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

Repeal Day!

It's repeal day! Prohibition officially ended four score and three years ago. (That's how they said 83 in the olden days). But guess what?! They didn't flip a switch and magically create a legal playing field/free market, nor did they magically flip a switch and eliminate the influence of criminal elements in the industry, nor did they magically flip a switch and create a wholesome and positive culture around alcohol. 

Indeed, some of the compromises that were required to make repeal socially reasonable and politically palatable still significantly affect our work in the industry today. Add to those compromises the intervening decades of political wrangling and industry infighting between the big suppliers and distributors, and we work in a complicated patchwork of legal and practical limitations that make it hard to succeed as a small company. When we want to enter a new state, we have to investigate an entire array of new laws and practices, get the relevant licenses and comply with new reporting requirements, and find a new distributor who is willing to co-invest in developing a small brand, in spite of the many structural factors that make big brands much more attractive to distributors.

This history is the answer to many of your questions, including "Why can't you sell me a case of whiskey?" and "Why can't I buy your product in ___?" and "Why can't you just ship me a bottle?" and so on.

In the last zero score and four years (That's how they said not-very-long in the olden days.), Joel and Emily have been involved in local efforts to make life a little easier for craft distilleries. They've lobbied for legislation and testified before various state committees (with baby Espen in tow!), helping in a small way to pass the new laws that have allowed sampling at MN microdistilleries, then cocktail rooms, then very limited bottle sales.

These changes are important, and have made it much easier to get our product onto the tongues of all you good people. But we still have a long way to go to creating a level playing field for small producers, a healthy "drink less, drink better" culture, and of course to Vikre Distillery becoming the big company that can restrict newcomers from entering the industry. Just kidding.

Hey, at least it's legal to drink! So enjoy a glass of Northern Courage, and then work up the courage to call your legislators.


-Vikre Distillery


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 soon-to-be-released blog, Vaagen's Vegan Sauce. Keep an eye out for more Vaagen & Vikre collaborations!

Follow Ellen on Instagram at @vaagensvegansauce

What's Really Happening Inside a Whiskey Barrel?

When visitors come on tours at our distillery, less than half know that whiskey is brown because of the barrel it aged in. Actually, any distilled spirit—whether it’s vodka, gin, whiskey, brandy, or rum— comes off of the still clear. When spirits are aged in barrels, though, they pick up color from the barrel. But, barrels don't just contribute color that barrels to the wine and spirits that age in them. Barrels are integral to the flavor of spirits and wine in several different ways.

What's going on in here?

What's going on in here?

Whether you’re one of the people who knew why whiskey is brown or one of those who didn’t, I’m now here to tell you about as much as you could possibly want to know about the beautiful marriage of alcohol and wood, without getting intensively into organic chemistry.

Very close to 100% of the barrels used for aging alcohol are oak. This was originally a happy accident that happened way, way in the past. At least 2,000 years ago, people were making oak barrels, which came into popularity as a vessel for transporting wine during the Roman Empire. Oak was, and is, a remarkable wood in that it’s both water tight and slightly porous. Because it was water tight, wine didn’t leak out, and because it was porous it allowed tiny amounts of oxygen to travel through it. People discovered this aeration improved the wine that was in the barrel, making it softer and smoother. Similarly, as spirits began to appear in the 1400’s and 1500’s, they were stored in barrels out of necessity—glass bottles didn’t really appear on the scene until the 1600’s—and drinkers found spirits that had been shipped in oak barrels tasted better than, well, the moonshine that comes straight from the still.

So, what’s happening in the barrel?

Some of the structure of oak comes from a type of compound called lignins. These are an important component in the cell walls of all wood cells, so they’re not at all unique to oak. However, what’s special about the lignins in oak is they break down into flavor molecules that absorb into the alcohol inside the barrel. One of the most notable of these compounds is vanillin, which (no surprise) gives a vanilla flavor and smell. In fact, the amount of vanillin that comes from American oak is so high, oak lignin is sometimes used to make imitation vanilla extract. Other flavor compounds that come from oak lignins—like eugenol, furfural, and lactones—give wine or spirits fruity, spicy, nutty, or buttery flavors. These flavors come out most strongly if the aging barrel is new, that is, it hasn’t already been used for aging another batch of wine of spirits. If the barrel has been previously held something else—like sherry, or port, or bourbon—it will impart a little of those flavors into the barrel’s next occupant.

Now, as I previously mentioned, oak is slightly porous. Because of this, it allows for a process called micro-oxygenation. Basically, small amounts of oxygen travel in and out of the barrel. The tiny, gradual amounts of oxygen mean that the wine or spirit doesn’t oxidize, but it does catalyzes a variety of chemical reactions that can only happen when there is oxygen present. Molecules swap atoms and functional groups, and make new flavor compounds, particularly a group of compounds called esters, that taste better and more complex (for example, fruity, creamy, floral) than the molecules that were originally present. In particular, these are the hallmarks of a fine Scotch or cognac.

A final thing to think about is some wines and spirits are aged in American oak, while some are aged in French or European oak. European oak is denser, and it has more tannins. Yes, oak has its own tannins, separate from the tannins that come from the grape skins in wine making. These oak tannins can give some astringency, but also create active sites for reactions that create more delicate, complex scents and flavors. The denser structure of the European oak also means the micro-oxygenation process is slower. Yes, aging takes longer, but, again, in the end this slow-process can generate some of the incredible balance and complexity people consider integral to great wine and spirits.

Opposite of European oak, American oak is bolder and brasher (go figure!). It gives more intense and distinct flavors of vanilla, butterscotch, and even coconut. This is the signature flavor of most bourbon, as well as some of the butch American styles of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay.

See: The barrel’s a beautiful marriage of alcohol and wood. It’s something everyone, whether or not you knew beforehand why whiskey is brown, can agree on.


