-washed
Øvrevann Aquavit, sugar



Strawberry-infused Juniper Gin, peppercorn simple syrup, lime, rosewater, lillet-ish foam



Choice of clear spirit, sugar, bitters, orange twist  

With Voyageur +3   With whiskey +5



Neat or on the rocks

*On Tap


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




Click here for our cocktail room hours and tour information!


On Blending

Some thoughts from Emily Vikre.

A few months ago I sat in my office with an array of whiskey samples in front of me.  They were all the same whiskey from our distillery - Sugarbush Whiskey, a bourbon mash aged in a mix of barrels previously used for port and for bourbon - and they had all aged the same amount of time in our barrel room.  But, each sample – each taken from a different barrel – tasted markedly different.  I tasted, scribbled notes, and gradually decided which four barrels we would mix together to comprise our next release of this whiskey. 

Personally, I think of this as blending whiskey - and the person in charge of pulling barrels to comprise any given whiskey release is generally referred to as the blender - but in the industry, mixing whiskey barrels from one distillery is generally called vatting.  Unless a whiskey is a single barrel release, it is virtually always vatted.  On the other hand, blended is often a dirty word when associated with whiskey, denoting poor quality.  So, what gives?

As with many things, “blended” whisky was historically really good.  Then it earned a bad reputation because problems with quality arose, but has since begun to transcend its reputation in practice, if not in our psyches.  (As a side note, whether or not you put an e in whiskey depends on what country you’re in, and often varies based on which country’s whiskey you’re talking about)  In the mid to late 1800s in Scotland, blended whisky was developed to make a softer, more palatable alternative to the insanely heavily-peated malt whiskies that were being made at the many tiny distilleries dotting the country.  The blended whiskies combined malt whisky (distilled from malted barley) with gentler, smoother grain whiskies (made from any grain that isn’t malted barley).  Thus was born the likes of Johnny Walker, a blended whisky that still lives and reigns today.  But, in more recent years large quantities of high quality, long-aged single malt whisky started to become available lifting single malt to the throne as king of whisky.  At the same time, many blended whiskies had gradually begun to cut corners and costs by using lower quality grain whisky and sometimes adding neutral spirits which adds bulk without contributing any flavor, thus compromising the quality of the overall spirit.


Therein lies the rub.  Blending is not inherently bad, in fact it has the potential to be very, very good.  But any blend is really only going to be as good as the quality of the things you put into it.   Think of blending whisky like blending paint pigments (I’m into paint analogies lately).  Imagine you’re making a painting of a stormy sea that’s boiling blue-green-grey.  On your painter’s palette you have a nice brilliant green, a nice royal blue, and so on.  None of these colors will evoke the sea in the way you want to, so you mix drops of them together to create a new color.  The colors you choose to mix, as well as the proportion of each, will alter what the final color winds up being.  And, if one or two of the paints you use are bad quality, maybe really clumpy or thin so they don’t give good coverage, this will make the final paint worse.  However, if all the pigments you start with are nice, you can mix up precisely the blue-green-grey of the sea that you’re going for.

Some blended whiskies have returned to the approach of blending high quality whiskies to create something different and more balanced than any of the individual whiskies that go into the blend.  Compass Box, is a notable example of thoughtful blending that I find incredibly inspiring.  And I am delving into it myself because it is a fascinating art (plus, there aren't nearly enough women aspiring toward becoming master blenders!).   This is also the approach that has long been used in wine.  It is true that these days the single varietal wines have become popular in a way they never have been before.  We reach for the Cabernet Sauvignon, the Pinot Noir, or the Chardonnay, instead of the “red blend” or “white blend” because an unspecified blend may sound non-descript.  But, many, even most, of the world’s truly great wines are blends.  Blending the wine from different grapes allows a winemaker to work toward their perfect marriage and balance of fruit, acidity, tannins, and alcohol to create a wine that can be more fetchingly complex than a wine made from a single grape varietal.  A red Bordeaux, for example is usually a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc (and sometimes other grapes as well).  The Merlot’s plummy velvet softens the sometimes rigid structure and savory notes of Cabernet Franc.  The Cabernet Sauvignon boosts the other two with its powerful body and complexity.  And different estates in different years may make adjustments to their blends to create their own style and realize their own vision for what their wine should be.

