Sunday, April 6, 2014

Still Life: Far North Spirits

Another post from our Still Life series, the Whiskey Detectives investigations of craft distillers, their processes, and their booze. Each post will give some general background information on the distiller, and then be followed by questions, interview style, straight from the mouths of the distillers themselves. This time we head way up to Northern Minnesota.

Far North Spirits
Location: Hallock, MN
Website: http://farnorthspirits.com/
Distiller: Michael Swanson
Current Products: Solveig Gin (our review)
Upcoming Products: Ålander Spiced Rum (April 2014), Roknar Rye Whiskey (2015), aged rum, navy-strength gin

Background
Far North Spirits from the (Far North)west corner of Minnesota is a field-to-glass operation run by a husband and wife team who got tired of the rat race in the big cities and returned to their roots - all the way to Hallock, Minnesota, 25 miles from the Canadian border. These two farming and distilling entrepreneurs worked hard planting, growing, harvesting, and distilling fine hand-crafted spirits that are finally starting to hit the market.


Cheri Reese and Michael Swanson

Distiller Profile: Cheri Reese & Michael Swanson
WD: Your story in unique in the way you began your journey. From what we've read, you left the city life to return to your roots up North. That's a big life change all on its own, then you guys decided to start a distillery as well, which is no easy feat. What made you decide to take those leaps?
FNS: It’s hugely liberating to realize that you can learn how to do something and then just do it. And that’s pretty much how we approached starting a craft distillery. We wanted to return home and do something meaningful with the family farm – it’s been around for almost 100 years and we wanted to see it last another 100. So, Michael, who was getting his MBA at the time and has long been interested in sustainable farming practices, started from the premise of making a finished product from grain grown on the farm. We didn’t want to scale up production and play the commodities game. We wanted to keep things small, manageable and entirely transparent in terms of where we sourced everything. 

Making whiskey is a very old farming model; the more research Michael did, the more he saw that whiskey farming was something that started before the country was founded. George Washington had a distillery at Mount Vernon and it’s making rye whiskey again today. So, that is where the inspiration came from. The other half of the equation was courage – but we’re risk takers by nature, so it was more of an adventure than anything else - an adventure that took us home.

WD: You distill all your own spirits, correct?  We're big craft booze fans and love that small batch is truly small batch.
FNS: We do; our operation is entirely field to glass whenever possible, which means we also run the farming operation (seed selection, planting, crop rotation, harvesting, etc). We grow non-GMO corn (varieties include the now notorious MN 13 used by moonshiners in Stearns County during Prohibition and Blue River Hybrid Organic), which we’ll use along with the AC Hazlet Rye in Roknar Rye Whiskey.

Rye_Harvest.jpg

Solveig Gin’s base spirit is made entirely from the Rye. We source botanicals from two companies: Woodland Foods out of Illinois and StarWest Botanicals out of San Francisco. Whenever possible, we purchase organic and fair trade botanicals and spices (for both gin and rum).

Sugar cane doesn’t grow too well up here in sugar beet country, which means we source American sugar cane. We are federally required to use sugar cane in order to call our spirit Ålander Spiced Rum. Our cousin owns a sugar plantation in Louisiana, so we were able to source the Turbinado sugar from their Lula Westfield Coop. The Demerara sugar we get from Florida. We use all whole spices in the rum and infuse them by hand. No extracts, no artificial flavorings, no exceptions.

Small batch for us means we plan to produce about 1,600 cases of gin (six pack cases) and 2,400 cases of rum (12 packs) our first year. We will barrel rye whiskey this year and release when it’s ready in very, very small batches (600 cases at most at a time). Our distillery currently has the capacity to grow to about 10,000 cases a year in annual production. We use 300 acres of the family’s 1,500 acre farm to produce all of the spirits we can distill in a year. We do plan to offer the sale of our grains to other Minnesota distillers.

WD: Related to the previous question, finding the true craft distillers is a bit of a hot topic right now. Liquor labeling and marketing isn't always clear, and sometimes consumers learn later their small batch or craft spirit purchase is really just a bottling and re-branding of bulk alcohol, much to their dismay. As a craft distiller, what's your take on this clouding of the market?
FNS: You get into this game and you could spend all of your energy pointing out the fakers from the makers. If you can’t find the name of a distiller or owner on a company’s website, only the name of a PR or marketing person, you can bet you’re probably dealing with a faker. That said, there are definitely shades of gray (and deliberate window-dressing) in this industry.