Originally published on

Fall Cocktail Menu


Your choice of four of our spirits, 

tonic, soda & lime


Øvervann Aquavit, gløgg spices, hibiscus soda, lime



Boreal Cedar Gin, fresh pressed apple cider,

cardamom ginger switchel, beet juice



Voyageur Aquavit, faux-pari (bittersweet citrus liqueur), sassafras vermoose, orange twist



Choice of clear spirit (we recommend trying Boreal Spruce Gin!), house-made lime cordial



Lake Superior Vodka, cream, sweet corn simple syrup, blackberry foam



Boreal Juniper Gin, pear vermoose, citrus twist


_____ & TONIC

Your choice of clear spirit,
house tonic, lime



Choice of clear spirit, sugar, bitters, orange twist  

With Voyageur +3   With Sugarbush +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 cocktail room hours and tour info!

E.T. Foam Home at Vikre Distillery

E.T. Foam Home at Vikre Distillery

On Malting

Vikre Distillery does not prize certainty. We don’t prize efficiency. We don’t aspire to dial everything in and let it run. We’re ambivalent about mechanization, automation, and procedure. We instead prize creativity, innovation, experimentation, improvisation, and above all, craft.


This led us to a recent apparently stupid experiment: malting our own barley. In old Scotland barley was grown near distilleries, malted on site in a process called floor malting, and kilned over peat fires. We’re working towards making a single malt whiskey that truly reflects our own wild place. So we have a couple local farms growing barley for us, and we have Lake Superior water, and we have local peat. The obvious next step was to malt our own barley.


About a week ago we took half a ton of this local barley and steeped it in a stock tank. It quickly took on a terrible smell of cheese. We started aerating it, which turned our stock tank into a giant bubbling cauldron of stinky cheese. After steeping we shoveled it out into big cheesy piles on the floor, turning it a couple times a day. We were looking for signs of germination, which we didn’t see, so we shoveled it back into the tank for more steeping. Then we shoveled it back onto the floor for a couple more days, and then raked it out into a uniform stinky cheese layer. After about a week, absent signs of germination and tired of smelling like cheese, we gave up.


We had failed.  And we had made an absolutely epic mess.


We brewed the grain anyway of course, as one would brew raw rather than malted grain, and it’s fermenting away as we speak. Then we started cleaning up. There was barley in every possible nook and cranny, stuck in every grate and drain.


But guess what? It was sprouting! We had malted barley, everywhere!


We succeeded, sort of! Call it a learning opportunity, or a mostly failure, or a qualified success. Whatever you call it, we’re one step closer to that perfect local single malt, and we’re having fun. We’ll take it.

-Joel Vikre


Nordic-Tiki Cocktails: Not as Crazy as You'd Think

On August 7, 1947, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl and a crew of five other Scandinavians smashed their raft, The Kon-Tiki, into a reef just off the shore of an island in Polynesia. Remarkably, Thor and the whole crew made it safely to shore and the trip—a 4000-mile raft journey from South America powered only by drifting—was proclaimed successful. (Heyerdahl was trying to prove that it was possible that Polynesia had been populated by South Americans who had drifted there. He showed it was possible. But, his theory is generally considered incorrect based on other evidence.)

This literal smashing of Scandinavians into a corner of Polynesia was on my mind as I watched star bartenders Jon Olson and Adam Gorski (who have recently started a company called TruePenny serve up a special Scandinavian-Tiki menu at our distillery in northern Minnesota.

The event's Scandi-Tiki menu.

The event's Scandi-Tiki menu.

Remarkably, it wasn’t the first time I’d tried Scandinavian-Tiki. The first place I had come across Northern-inflected Tiki was at a pop-up Tiki bar inside the Twin Cities restaurant Eat Street Social, which opens unpredictably to serve expertly executed and dangerously drinkable Nordic-Tiki drinks.

The idea was instantly interesting to me, and I made note of it each subsequent time I stumbled across a mention of a Nordic-Tiki pop-up or cocktail in Minnesota (plus a couple in Norway and Denmark!). It’s just a handful, but added to the event we recently hosted ourselves, I’ve noticed enough drinks and mentions that I’m starting to think of it as a sort-of micro-trend.

The Gitchee Gumee: Boreal Spruce Gin, coconut ilkjam, juniper, pineapple, and lime.

The Gitchee Gumee: Boreal Spruce Gin, coconut ilkjam, juniper, pineapple, and lime.

Nordic or Scandinavian-Tiki sounds like incongruous fusion: Can you think of anything less tropical than Scandinavia? (The difference between Scandinavian versus Nordic is, in principle, the question of whether Finnish influence is included—Finns are Nordic but not Scandinavian—however in practice, at least in the Tiki-fusion realm, I think there’s no difference.) 

Maybe it’s just because Tiki has seen a resurgence in popularity over a similar time frame as the growth of interest in Nordic cuisine. But, I think there’s more to it: The hot-cold duo feels less incongruous if you understand the escapist fantasy roots of Tiki cocktail culture.

The genesis of Tiki cocktails as we know them—fruity, boozy, dolled up with coconuts, parasols, and flaming limes—can be traced back to the 1930s and a gentleman named Ernest Gantt. Gantt, who became known as Don Beachcomber, opened the world’s first Tiki bar in 1934, serving tropical, supposedly Polynesian-inspired cocktails and food.

In post-prohibition L.A., his establishment “Don the Beachcomber” was an instant and enormous hit. It grew into a chain and spawned many knock-offs and one significant rival, the equally excellent Tiki chain Trader Vic’s (founded by “Trader” Vic Bergeron around the same time). Tiki became a sensation.

Though Tiki décor and apparel drew on American conceptions of Polynesian culture, the cocktails (and the food, too, actually) were not Polynesian at all. In his book Potions of the Caribbean, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, one of the foremost current disciples of Tiki, explains how both Don Beachcomber and Trader Vic actually drew on traditional cocktails, punches, and ingredients from the Caribbean, but cloaked them in Polynesian garb because it seemed far more exotic to Americans who were hungry for a sense of escape to a land far away.

So, while we think of tropical-fruited, flower-garnished Tiki drinks as something to drink while sitting on a white sand beach in a tropical paradise, their actual purpose was to help you pretend you were in such a place when you definitely weren’t. And who, I ask you, is in more need than a tropical escapist fantasy than we who live in the minus forty-degree, snowed-in, icy lake-dotted frozen north?