Speaking of creating your style, many commercial winemakers also blend their wine to try to achieve consistency from year to year.  When a brand has a specific taste that it knows its customers are looking for, the winemakers blend together wine from their different storage vessels and even from different years to try to create a consistent product.  And this brings us back to vatting with whiskey because for large whiskey distilleries with a signature flavor, the only way to achieve this flavor is to mix together multiple barrels of whiskey because the fact of the matter is, every barrel of whiskey ages slightly differently from the next. Even in single malt Scotch, the word single in there means that it is from a single distillery, but not from a single barrel or even a single distillation run.  Your single malt will be a blend of multiple barrels with the goal of achieving the distiller’s vision of balance and complexity.  And that brings us back to me, sitting with my samples.  I chose barrel numbers 29, 31, 32, and 33.  It’s a lovely whiskey.                        


Faux-Jito Day

We would go crazy if we tried to participate in every booze-based holiday so we select a few favorites to celebrate each year. This year we swapped National Body Shot Day for something more refreshing - National Mojito Day.  Our lack of rum doesn’t stop us from participating.  It might not be traditional, but a Mojito made with our Øvrevann Aquavit is quite delicious.  

See for yourself!


Origins Unknown - an Aquavit "Mojito"

  • 2 ounces Øvrevann Aquavit
  • 12 mint leaves (plus 1 for garnish)
  • 1/2 lime (cut into four wedges)
  • 2 teaspoons fine sugar
  • 1/2 ounce soda water

1. Start with a highball or collins glass. 
2. Add sugar and lime wedges to your glass. Muddle. 
3. Put mint leaves into one hand and clap. 
4. Rub the mint leaves around the rim of the glass and drop into lime juice.
5. Fill your glass with crushed ice
6. Add Aquavit and stir gently until sugar dissolves.
7. Add a splash of soda water. 
8. Top with crushed ice, a spring of mint, and any other garnishes that tickle your fancy. We went with edible flowers and extra lime.

Father's Day

It’s father’s day! I’ve been a dad for a few years now, which doesn’t make me an expert by any stretch, but is apparently qualifying enough that Emily asked me to write this post. Also I have a pretty solid dad myself. Here’s what I know about being a dad:

1.     It’s really fun

2.     It’s sometimes rather impossible

3.     It’s a hell of a lot easier and less fraught than being a mom

4.     It’s  nonetheless very important

Given number three, father’s day feels rather irrelevant compared to mother’s day, so I tend to feel a little sheepish about it being celebrated at all. But hey, let’s not let that stop us! Bring on the pie!

Since father’s day tends to bring out the most stereotypical impulses in our consumer-society-cultural-marketing-apparatus, I like to respond by fully (if a bit ironically) inhabiting the stereotype. So here’s what I want for father’s day:

1.     A tie clip

2.     Breakfast in bed

3.     Power tools and/or a wheelbarrow

4.     Dinner on the deck featuring me as grill master

5.     A nice dram of whiskey

I could offer a host of more sensitive ideas, but who am I kidding? I make whiskey! I wear boots! I have calluses! I’m a walking embodiment of bearded working-manliness. At least that’s what Emily let’s me believe about myself while she does all the real work.

So for this father’s day, at the very least pick your dad up a bottle of whiskey. I’m partial to our Iron Range American Single Malt, which you can still buy at the distillery. Or make a less conventional pick and grab a bottle of Voyageur Aquavit, which is essentially whiskey for Vikings, and is available at most decent liquor stores in MN and WI and a few other states besides. That way you’ll support our family so I can go on being a dad.

