*photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society*
How it all started
We goofballs here at Vikre Distillery have been making whiskey now for several years. As we’ve distilled and aged a variety of different styles of whiskey, we’ve discovered the truth behind the old Scottish wisdom; The blender is indeed more important than the distiller. This sounds crazy, but get this: if you age the same whiskey in apparently identical barrels, you get completely different flavors from one cask to the next. The blender is responsible for picking the right mixture of casks to vat together to make a good, consistent whiskey. As Emily Vikre practiced on our house whiskies, she was drawn into the august realm of the blending house. In the olden days (and in a few notable contemporary cases), blenders would source whiskies from different distilleries, then mix and marry them in different casks to create complex, interesting whiskies. Before long, Emily was making friends with brokers, and they were sending her little bottles pulled from a variety of casks of interesting whiskies from all over the world, and she was slaving late into the evening over her pipettes and experimental blends in ball jars. So many ball jars!
Behind the name
Whilst Emily was applying her pristine palette to whiskey blending, Joel was digging into the history of the building where we’ve built our distillery. Yes, both Emily and Joel tend a little nerdy. Behind the painted sign for the “Paulucci Building,” one can make out the beginning and end of “Gowan Lenning Brown Co.” carved into the stone. And to either side of that there are friezes of George Washington, under which are banners that read “Honor.” Through a bit of casual historical inquiry (read: googling), we learned that the Gowan Lenning Brown Company was a grocery wholesales in the 19-teens and twenties. Ships from around the world bearing commodities like coffee, tea and spices would dock at the harbor wall, and unload right into the building. From there they were roasted/ground/etc. and packaged for distribution across the midwest and northwest. Believe it or not, for a time the Gowan Lenning Brown Company was the world’s largest grocery wholesaler. Just like the grocery companies of today, they had a house brand. And that house brand was called “Honor Brand.”
Honor Brand Is Born (again)
Before we knew it we had pictures of Honor Brand packages, Honor Brand advertisement and trade show displays, and a picture of the side of the building with a massive painted sign reading “The house of Honor Brand.” And even better yet, honor brand’s slogan was “Honor Brand is better.” Compared to the unpronounceable and opaque marketing ideas Joel & Emily come up with themselves, this seemed awfully straightforward. And so, 100 years from the first Honor Brand, the new Honor Brand was born in the same halls.
Hay & Sunshine
After a whole lot of ball jars (have we mentioned how many ball jars there were?), Emily settled on “Hay and Sunshine” for our first Honor Brand blend. It’s a mixture of bourbon, scotch and rye. The Bourbon gives it a sunny disposition, with its cheerful caramel, butterscotch and vanilla sweetness. The Scotch cuts the sweetness a bit, contributing a cereal grain character. Finally the rye, grassy and spicy, evokes a freshly mown hayfield. Run through the field. Rear up on your back legs, toss your mane and neigh. This is hay and sunshine.