But we can’t quite leave it there. As anyone who has ever listened to Garrison Keiler’s tales from Lake Wobegon knows, we Nordic types also believe in suffering. We think being cold and slightly miserable are slightly good for you, and we are secretly proud of the humble ingredients and culture we have.

We couldn’t let tropical drinks be just tropical drinks—we had to inflect them with a little cold stoicism, thus Nordic-Tiki: It takes the flavors of the tropics and layers them with flavors of the tundra, coaxing them into harmony. To Tiki’s pineapple, falernum, rum, and orgeat, we add dill and beets, hazelnuts, aquavit, and rhubarb. In a way, it’s a more earnest expression of Tiki’s promise of escaping while staying home. And Minnesotans are ever earnest.

The Off Course, Gone Missing: Øvrevann Aquavit, dill falernum, honey, cardamom, and lime.

The Off Course, Gone Missing: Øvrevann Aquavit, dill falernum, honey, cardamom, and lime.

Because the Scandinavian-Tiki inspired drinks I’ve tried have actually been quite wonderful, I think it’s a micro-trend worth knowing about—and maybe even exploring at home.

Like regular Tiki (as if there’s ever been anything regular about a drink scene that includes monkey head-shaped mugs!), Nordic-Tiki is more of an attitude than a new set of rules or principles for drink making. But, based on my observations and drinks I’ve tried, here are some things to consider if you do want to give a little tropical-tundra fusion a test drive:

  • While Tiki drinks usually rely on rum, more northern-leaning spirits like aquavit, gin (juniper berries are a classic part of Nordic cooking and gin is juniper flavored), and apple brandy are also totally happy to make nice with tropical flavors like pineapple, lime, passion fruit, and even coconut.
  • Orgeat, an almond syrup, is a Tiki staple, and what do you know?! Almonds are used in Scandinavian baking all the time— an easy overlap! To get even more Nordic, you could make your own orgeat with other northern nuts like hazelnuts and walnuts (the simplest way to do this is make a nut milk and then mix it with an equal volume of sugar and a spoonful or two of brandy to make your syrup).
  • Tiki drinks also nearly always incorporate a spice element, especially nutmeg, allspice or cloves, and cinnamon. Add some cardamom to those, and suddenly you have the set of spices that are typically used across Scandinavia for baking and mulling wine.
  • Tiki drinks tend to layer in fruit juices, syrups, or liqueurs. Tropical fruits make drinks taste Tiki, but you can combine those fruits with syrups or juices made from more typically northern fruits like lingonberries, currants, rhubarb, apples, or pears.
  • Finally, perhaps most importantly of all, whatever you make just garnish, garnish, garnish! Because, I’m pretty sure the colorful garnishes are really what make you feel like you’re on vacation.

-Emily Vikre

Originally Published on

DIYing Vermouth May Make You Feel Like an Aspiring Witch

There are many things you don’t really need to make yourself. You don’t need to make your own furniture, or jewelry, or cheese. But, sometimes these things are fun and challenging to make, so you choose to make them yourself in spite of the fact, or perhaps precisely because of the fact, that you don’t need to.

For me, vermouth falls into this category. My favorite vermouth is Cocchi Vermouth di Torino. It’s a sweet (sometimes known as red or rosso) vermouth, and I love it. It’s perfect just as it is. Buuuuut, that hasn’t stopped me from tinkering, and tinkering, and tinkering some more in an attempt to make a vermouth myself that I like just as much (or, at least, almost as much). It seemed like a fun challenge.

Vermouth is aromatized, fortified wine. That is, wine that has been infused with herbs and spices (aromatized) and has had a higher-proof spirit added to it (fortified). Sweet vermouth also has caramelized sugar added to it. It was likely originally a way of taking wine that was not very good—or was getting past its prime—and covering up the off flavors. Additionally, the higher proof helps the wine keep longer before becoming completely oxidized.

So, I surmised, vermouth was something you could make at home to save sub-par wine—and there are no particularly fancy techniques and equipment involved in making it. Obviously, this meant I may as well try to make my own. The internet doesn’t precisely abound in DIY vermouth recipes, but they are certainly out there, and I think I’ve tried nearly all of the recipes a simple search turned up. And I haven’t liked any of them. But they gave me ideas, understanding, and a base from which to experiment.

Here are some of the important points I’ve learned in my journey towards making a vermouth I like:

1. Even though vermouth is not meant to start from good wine, you will taste the wine that’s in there, so don’t start with a wine you really don’t like. I tried making a couple of batches to use up some bottles of white wine that I didn’t like because I tasted fermentation flaws in the wine. I still tasted those in the vermouth, and it made it disgusting. Vermouth is usually made from dry white wine, and I like to use one that doesn’t have super fruity notes. Cheap, but not terrible, Pinot Grigio has become my go-to.

2. Don’t go overboard on the herbs and spices. It turns out a little goes a long way. Many recipes for vermouth call for too-large of quantities of many potent herbs, and the resulting vermouth feels like an apothecary is trying to punch you in the mouth. Of course, this makes it hard to make small batches of vermouth because for a single bottle of wine you might be measuring things in 1/12th teaspoons or a couple of grams. It’s annoying, but it’s doable.

3. Vermouth is supposed to have one or more bittering agents, including wormwood (from which vermouth gets its name) as well as other options like cinchona bark, gentian, dandelion root, or burdock root. Again, be very careful with how much you use, especially with gentian, which is potently bitter. I have had the best luck with using half as much (or less) gentian than most recipes seem to call for.

Some traditional recipes for vermouth call for really unusual herbs. You can find many of them from online sources, at Mountain Rose Herbs, for example. But be forewarned, if you start Googling and clicking without paying adequate attention, you might accidentally find yourself on a web forum for aspiring witches. (At least, that is what happened to me when I went searching for what mugwort was.) I haven’t included mugwort (nor some of the other obscure things, like blessed thistle, calamus, or centaury) in my own recipe.