But then probably also do what I’m actually hoping for this father’s day. Spend the day hanging out with your family. Go for some walks. Play on a swingset. Run through a sprinkler. And pretend it’s mother’s day by pulling your actual weight.

Happy father’s day fellas.


Mother's Day Menu

I am here today to tell you that Mother's Day is very important!  It's a time to celebrate the best mother you've ever had - your own mother - for all the love and care she has given you, and no matter how crazy she sometimes makes you :).  Now that I'm a mom, I've realized that I kind of feel more strongly about mother's day than even my birthday.  After all, all you do to get your birthday is be born.  But, being a mom, now that's hard work every day!  I don't need cards or presents or flowers for mother's day though, just some good time with my family.  And, I also definitely wouldn't say no to someone doing the cooking for me.  So, if you are the (excellent! thoughtful!) kind of person who makes breakfast for your mom or for your children's mom - or both! - on Mother's Day, I've gathered a lovely set of recipes for you.         

This menu is all inspired by my favorite way of cooking and eating:  food that's relatively simple, but made carefully and with awesome ingredients.  First prep a nice bowl of chopped fruit and berries.  And you should probably make some bacon as well (I find it easiest to cook bacon in the oven).  Then round out the brunch with a flavorful frittata (inspired by an old leek quiche recipe, but frittata is infinitely easier than quiche) and tender raspberries muffins. To drink, serve classic Greyhounds.  Make sure to use freshly squeezed grapefruit juice - preferably juice that you squeeze yourself because it is so much less bitter.  The traditional version of a Greyhound uses vodka, and our Lake Superior Vodka makes a stellar Greyhound.  BUT, a worthwhile thing to know is that fresh grapefruit juice goes with very nearly any spirit at all, and will be equally delightful with any of our gins or aquavits, if that's what mom prefers.  (I'm a big fan of aquavit and grapefruit juice, personally.)  And don't forget coffee, always coffee.

Leek and Feta Frittata (serves 4-6)

  • 1 lb, or a bit more, leeks
  • 1 Tbs. butter or olive oil
  • 8-9 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup cream or half-and-half
  • zest of one lemon, plus a squeeze of lemon juice (1-2 tsp.)
  • about 4 oz. feta cheese, cut into slices
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Heat your oven to 375F
  2. Cut the dark green portion off of the leeks and discard.  Slice the leeks in half length-wise, and rinse very well making sure to get rid of any grit or dirt between the layers.  Shake off as much water as you can, then thinly slice the leeks.
  3. Heat the olive oil or butter in an oven proof frying pan (use a 9-inch or so pan.  Like how all my measurements are "about" and "or so"?  Frittatas are really flexible.), then add the leek slices and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cook over medium-high heat until the leeks are very soft, about 8-10 minutes.  Remove from the heat.
  4. In a bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, lemon zest and juice, and some more salt (about 1/2 tsp.) and pepper.  Pour this mix over the leeks in the pan, then spread the feta slices across the top.
  5. Bake until puffed and cooked through, around 30 minutes.  Take out of the oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.  

Brown Butter Raspberry Muffins (Makes 10-12 muffins (depending on your tin filling tendencies)) I've found one of the keys to wonderfully tender muffins is to make sure your dairy and eggs are at room temperature. So, I usually set these ingredients out the night before.

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk AT ROOM TEMP
  • 1/2 cup creme fraiche AT ROOM TEMP
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten, AT ROOM TEMP
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten, AT ROOM TEMP
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries (you could also use frozen - don't defrost if you do)
  1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter, and cook over medium heat, stirring nearly constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan as you go, until the butter turns brown and smells nutty. Mine takes about 7 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature or slightly warmer.
  2. Preheat your oven to 350F and grease, or line with muffin cups, a muffin tin.
  3. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  4. In another bowl, whisk together the the sugar, buttermilk, and creme fraiche until totally combined. Whisk in the egg and egg yolk until smooth. Finally, whisk in the browned butter and vanilla.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and start to gently fold it together. When it is still quite lumpy and not fully combined, stir in the raspberries. Continue to stir gently just until you see no more dry patches. Don't overmix!
  6. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin, filling each well about 3/4s of the way (or a touch more) full.
  7. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a tester inserted in the center of one comes out clean. Let cool for just a minute or two, and then turn them out of the pan quickly (otherwise the bottoms steam) and cool briefly on a cooling rack. Then eat them warm, with plenty of butter, because that is really what one ought to do with fresh muffins.