Some folks contract distill, meaning they have a good idea and a great marketing strategy, but they hire out all of the actual production. This happens with a lot of the most recognized names in so-called craft distilling. Since we started production, we have begun getting emails from people who sell spirits; you can actually buy aged rum, whiskey, tequila, whatever your heart desires. All you have to do is come up with a catchy brand and clever package and you’re “handcrafting” spirits. Handcrafted is often a tell-tale giveaway, especially on the back of the bottle. If the words “Distilled and Bottled by” are not in the same sentence on the back of the bottle, it’s probably contract distilled by one company and merely bottled by the name on the front.

Other folks buy grain neutral spirits (GNS) in bulk totes from ethanol plants (like Glacial Grains, a division of Chippewa Valley Ethanol Plant, who make Prairie Organic Spirits (http://cvec.com/index.cfm?preset=glacialgrainspirits). These folks then blend the GNS using their own recipes to make gin or some other spirit. A lot of craft distillers actually do buy GNS (we know of at least two in MN who plan to go this route). In fact, ADI (American Distilling Institute) has come up with categories to differentiate (Craft Distilled and Craft Blended) because of the number of craft distillers who choose this option. While we don’t ever plan on buying GNS, we can understand why some folks do it. Making GNS is a huge amount of work; but, as we explain later, our experience with our Solveig Gin tells us it is worth it.

WD: It's fairly well known now that Minnesota distilleries cannot give samples, sell their own bottles, or make cocktails. Hopefully, legislation with change that. We've asked in the past about how the lack of a sample room might hinder craft distillers. Far North has another wrinkle to the sample room issue. Remoteness from the larger population cities in Minnesota. How important do you think a sample room is to Far North?
FNS: We actually can give samples of our spirits; the law allows up to 1.5 ounces total per visitor. (The idea being, you can sample .5 ounce of each of three spirits produced at the distillery, I guess.) This law was passed during the 2013 session and went into effect July 1, 2013. (NOTE: Whiskey Detectives stand corrected on this, we misinterpreted something we read.) We are not allowed to charge anything for the samples.

Though the 2014 session is not yet done, it appears that we will be allowed to operate “taprooms” with the approval of municipal licenses after July 1, 2014. This will allow us to mix cocktails and sell them out of our tasting rooms. We plan to finish out our tasting room eventually. Bottle sales is the MOST important thing in terms of generating revenue. We can’t justify finishing a tasting room just to sell cocktails, it doesn’t make economic sense.

We feel that a beautiful, finished tasting room is something we can do for the community up here. There are very few spaces where people can go to celebrate, and we’d like to offer our space for community events and private functions. We are modeling our tasting room based on the redesign of one of the world’s best restaurants, NOMA in Copenhagen, Denmark. We have a big vision for this space.

WD: With the craft movement, people are interested in the local angles and how things are made. Can you take us through your craft process?
FNS: For Solveig Gin, we start by milling the AC Hazlet rye we grow on the farm (140 acres, winter rye, so we plant in September and harvest in summer). We purchased the rye seed in Holland, Manitoba (AC stands for Ag Canada). Rye is not something in use much in Minnesota as a crop, so we had to cross the border to find it. It turned out to be a fortuitous move, because the rye has a lovely, faint vanilla-like nose and flavor, even distilled to 190 proof.

After milling to the consistency of cornmeal, the grain moves through an auger to our 600-gallon mash tank where it is “cooked” with 180-degree water. Once it cools, we add enzymes and then it is pumped from the mash tank to one of our five fermentation tanks where it ferments for 3 days. The distilling process really hinges on the quality of your fermentation.


Still website.jpg

We then move the wash into our 500-gallon copper-pot still (custom made for us by the fine folks at Vendome in Kentucky). The first run, we generally reach 185 proof. We make head and tail cuts, which are separated into a holding tank. The hearts are reserved in a tank as well.

We do this whole process (milling, mashing, fermenting, distilling to 185) several times until we have enough hearts (about 350 gallons) reserved to distill a second time. We typically reach 191+ proof at this stage, and we have what is referred to as “neutral” spirit. Making the “neutral” is an incredibly time-intensive process and one that we strongly feel sets our gin apart. The rye-based neutral is worth tasting on its own; if you ever come up for a visit, we’ll give you a taste.