4. There are several ways of steeping the herbs in your vermouth. You can steep them in the higher proof alcohol for a week. You can steep them in your wine for a week or two. Or you can heat some of your wine, steep the herbs in the hot wine, then add the rest of your alcohol, allow everything to cool, and then strain. I have found I like this hot steeping method best. There’s less over-extraction of the herbs, plus you get more instant gratification.

5. Adding some sherry or port helps give your vermouth the signature fortified wine flavor that you can’t get just by spiking regular wine (because the ingredients don’t get to age together in a barrel).

After learning all of these things, I have finally come to a sweet vermouth recipe that I really like quite well. It’s still no Cocchi di Torino, but it makes an excellent Manhattan or aperitif to drink over ice. Now, this has a pretty long list of ingredients, and I have a completely unfair advantage because I own a distillery and therefore have things like wormwood and angelica on hand. But once you procure the herbs, the rest of the process is pretty easy. If it sounds at all fun to you, give it a try!

Emily's DIY Sweet Vermouth

Makes about 4 to 5 cups

  • 1 (750 ml) bottle dry white wine (I use pinot grigio)
  • 1/2 teaspoon wormwood
  • 1/6 teaspoon gentian root
  • 1/12 teaspoon angelica root
  • 1/12 teaspoon chamomile
  • 1/3 inch piece of vanilla bean
  • 1/3 tablespoon orange peel
  • 3 rosemary leaves (like, the actual little leaves, not whole sprigs)
  • 1 sage leaf
  • 1 basil leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 cup tawny port
  • 1 cup brandy
  • 1 cup scant (about 9/10ths cup) sugar


Originally published on

The Best Spirits are Made in the Wildest Places

Back in July, my younger brother and his girlfriend were in town, visiting from Oslo. They were here for my other brother's wedding, but while I had them captive I thought, why not put them to work in a project idea I had had tossing around in my mind for a while?  Why not, indeed?  I wanted to create a series of photos of very urban-looking bartenders serving fancy cocktails to people out in the beautiful wild spaces we have in Duluth.  To try to capture the spirit of who we are, the idea that world class spirits can be made in far-flung, wilderness-y places.

I don't think my brother or his girlfriend had any idea what I was getting at, but they were game to come with us out into the woods.  So, we gathered together our canoeing, fishing, hiking, and stand-up paddle board gear, along with fancy glasses, garnishes, shakers, and fake tattoos (for Caitlin and me.  Neither of us have enough real tattoos to pull off the bartender look, haha).  We picked up Even and Eline and headed out for a hilarious and fun day of bartending in the out of doors.  Though they go for insanely epic hikes and XC-skis in Norway, Even and Eline didn't really know how to canoe or SUP.  But they learned quickly while we focused on applying our tattoos and trying not to break any delicate coupes or let the garnishes wilt too fast in the heat of the day.

We thought we would share the photos with you because we think the best spirits really are made in the wildest places.  And because I find them amusing.  And yes, I definitely did fall off of a stand up paddle board fully clothed, which is why I'm standing in the water in the second picture.  I did not spill any of the drink!

A Week of Happy Hours with Northern Waters Smokehaus

We believe in Happy Hour.  Firstly, we like happiness.  Secondly, we very much like the ritual of gathering together with a few friends in the early evening to share a nice drink, maybe a little snack, and have a bit of conversation before we hit the dinner hour.  

So, when our friends at Northern Waters Smokehaus (hi guys! we love you!) asked if we'd be interested in coming up with cocktail suggestions for pairing with a couple of their gorgeous cured meats and other nibbles we thought we'd do them even one better and create five pairings - a whole work-week's-worth, if you will! - perfect for happy hour.  

(Obviously there is no need to have happy hour every day for a week.  But it seemed fun to assign each pairing to a particular day, right?  However, feel free to use our suggestions any day you want, for a special day or to celebrate the ordinary.)  (Also, as a side note: to keep things simple, we decided to do all cocktails that use our Cedar Gin, but you could also swap it for Juniper Gin to make a more piney, punchy version of any of these cocktails.)  

Monday:  I think a traditional Negroni is perfect as it is, but it's also a remarkable jumping off point for creative variations.  The central flavor in a Negroni is Campari, and I think Campari is delicious with raspberries, so we muddled some raspberries into a lightened up Negroni for an ever so lightly fruity take on this bittersweet classic.

Raspberry Negroni

  • 8-10 raspberries (you can use frozen ones, but defrost them first)
  • 1.5 oz. Boreal Cedar Gin
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth (our favorite kind is Cocchi Vermouth di Torino)
  •  3/4 oz. Campari
  1. Gently smash the raspberries in the bottom of a stirring glass.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir with ice for about 20 seconds.  Strain into a lowball glass over an ice cube (or two). Garnish with a coin of orange peel (you can flame it if you like, but you don't have to).

Pair with: Lonzino - the most amazingly buttery, nutty cured pork you can imagine (a bit like prosciutto on deliciousness steroids) and dark, sweet amarena cherries.

Tuesday: Do you know what a French 75 and a Bee's Knees are?  Even if you don't, just know that if you mash-up those two cocktails and add a pinch of thyme, you'll get this delightful herbal, sweet-tart, bubbly little number.  It's a well known fact that champagne makes everything better, including Tuesdays.

Thyme 75

  • 1 scant tsp. fresh thyme
  • 1/2 oz. lemon juice
  • 1 heaping tsp. honey
  • 1 oz. Boreal Cedar Gin
  • brut Champagne (or any dry sparkling wine), chilled
  1. Combine the thyme, lemon juice, and honey in the bottom of a cocktail shaker.  Stir until the honey dissolves.  Add the gin and then ice and shake hard for about 10 seconds.  
  2. Double strain (that is to say, strain through your cocktail strainer plus another fine mesh strainer like a tea strainer) into a cocktail coupe or champagne glass.
  3. Top with your sparkling wine.

Pair with: The Smokehaus's scrumptious saucisson sec, their boursin cheese (which, by the way, is mind-bogglingly good) and some crusty bread. 