Greyhound Cocktail

For each cocktail, add 1 1/2 oz. Lake Superior Vodka (or another spirit - I also recommend our Spruce Gin or our Aquavit, for example) to a glass with a couple cubes of ice.  Fill the glass with freshly squeezed grapefruit juice.

(If mom hates grapefruit juice, definitely don't make this cocktail.  I'd suggest something like a French 75 instead - Shake 1 oz. gin and 1/2 oz. each of lemon and simple syrup with ice.  Strain into a champagne flute and top with champagne.  You could, of course, also always make mimosas. Nobody ever didn't like a mimosa.)

Somewhere in the Middle of America

I know that we are located in what a lot of the country would consider flyover country (although I suppose it’s even more likely people think of our part of the Midwest as Southern Canada, ha).  On the national stage we’re always playing a fourth fiddle to the coasts and the south, and this, in spite of the many, many differences across the region, knits the Midwest together with a sort-of middle child syndrome.  People rarely notice us, no matter how good our grades are.  But, we know, and you know, that the midwest is rich with culture.  Because of this, we went into our first visit to Omaha with high expectations (even if most of our knowledge of Omaha was based on a Counting Crows song ;).  And they were certainly met.  Omaha has a hopping food and drinks scene combined with a close-knit sense of creative community and some of the sweetest people we’ve met anywhere.  In other words, it has all of the ingredients of the Midwest’s special sauce.


We threw ourselves right into the middle of things by hosting a cocktail competition. Cocktail competitions are usually the prerogative of huge liquor companies with equally huge budgets, but you know what they say: fake it till you make it!  Plus, what better way to meet a whole slew of super-talented bartenders and taste a barrage of super-delicious cocktails all at once, right?!  The night of the cocktail competition gathered bartenders from across the city at Spirit World for an evening of friendly rivalry.  All of the drinks were excellent, but the winning bartender rose to the top with cocktails that exhibited especially meticulous flavors and balance, and that we were floored to learn were almost sugar free - but more on that in a moment.


Our winner, Doug Strain, followed a circuitous path towards cocktailologizing.  After working for a spell in the medical field as a Certified Nurisng Assistant he decided he was tired of sticking needles into people’s fingers, and he trained to become a licensed massage therapist.  As a massage therapist he began to delve into the world of essential oils, learning all about botanicals and the wide ranging impacts that aromatics can have on an individual.  Meanwhile, he was becoming interested in cocktails and craft spirits, and he began to hang out at the Berry & Rye, a then-new craft cocktail room in Omaha, absorbing the action behind the bar.  When a job-opening popped up, he figured he might as well apply.  He basically blew the interview.  Instead of answers to questions about service and bartending, he gave blank stares.  But, as luck would have it, the faltering conversation eventually turned to aromatherapy, and Doug described all the work he was doing with botanicals and aromatics.  Some sort-of lightbulb must have gone off because the bar manager, Luke, called Doug back and told him that even though Luke was really looking for a bartender with experience, Doug was welcome to come start working as a barback and to begin learning cocktailing under him.  Doug spent a year and a half working his way up, honing his bartending skills and falling especially in love with the culinary aspects of cocktail creation.


And this is the part where, someday when Doug writes the book about his life and career, the action really begins.  He was about to take on the position of head bartender at Laka Lono Rum Club, a sister bar to the Berry & Rye and Omaha’s first tiki bar, when he got an urgent call from his doctor’s office.  They wanted him to come in immediately to discuss some lab results.  Cue the ominous music.  Doug was diagnosed with Type I diabetes.  This is the type of diabetes that is an autoimmune disease wherein your body attacks your own pancreas, shutting down your ability to produce insulin.  It’s really bad news.  It basically means that you have to monitor your blood sugar levels constantly and inject yourself with insulin several times a day otherwise your cells can’t absorb energy.  You also have to be really, really careful about how much sugar and other carbohydrates you eat.  In Doug’s own words, “just imagine the irony – I devote two years of my life to learning how to put sugar, ice and alcohol into pretty glasses for people and right before I get my chance to help lead a program to put LOTS of sugar, ice and alcohol into pretty glasses I find out that it’ll kill me if I drink it. Ha.”


For most, this would be the end of a career in cocktails, but Doug has risen to the challenge, exploring new sweeteners that don’t cause the spikes in blood sugar that regular sugar does.  And he’s taking it a step further, working to understand sugar-free cocktail making well enough that he can teach this different set of tools and principles to others in the industry.  After all, people with diabetes deserve to have just as much fun as the rest of us!  An important tool is the sugar alcohols, like xylitol.  They’re extracted from natural sources, and while they can be used in similar measurements to traditional sugar, they have a much smaller and slower impact on your blood sugar.  Even the sugars in fruit juices - even tart juices like lemon and lime - present a potential problem for diabetics, if they’re not carefully monitored.  Doug has discovered ways of combining citric acid for sharpness and citrus oils from peels expressed over the drink to trick your senses into tasting citrus.  You can see these clever techniques at play in his winning cocktails.

The Gimless

The Gimless is a riff on none other than the simple and delicious Gimlet.  Traditionally, this popular gin-sour variation is made with Four Roses lime cordial but these days, many opt for a version using fresh lime juice and simple syrup. Like any good mad scientist, Doug spends much of his time in his lab.  While experimenting, he discovered xylitol and citric acid can interplay in a way very similar to simple syrup and lime juice.  He put this carb-conscious mixture to the test in a few classic cocktail recipes, starting with the Daiquiri. And the Gimlet is basically a Daiquiri with gin instead of rum, and the rest is history. Doug’s favorite Gimlets use a stiff, aggressive, gin so he went with Boreal Spruce Gin to make the Gimless bright and bold.  


How to make the Gimless

  • 2 oz Vikre Spruce Gin
  • .75 oz xylitol gomme
  • .75 oz Citric Acid Solution

Shake and strain and express lime peel into drink. Garnish with lime diamond (Cut lime wheel and slice off edges to form square and set on pick)

The Improved Lavender Cocktail

Before the Old Fashioned was old fashioned, it was what people called a cocktail.  The original “cocktail” was composed of any spirit, plus sugar, and bitters.  In the late 1800s, the creative cocktail juices began flowing, ingredients like maraschino liqueur, absinthe, or otherwise were added, and the “Improved Cocktail” was born.  When Doug created his Improved Lavender Cocktail, he tried his recipe with each of our three Boreal Gins.  The Cedar Gin stood out for its unusual but friendly, soft, botanical elements.  The finished cocktail was garnished with a lemon peel and a cinnamon stick.  The sight and scent of the lemon peel and cinnamon stick garnishes promise a taste of a floral yet cozy cocktail, which is exactly what you get.  


How to make the Improved Lavender Cocktail

  • 2 oz Vikre Cedar Gin
  • .5 oz Sugar Free Cinnamon Lavender Syrup*
  • .25 oz Pierre Ferrand Orange Curacao
  • 4 dashes Absinthe
  • 4 dashes Creole Bitters (Peychaud's)

Build over ice sphere. Express lemon peel into glass and wrap around torched cinnamon stick for garnish.

*The Cinnamon Lavender syrup was created by double boiling 24oz of xylitol gomme syrup with 15 grams of dried lavender flowers and six 4 inch cinnamon sticks. By using the gentle heat from a double boil, the lavender isn't scorched or burned and it still extracts the flavors. Using the existing syrup as a base facilitates flavor extraction as well, as opposed to using water and adding xylitol later.