Wednesday:  It's Hump Day!  A Martini is in order.  A Martini is the perfect pre-dinner drink; it whets the appetite like no other.  However, instead of a traditional gin Martini, I like to trade the dry vermouth out for something just a little less dry (mostly I find dry vermouth to taste  too oxidized for me), particularly Cocchi Americano (another type of herbed and fortified wine) to go with our musky Boreal Cedar Gin. Cocchi Americano can be hard to track down (if you're in Duluth, they do have it at Mt. Royal Bottle Shoppe), so if you can't find it you could try Lillet Blanc instead.

Cedar Martini

  • 2 oz. Boreal Cedar Gin
  • 1 oz. Cocchi Americano
  • 3 dashes orange bitters
  1. Stir all ingredients with ice until very well chilled.  Strain into a cocktail glass.  No garnish.

Pair with:  beautifully smoky and piquant Smokehaus chorizo, plus some Castelvetrano olives. Because you are fancy. 

Thursday:  Thursdays call for a simple drink and a satisfying snack.  So, we paired up a straightforward, but delicious, Cedar Collins with some pork loin.  It did the trick.

Cedar Collins

  • 1.5 oz. Boreal Cedar Gin
  • 1 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz. simple syrup (to make simple syrup, just combine equal parts sugar and water and stir until the sugar dissolves)
  • soda water
  1. Stir together the gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a tall-ice filled glass. Top with soda water and stir to make sure everything is combined.

Pair with: Smoked pork loin from the Smokehaus - which makes me think of Christmas and 4th of July picnics all rolled into one remarkable sliced meat.  It's so good.  Then, add apricot preserves (they also have that at the Smokehaus), crackers, and some toasted, spiced nuts.  You may not need dinner.

Friday: Ok, personally I don't get brunch, and I don't get Bloody Mary's.  And no amount of attempting to convince me will change my mind.  Sorry!  However, I accept that many people like them very much.  And so, on Friday, perhaps you're already looking forward to the weekend so much that you want to taste it by having a Bloody Mary.  But instead of a standard Bloody Mary, let's up our game with a tomato shrub.  It sounds complicated, and it tastes complex, but it's a breeze to make.  And it's just as amenable to a meal's worth of garnish as a regular Bloody Mary.

Tomato Shrub

  • 1 cup chopped fresh tomato
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • Worcestershire sauce to taste
  1. Combine the tomato, sugar, and vinegar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cover and bring to a gentle simmer.  Allow to simmer (still covered) for about 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes have rather broken down and released their juices.  Strain into a jar, allow to cool, then stir in some Worcestershire sauce to taste, if you want.  (You can keep the remaining tomato solids and use them kind of like a tomato jam, if you don't mind peels and seeds, I suppose.)  The shrub will keep for up to a month covered in the fridge.
  2. To make a cocktail: Shake 2 oz. Boreal Cedar Gin and 1.5 oz. of the tomato shrub with ice. Strain into an ice filled glass and garnish with your favorite Bloody Mary garnishes.

Our Garnish:  A chunk of Smokehaus bison buddy, a piece of sharp cheddar, an olive, and a rolled anchovy.  

Vikre + Anthropologie

I was going to write a blog post about some of the science of fermentation and byproducts.  But then I thought, it's Monday, and it's August!  Almost everyone is on vacation, for example the whole country of France.  Also Norway.  All on vacation.  So, let's talk about something light and save the science at least for a Tuesday,right?  Maybe in September.

A very little known fact about me is that for several years, a good half-decade at least I'd say, I wanted to be a clothing designer.  This may be very surprising to a number of people, given I barely know how to dress myself.  But there you have it.  I wanted to be in fashion.  I kept this utterly secret, though.  Firstly, fashion didn't seem like a particularly noble pursuit (and now here I am running a distillery, haha).  Secondly, I was an academic, not an artist.  Through high school and college I aced my way through things like biology and chemistry while being altogether unremarkable in art classes.  So, I developed a decent amount of confidence in my academic abilities and absolutely none at all in my creative faculties, and my poor artistic soul was kept hidden on the inside.  Though I did accumulate a lot of sketches in secret notebooks, including a sketch of a mid-thigh-length heavy knit sweater coat in turquoise with intricate saffron yellow embroidery, which I still rather think is a good idea.     

Like a flower growing up through concrete, the artistic part of me pushed its way through eventually though!  And thus I went from biochemistry to nutrition, nutrition to food policy, food policy to cooking, cooking to food writing, food writing to photography, and here I am today doing who knows what on a daily basis, but it is all pretty intensely creative.  When it's not finance.  So, thank you artistic soul and universe, for looking out for me.

Anyway, that is way more background than you need on me since I'm really just trying to make the point that I still have a little fond spot for fashion.  And so, when Kaylen, the stylist at one of the Anthropologie stores in the Twin Cities emailed and asked if we would collaborate with them on their spring/summer fashion show by developing signature cocktail recipes for them, and in return we could come to the fashion show, I said "YES I WOULD LIKE THAT VERY MUCH!!!!!"  Then a couple emails later I slyly asked, "hey, could we do a photoshoot with the cocktail and some clothes so we have some material for letting people know about the event?"  And they said YES!  And thus Caitlin and I went down to the Twin Cities and had one of the most fun days ever getting dressed and styled by Kaylen, and photographed making cocktails by the talented Vicky Campbell.  No we didn't get to keep the clothes.  But we, uh, get to keep the memories.  And we wound up with even more photos than we could use on the social medias for promotion, so I thought I would share them now.  And, perhaps just as importantly, the recipes for the cocktails we came up with for them are below as well.         



Grapefruit Basil Gin Fizz

  • 1.5 oz. Boreal Juniper Gin
  • 1.5 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
  • .5 oz. fresh lime juice
  • .5 oz. basil syrup*
  • Soda water
  1. *To make basil syrup, combine 1 cup water and 1 cup of sugar and heat, stirring, until it comes to a simmer and the sugar dissolves.  Remove from the heat and add 1 cup fresh basil leaves.  Allow the basil to steep in the syrup at least 2 hours or overnight in the fridge.  Strain and store the syrup in the fridge for up to two weeks.
  2. To make cocktail, shake all the ingredients, except the soda water, with ice to chill (about 10 seconds) strain into a tall glass with ice.  Top with soda water.  Garnish with a lime wheel or basil leaf.  (This recipe makes a relatively light, tart cocktail.  Add 1/4-1/2 oz. more syrup if you prefer a sweeter cocktail.)  