Doug has recently teamed up with Maven Social and has taken the position as Director of Maven Labs, a craft cocktail subscription service that will be incorporating his sugar-free ingredients into several of it's boxes in the upcoming months as well as selling them in stores.

Get more recipes from Doug on his blog,

Easter Bunny-Approved Jelly Bean Mimosas

There is only one day in the year when I eat jellybeans, and that is on Easter. And when it is Easter, I eat jellybeans for breakfast. If you’re young, and you’re allowed to hunt for your Easter basket first thing in the morning, I think it’s practically impossible that you will not eat jellybeans for breakfast. And then if you go to church for a Midwestern church basement Easter breakfast and there are jelly beans all over the table, you will eat more jelly beans for breakfast while you wait for the egg bake to be served. And if this habit has been firmly established by the time you are seven, it will probably last a lifetime, or, you know, at least into your thirties.

This year, through some complex logic and higher reasoning, I decided I would further legitimate my jelly-beans-for-Easter-breakfast tradition by combining it with the tradition of brunch mimosas, which is itself legitimated by it being a holiday and a celebration. I’ve been assured the Easter Bunny approves.

Because jelly beans are basically sugar plus another form of sugar plus food coloring (yeah, I know—but, it’s just once a year!), they start to dissolve if you put them in vodka, quickly flavoring and coloring it. Making a jelly bean liqueur is as easy as choosing which color or flavor (in jelly beans, I rather think the color is the flavor, i.e. the flavor purple, the flavor yellow, etc.) you want to use and adding a few tablespoons of them to a cup of vodka.

When testing out my idea, I chose to use orange-flavored jelly beans because I was riffing on mimosas, but I think for Easter I’m going to infuse a separate jar of vodka with each color of jelly bean and then let people choose which they want to use as the base for their cocktail. Rainbows of cocktails! Again, the Easter Bunny approves.

Let the jelly beans sit in the jar of vodka for a couple hours, shaking it occasionally, then strain the remnants of the beans out (or you could let them fully dissolve, depending on how much sweetness you want). Add an ounce of your jelly bean liqueur to a Champagne glass, along with a small squeeze of lemon juice, and top it with Champagne. Voilà: jelly bean mimosas! 

Tradition is upheld, and if not improved, at least made bubbly.

Jelly Bean Mimosas

Makes enough for about 6 cocktails

  • 1 cup vodka
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons jelly beans of a single flavor of your choice
  • 1 lemon
  • Dry Champagne or other sparkling wine like cava or prosecco

Emily Vikre's Jelly Bean Mimosas were originally published on Food 52.

Makin' Martinis

Last spring we invaded Melissa Coleman's (aka The Faux Martha) gorgeous kitchen to pick our friend Erik Eastman's brilliant brain and talk about cocktails. And many other things. Here's a sneak peak of the excellent bibulous things to come...

The Classic

1/8 oz. Easy & Oskey Orange Bitters

2 oz. Vikre Boreal Juniper Gin

1 oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth

1 lemon coin (cut off a small, round sliver of a lemon peel)

Stir all ingredients with ice until very well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass.

Spring Cocktail Menu


Your choice of four of our spirits, 

house tonic, soda & lime


_____ & TONIC

Your choice of clear spirit,
house tonic, lime



Voyageur Aquavit, pepita orgeat,
molé bitters



Lake Superior Vodka, juniper syrup,
lemon, fizz



Cedar Gin, miso caramel,
cherry, grapefruit, lime



Øvrevann Aquavit,
sage-fennel vermoose, celery



Juniper Gin, jerk-spiced syrup,
lime, egg white, salt



coffee-infused milk-washed
Øvrevann Aquavit, sugar



Iron Range American Single Malt,
Vermoose, house bitters



Choice of clear spirit, sugar, bitters, orange twist  

With Voyageur +3   With whiskey +5



Neat or on the rocks


*On Tap 




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

Click here for cocktail room hours and tour info!


Making Friends

I have been a member of the Minneapolis chapter of the USBG (U.S. Bartender’s Guild) for about eight months now. For many reasons, I hadn’t attended any of the guild events in the twin cities until last month. I rode down with our Brand and Media Manager to attend the meeting and spend the evening with a few folks. I had no idea what to expect.

We showed up at Hola Arepa a bit early and watched everyone arrive over the next twenty minutes, grab coffee or punch, and mingle. I was struck by how many hugs were passed around, and how many smiles and handshakes were offered to us, unfamiliar faces to most of the guild. We went from being the awkward first few folks to making acquaintances and connections with everyone in our vicinity quite quickly. The sense of camaraderie was palpable. These bartenders aren’t in competition with each other. They are friends, and most have worked with or for each other at some point. It is a group of craftspeople at various points in their careers. There were smiles all around, some playful banter, and a lot of learning about each other’s jobs.

I said hello and hugged a few of the friends I’ve made, and the meeting began. It was some old and new business, some charity talk, some upcoming events, and then a presentation by Baker’s bourbon. At the end of the presentation, a round of Arepas was delivered, these ridiculous corn sandwiches with pork and pickled onions and magic. Punch was a bourbon Campari thing, the Baker’s Dozen, very tasty. It felt like we were taken in by a family for a day and I felt so welcomed by all involved. It was good to meet and share stories with some people I have known of in this industry for some time.

We met up with a Copper & Kings rep, had some amazing tacos and cocktails at the new place called Mercado, and talked shop. There were a few other industry folks there, just chilling on a Monday afternoon, studying or getting some computer work done. Food and drink were excellent.

A Paloma & "Chicken Lady" tacos at Mercado

A Paloma & "Chicken Lady" tacos at Mercado


We proceeded to the cleverly-hidden Volstead’s Emporium. To get in, we strolled down an alley and past some dumpsters, and after a few raps on the door, the metal slat opened and someone peeked out. The door guy let us in, sent us downstairs and into a luxurious, dimly lit bar. We snagged three of the five seats at the bar and met some real lovely dudes behind the stick. We chatted about some real nerdy stuff, as I’m wont to do: industry trends, weird cocktails we’d seen, and one of the tenders poured a small sample of a lamb-distilled mezcal. Some mezcals, called Pechuga, are distilled with raw poultry suspended above the pot to add a sort of savory, round richness. This mescal used lamb instead. Super weird, real delicious. We sort of parked and just ate and drank and made conversation with new friends and our rep buddy and his fiancé. It was very inspiring to see the sort of engagement these bartenders have with their craft. They made us a lovely Martinez with our Voyageur Aquavit. We closed out and the bartenders sent us with their greetings to Dustin, a dear friend who works with a few bars in Minneapolis, who we were to meet at Restaurant Alma.


We got to Alma and sat at the bar, presented with a three-column menu and a fixed price. Cocktails were ridiculous, intentional and clearly well-crafted. Turns out, the manager on duty that night was an old elementary school friend of mine. Our plan was to have a drink and share three courses between the two of us. Dustin arrived, and we decided to add another three courses. It was supposed to be like two dinners shared. What ensued was a dining experience so outstanding and lovely it made me laugh on more than one occasion, earning some weird looks from some of the service staff.