Peppercorn Rose Gimlet

  • 2 oz. Boreal Cedar Gin
  • 3/4 oz. pink peppercorn syrup*
  • 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
  • about 3 drops rosewater (use more or less to taste)
  1. *To make the peppercorn syrup, combine 1 Tbs. pink peppercorns with 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water, and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Remove from the heat.  Allow to cool to room temperature, then strain out the peppercorns.  Store the syrup in the fridge for up to two weeks.
  2. To make a cocktail, shake all the ingredients together with ice until well chilled, about 18-20 seconds.  Strain into a coupe (or other cocktail glass).  Garnish with a rose petal, if you're feeling fancy.


All styling by Kaylen Ralph for Anthropologie.  Photography by Victoria SJ Campbell.

The Cocktails You Can Count On

A few years ago, shortly after my husband and I had moved to a small town in Minnesota, we decided to go out for a drink at a new bar in town. It was quiet, and we sat down right at the bar.

When the bartender asked “What can I get for you?” my husband started with, “Well, I think I’m in the mood for a whiskey cocktail…” The bartender gave him a look of confusion and replied, “I think Jack and Coke is the only one there is, isn’t it?”

You may be happy to learn that a vodka soda isn't your only option.

You may be happy to learn that a vodka soda isn't your only option.

Oops. We had misread the bar. (Actually, in this case I believe we had misread the bartender because I’m pretty sure I saw some vermouth behind the bar, and I personally believe that every bartender should know what a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned are, even if they don’t know how to execute them perfectly). Whatever the situation, this little drink-ordering adventure (my husband eventually managed to coax a whiskey with ginger beer and a lime wedge out of the bartender) was a pointed illustration of the fact that when it comes to cocktail ordering there's no 100% guarantee.

These days, when you look at the bar scene, you find cutting-edge craft cocktail bars, neighborhood dives that haven’t changed in 25 years, and everything in between. And if you try ordering a “Captain and Coke” at a craft bar whose rail is filled with amari and housemade syrups, you’ll probably get a stare that is just as blank as if you try to order a Corpse Reviver #2 at a sports bar in a university town.

I wracked my brain to try to come up with a cocktail for which there would be no contingencies, and all I came up with was a vodka and soda. And then I thought, "No, there are probably whiskey or mezcal-focused bars out there now that have no vodka." So, perhaps there is no cocktail that you can order anywhere, but that doesn’t mean you have to be at a loss for an order when you walk up to a bar (and there isn’t a convenient menu of house cocktail specials from which to order).

There’s always beer, right? Just kidding. Sort of. But, when I’m set on a cocktail, what I try to do is have a little mental storehouse of drink recipes for different situations from which I can pull a cocktail based on my assessment of the bar.

Here’s how I think about it:

  • For dive bars, sports bars, and the local watering hole in a rather small town:

First assess whether vermouth and bitters are on the back bar and how dusty the bottles are. If it appears there is no vermouth or that it hasn’t been used in a couple years, stick with the category of drinks where the name of the drink is the recipe. I call these the “blank and blanks,” that is to say, rum and Coke, vodka and cranberry, gin and tonic, Scotch and soda, and so on. If you’re lucky they’ll have ginger beer; basically any spirit tastes good with ginger beer and several wedges of lime squeezed in. Do not expect anything more. In these bars, I usually just order a bourbon, neat.

If there appears to be vermouth and one or two bottles of bitters in regular rotation, then you should be able to order one of the simplest, two- or three-ingredient classic cocktails like a martini, an Old Fashioned, or a Manhattan. But, be prepared to explain your order to the bartender. Have your favorite proportions for a Manhattan or a martini memorized so if the bartender seems hesitant, you can swiftly follow up with, “Two ounces rye whiskey, an ounce of that sweet vermouth there, and a couple dashes of bitters, on the rocks."

I’ve had great success ordering negronis at bars where the bartender has no idea what a negroni is. In fact, that’s how I had a negroni last Saturday! If I notice there’s a bottle of Campari on the back bar, I just ask them to give me equal pours of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth over ice, and give me a stir stick.

  • For somewhat fancier places:

The next category of bars are the ones where, after a little observation you can tell they actually use fresh citrus juice and they shake or stir the cocktails before serving them to you. In these places, the simple classic cocktails like a Manhattan, martini, or Old Fashioned are still always a good bet, and will probably be well executed.

You should also be able to order from the line-up of simple classics that have lime or lemon juice and liqueurs. A classic daiquiri is a good bet—feel free to tell the bartender what your favorite proportions of rum to lime to sugar are—as is a French 75 (this is one where I surprisingly often find they have the ingredients, but I still have to give the bartender a recipe: 1 ounces gin, 1/2 ounce each lemon and simple syrup, shaken, strained, and topped with Champagne); or order a Sidecar (2 ounces brandy and 1 ounce each lemon and Cointreau, shaken and strained).

If you see they have more obscure liqueurs and ingredients like Chartreuse, Maraschino, Lillet, Absinthe, and such, then things are getting serious, and you should be able to order virtually any classic cocktail from a Last Word to a Rob Roy. But, I’ve still found it never hurts to have the specs for the classic you want memorized, just in case.

  • For cocktail bars:

Finally, you have the bars that consider themselves cocktail bars, that is to say they specialize in making cocktails and have many types of bitters, house-made syrups, cocktails with egg whites, and specialized glasses for different types of cocktails. There is a definite chance that the bartenders will have lots of tattoos and be wearing dapper vests, and even if they aren’t, they’ve probably still put some serious study into cocktail history.

At these bars you should be able to order any classic or vintage cocktail from the cocktail canon. But, an even better bet, I think, is to go ahead and let the bartender take care of you. Tell them the types of things you like, and let them take it from there. Just don’t order a Captain and Coke.

-Emily Vikre

Originally published on

The 3 Essential kinds of Cocktail Ice

Much ado is made of ice these days in cocktail bars. Nice bars no longer have ice—they have ice programs, and staff members dedicated to the work of breaking down large chunks of perfectly clear ice into beautiful hand-hewn cubes and spheres. And I think this is great!

One-inch cubes are just the right size for shaking.

One-inch cubes are just the right size for shaking.

Though we often don’t think of it in these terms, ice is one of the main ingredients in every cocktail, and if we care about the quality and format of our spirits and juices and so on, we ought to care about the quality of ice. In fact, one of the main reasons cocktails at fancy bars taste better than those you make at home may be the ice. While it doesn’t actually matter whether your ice is perfectly clear (though it’s awfully sleek and sexy when it is), the density, purity of flavor, and proper size of your ice does make a difference.

However, as esoteric as ice has come to seem, it all actually boils down—er, freezes down—to three principal types that are the most important. Here they are, plus an example cocktail in which to use each.

Cube Ice

Cube ice is, well, your prototypical ice cube. The workhorse of ice. The top-of-the-line ice cube maker for bars is called a Kold-Draft. It’s a spiffy machine that slowly makes approximately 1-inch cubes, freezing the water in one direction, making for very solid, nicely clear cubes. (Fun fact: The only certain way to prevent cloudy ice is to make sure the ice freezes in just one direction so the air bubbles are all forced out as the water freezes, instead of forced to the center.)

Having really solid, fairly large cubes of ice is important because when you shake a cocktail, you can shake the hell out of it for a good 15 to 20 seconds and the cocktail will get gorgeously aerated (what you want with a shaken cocktail) without over-diluting. They also work beautifully for stirring your stirred cocktails (stirring aims to properly dilute and chill while maintaining a silky texture).

Obviously you’re not going to get a Kold-Draft for your home, but you can make good cube ice using 1-inch cube silicone molds. Be sure to use clean tasting water and keep them covered or use them quickly so they don’t develop off-flavors in your freezer. Making sure your ice is free of weird flavors is even more important than making sure it’s a particular size.

If you only have small ice cubes, use more of them for shaking or stirring, but shake or stir for less time. Serve your drink up, or perhaps add an occasional ice cube as you drink it. Don’t fill your glass with tiny ice cubes that will melt in seconds. And, of course, for a long drink, something served on ice in a highball or Collins glass, good old cube ice is the simplest go-to. It feels silly even to give a suggestion for what to make with cube ice because it could be almost anything, but here’s a fun Middle Eastern-inspired cocktail—The Lady in the Bottle—we’ve been making that showcases the texture from shaking with good cubes.

Large Cube Ice

Large ice cubes (approximately 2-inch cubes) are generally more for the serving part of your cocktail experience, rather than the building part. They come into play when you’re serving a strong drink that you want to be on ice so it stays chilled, but you don’t want further dilutionbecause you’ve already stirred it.

The lowball drinks, like an Old FashionedVieux CarréNegroni,Boulevardier, etc., are great served with a large ice cube, as is any spirit on the rocks. Or try this boozy martini-blonde Negroni mash-up, The Marilyn.

"Crushed ice" is code for "adult slushie."

"Crushed ice" is code for "adult slushie."

Crushed Ice

Crushed ice is a necessity only if you’re serving the types of vaguely slushie-like drinks that are designed to be served on crushed ice. I rarely make any of these drinks, but if I do, there’s no substitute for crushed ice.

Julepsswizzlescobblers, and brambles, as well as some other tiki drinks, demand crushed ice. Without it, the frosty experience of those drinks simply isn’t the same. If you’re a fancy bar, you might invest in a machine that creates pellet ice. But for home, you can buy electric ice crushers that work pretty well. Otherwise, a canvas bag and a heavy mallet (or a towel and a rolling pin and a bit of unprocessed anger) can do the job of crushing ice just as well. Whack the ice inside the sack or towel until broken into irregular small-sized pieces, but err on the size of pea-sized or a little bigger when you’re crushing by hand so that the ice doesn’t get too melty.

If you want to try a crushed ice drink that’s not a julep or a swizzle, try this one we serve in our bar. We call it the Swedish Snö Cöne.

-Emily Vikre

Originally published on

Simple Syrup

Oftentimes when I’m at home making a cocktail it goes like this: Ice, Spirit, maple syrup, lemon or lime.


Do I use maple syrup because I am the archetypal Northwoods woman who maybe buys it in bulk and maybe has gone full on Elf at one point and poured it on noodles? (To be fair, there was also tahini and miso involved, I’m not completely mad.)


Sure. But I also do it because I’m lazy and sometimes I don’t want to make simple syrup after spending my workday making things that two short years ago I had never even heard of: Oleo Saccharum. Orgeat. Onmoraki.


But you, my dear reader, you are not lazy! (Or even if you are, you probably didn’t spend your workday making Oleo Saccharum, and therefore hopefully still have some energy that you can direct towards combining sugar and water.)  Which is why I think you’ll be glad to take a few minutes to put together some simple syrup for your home bar, your iced teas and coffee. Simple syrup is a bonafide summer staple and a perfect building block for so many great cocktails. And once you commit the “recipe” to memory, it is infinitely and entertainingly customizable.


Hey, remember that list of vaguely unpronounceable cocktail ingredients two paragraphs back? Well that last one is actually a Folkloric Japanese bird demon that I threw in to make this point: It’s totally OK to be a little baffled by cocktail ingredients these days. We get a lot of folks in the cocktail room that sheepishly ask what bitters are (to quote Emily Vikre “salt and pepper for cocktails”) or where to buy simple syrup (Do NOT buy simple syrup. Hence this article.) Great cocktails can be had at home with an exceptional base spirit (ahem, Vikre, ahem) and just a few basic ingredients. Here’s one to get you started and some ideas for gilding the lily.