Dustin helped design some of the cocktails on the menu, and he knew a bunch of the service staff. I think our connections and the slow-ish pace of the evening prompted some fun from the kitchen and our bartender/server. We were handled by a lovely, professional gal named Scarlett and the new guy who was training. He did most of the talking, and was just charming as hell. It was never merely “what can I do for you?”. It was “how are you feeling tonight, what kind of direction do you want to travel with this experience?”. We listened to him describe the few dishes he had tried, and he described them with such alacrity and poetry that it was difficult to choose anything but his recommendations. We picked our 6 things, and sipped our drinks. The kitchen sent out an amuse bouche salad for each of us. The service staff chose a wine and we each got a solid few ounces. Each course that followed contained one extra dish, so we each had a plate in front of us. We went at it like friends, just passing the plates around to try everything. Each plate of each course also came with another well-curated wine pairing. The server brought us each three glasses every time food was brought out and walked us through the pairings. Bonkers. The food was extraordinary on its own, but the wines just made it explode. When the second course of three was brought out and it happened again, three more amazing wines paired to our food, I think that’s when I started laughing. The entrée course was accompanied again by an extra dish from the kitchen. We were thinking about closing our tabs, as dessert only seemed likely when we were contending with just two dishes per course. Our server suppressed any hope of leaving immediately by bringing us each a small dollop of sorbet, instructing us to cleanse our palates and prepare for the dessert course. Because there was a dessert course. There was some crazy ricotta dish, nice and savory, and then a sweet thing that escapes my memory, I believe it had some orange marmalade and a cake-y thing. And another wine, a magical Moscato d’Asti. The attention and service we received were seriously insane. A wee cup of espresso made its way out for each of us after our marvelous desserts.

I can’t even.

The shared snack we sought evolved into hours of food and wine and laughter, and I can imagine no more fitting an end to our evening than that tiny cup of espresso and sharing smiles and handshakes with our service team.

There is a fun rapport that develops between bartenders/servers and regular guests. There is another, similar type of rapport that develops if a guest is a fellow industry employee. It’s not like we try to impress when we are working, really. I guess that is a part of it, but it’s more like we acknowledge and respect the contribution each other makes to the whole industry. When we walked into those bars and made industry-specific conversation, the atmosphere changed. We skip a certain amount of small-talk and we proceed to genuine chat about drinks and food, about our tattoos or jewelry selection, about our weird nerdy passions in and out of the industry.

At every turn, we were greeted as if we were family. The Alma dinner was a romantic gesture on behalf of the bar and kitchen staff, a sort of “you are welcome here, and we hope you are not only having a good time, but that you leave here in better spirits than when you arrived; here is a token of appreciation for no other reason than you’re a part of our community.” The romance is what keeps me in the industry, those moments of transcendence when providing or receiving such service.

Scuzzi & Dustin at Alma

Scuzzi & Dustin at Alma


Bartending has been elevated these past decades from its post-prohibition position as a menial, transitional or dead-end job to a craft, a career worthy of some respect. There is a myriad of skills required to truly transport a guest from the world outside our doors to a place of comfort and community. Even more recently, the craft cocktail service has moved from a pretentious knowledge gap back to genuine hospitality. I read a sign every day I walk to work, outside an old church close to downtown Duluth. It paraphrases a quote from Henri J. M. Nouwen, “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.” Nouwen was a Dutch priest and theologian, and was writing about spirituality, but it gets at the kernel of magic revealed by truly exceptional service. It doesn’t matter as much anymore that your bartender knows the seven potential origins of the Martini, or has sampled age-old bottles of Chartreuse and considers the modern iteration sub-par. We go back to bars that treat us well, where we have developed friendships and had a great time. The kind of treatment  we received isn’t only available to industry folks. It’s offered to friends, and any guest can become a friend.

For me, the most significant part of the trip wasn’t the extraordinary food or superb drinks. I loved watching and being included in the big family of bar and service folks. I think the biggest strength of a tightly-knit industry like hospitality is the sense that, no matter if our establishments are competitors, we are all on the same team. We all work and play together, eventually.

Wait. In the words of the Arthur theme song:

Everyday when you're walking down the street, everybody that you meet

Has an original point of view

And I say HEY! hey! what a wonderful kind of day!

Where you can learn to work and play

And get along with each other


You should reasonably have that song stuck in your head if you watched PBS in the 90’s at all. I’m not sorry. Cheers!

-Nicholas "Scuzzi" Pascuzzi

originally published on his blog, Scuz News

Photos: Caitlin Nielson, Vikre Distillery