Simple Syrup

·      1 part water

·      1 part sugar (white or brown depending on what flavor you’re aiming for)

Heat and stir till sugar dissolves then cool and store in fridge. (One cup water and one cup sugar will yield about 1 ½ cup simple syrup and generally speaking should keep for a month refrigerated.)

That’s it! It IS simple.


To this you can add any number or combinations of flavorings by adding them to the hot syrup and letting them steep until cool (or overnight if you want a stronger flavor) then straining or plucking them out.


Some ideas for things you can steep in your simple syrup:

  • Citrus Peels
  • Ginger
  • Cinnamon Stick
  • Vanilla Bean
  • Peppercorns
  • Cardamom
  • Chamomile
  • Rose
  • Jasmine tea
  • Earl grey tea
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Lemongrass
  • Rosemary
  • Mint
  • Celery
  • Chilies

Now make that drink! May I suggest…

For one serving

·      ¾ oz Simple syrup (infused or plain)

·      ¾ oz Fresh lemon or lime juice

·      2 oz Spirit of choice

You can build this in a glass over ice and either give it a good stir to dilute it a bit or top it up with soda water. You could also shake it (a mason jar works for this if you haven't been to our cocktail room to buy a fancy yet indestructible weighted shaking tin and a Hawthorne strainer.) and then strain into a coupe or martini glass.


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A Midsommar Aquavit Party

The summer solstice (the longest day of the year, usually June 20 or 21), is quite a big deal in Scandinavia.  It makes sense, given that half the year is incredibly dark and rather cold (Scandinavia is up around the same latitude as Alaska), that the return of the sun would be celebrated in a major way.  In Sweden, Midsommar, as it’s called, is celebrated with huge festivals, dancing around flower-covered Maypoles, and lots of aquavit.  In Norway they call the solstice Sankthans Aften, and it is celebrated with huge bonfires along all the country’s many beaches, and of course with some beer and aquavit.       

Last year, we had a fantastic aquavit party to celebrate Midsommar and the introduction of our cognac-cask aged Voyageur Aquavit.  The one minor problem was that we are kind of disorganized and we didn’t manage to actually throw the party until, well, until September.  A mere three months late.  But, what we lack in timeliness and organizational skills, we try to make up for in enthusiasm and artistry.  So, when we finally had our party, we went all out. 

We enlisted a good friend of ours, Sue Watt, who is quite possibly the world’s most amazing event coordinator, and she also has an old barn and gorgeous property called Hemlock Preserve just a bit south of Duluth where she hosts events.  Sue filled her barn with magical Norwegian antiques, evergreen boughs, and pewter.  Entering the barn felt like walking into a fairyland.  Northern Waters Smokehaus provided a Scandinavian-inspired feast, Zenith Bread Project made us fresh-baked cookies for dessert, and of course, we were in charge of the cocktails!  There was a welcome song – sung by Joel and me – to the tune of a Disney Song, there were Norwegian drinking songs, and some aquavit descended from the ceiling across the barn, spilling dry ice smoke, to the epic reverberations of Also Sprach Zaratustra (you know, the theme from 2001 A Space Odyssey).    

So you may not be up for renting a whole barn to celebrate Midsommar (although, if you work on a similar schedule to us, you do have all the way until September to plan, so maybe you should give Sue a call!), but if you feel the urge to mark the official start of summer and the longest days of the year (which you should), we’ve outlined a menu below that you can execute at home.  You can make everything, if you want to go all out, or just choose a few of the elements, fill some jars with wildflowers, and invite over a few friends.  Just make sure you have aquavit.


Welcome drink:  Sommerland Punsj

For 8 people

·      2 ripe peaches cut into slices

·      12 oz. Voyageur Aquavit

·      8 oz. Dolin Blanc Vermouth (not to be confused with Dolin Dry)

·      6 oz. lemon juice

·      4 oz. simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water mixed until the sugar dissolves)

·      16 oz. soda water

In a large container or pitcher, mash the peaches to release their juices.  Stir in the aquavit, mixing it well with the peaches to pick up their flavor.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer.  In a pitcher or punch bowl, combine the peach-infused aquavit, Dolin Blanc, lemon juice, and simple syrup and stir together well.  Add ice in large cubes and stir.  Top with soda water and serve.

A Fizzy Drink Option:  78 Degrees North  

For one drink

·      1 oz. Øvrevann Aquavit

·      ¾ oz. rhubarb syrup*

·      ½ oz. lime juice

·      Dry sparkling wine

Shake the aquavit, rhubarb syrup, and lime juice with ice to chill.  Strain into a champagne flute or coupe and top with sparkling wine.

*To make rhubarb syrup, combine 8 oz. of fresh rhubarb, chopped into pieces, and 1 cup sugar in a blender.  Pour 1 cup boiling water into the blender, cover and blend until pureed.  Strain through a fine mesh straining, pressing on the pulp to get all the syrup out.  Syrup keeps for at least a week in the refrigerator.

 A Boozy Drink Option:  The Kaupang (a Scanhattan)

For one drink

·      2 ½ oz. Voyageur Aquavit

·      1 oz. Sweet Vermouth

·      3-4 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Stir all the ingredients with ice until well chilled.  Strain into a double rocks glass over a large cube of ice.  Garnish with a cocktail cherry.

The Traditional Drink Option:  Sip ice cold aquavit straight, accompanied by a beer (preferably a pilsner).


To begin, a chilled pea soup bright with herbs and swirled with tangy but rich crème fraiche.

And, of course, you can, and should, put together a Nordic-punctuated cheese plate with some Jarlsberg, Havarti, goat cheese, and rye crackers.

Next up, the über Scandinavian gravlax (cured salmon).  Serve this alongside some roasted fingerling potatoes and the traditional mustard sauce

For a main course, rub lamb chops with sea salt and crushed caraway and grill them (2-3 minutes per side) until medium-rare.  Serve accompanied with sauerkraut and roasted beets. 

Finally, set up a buffet of a few different kinds of cookies, some good vanilla ice cream and toppings for an easy dessert.  



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!