For the whiskey, we’ll do this whole process as well, but use corn and rye. For the rum, we cook the demerara and turbinado sugar, fermentation takes longer – about 7 days – then distill to about 185 proof.

WD: You released your first product, Solveig Gin in December. Congrats! It appears that Ålander Rum is next in line, followed by a rye whiskey, Roknar. Since learning about future products before they hit the market is what my kind "geeks out" on, what can you tell us about the rum and whiskey? I'd love to know what's going into them and when to expect them.
FNS: Ålander Spiced Rum is made from a combination of Turbinado and Demerara sugar, which is distilled in the 500-gallon pot still. We proof it down to 86 then infuse with whole bean spices including vanilla, nutmeg, clove, all spice and espresso.  Since most spiced rums use artificial vanilla, the difference in our rum is profound. We can’t wait to release it in late April [2014].

Roknar is made from the AC Hazlet Rye, which we know from the gin produces an amazing vanilla note, and a combination of Blue River Hybrid organic and MN 13 corn seed. We haven’t yet determined the final percentage – could be 75% rye and 25% corn, but that might change once we get further along. We plan to age the rye for at least 14 months in smaller barrels; the first release could be late 2015, but honestly, the best answer is “when it’s ready.” Our barrels come from both Minnesota cooperages – The Barrel Mill and Black Swan. By federal regs, they are charred new oak barrels.

WD: We've got to mention the branding. We love the clean, nature-centric look of the website and Scandinavian-esque graphic design on the bottles. I think Scandinavian sexy was even thrown around before. Can you tell us what you were hoping to evoke with the Far North Spirits look and feel?
FNS: Thank you! We worked very intentionally with a St. Paul-based designer, Jenney Stevens, for months on the branding and packaging. We wanted to incorporate images from the farm (the fence post monogram is inspired by the white fence outside Michael’s parents home on the farm); images from nature (the full moon captured on a July night was the inspiration for the slightly raised “O” in Far North). The white Solveig bottle came from the idea of using milk glass. My parent’s flower shop in Hallock used to use these delicate milk glass vases for carnations and roses; the black Ålander bottle has a topographical map of Oak Island at Lake of Woods on it where Michael’s family has a cabin. Both bottles capture memories for us: summers at the cabin, flowers from a loved one…evocative of a simpler time. Our intention was to create a sense of simplicity, authenticity, and a deep sense of place.



WD: Anything else you'd like to share? Super secret experimental spirit that'll blow us all away, maybe?
FNS: YES! Once we have bottled our first release of rye whiskey, we plan to fill up those barrels and make an aged rum. The timeline is long – probably 2017 at the earliest for its release. We also have plans to release a Navy Strength Gin, which will be a big, bold, juniper-forward London Dry gin – the ying to Solveig’s yang.

Stay tuned to Whiskey Detectives and this blog post for any future updates we have on Far North Spirits. We'd like to thank Far North and Cheri Reese especially for taking the time to generously answer our questions. Can't wait to learn and taste more spirits soon from Far North.


(Images from farnorthspirits.com and DP's iphone)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Still Life: Norseman Distillery

Welcome to our first edition of a new feature on the blog: Still Life. We are big fans of the craft/micro/small batch distilling movement that's sweeping the nation. We have, and will continue, to review these spirits when time/budget allows. However, another way we can bring you, our readers, the latest on craft hooch is to profile the distillers themselves. Enter Still Life, the Whiskey Detectives investigations of craft distillers, their processes, and their booze. Each post will give some general background information on the distiller, and then be followed by questions, interview style, straight from the mouths of the distillers themselves. So, without further ado, let's get this rolling.

Norseman Distillery
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Website: norsemandistillery.com
Distiller: Scott Ervin
Current Products: Norseman Vodka (our review)
Upcoming Products: Heirloom Gin (very soon), Whiskey, Rum


 

Background
Norseman spirits are distilled from grain and bottled in small batches by the Norseman Distillery. When we say small batch, in this case we really mean it. The words craft, small batch, and micro get thrown around the distillery scene a lot, but Norseman is one distillery that really fits the micro moniker. Scott Ervin is the head distiller and one-man show behind Norseman Distillery. His only two assistants are real booze hounds, literally. Ervin oversees the production of each batch of spirits himself from start to finish, with his two dogs Max and Rocket by his side. Following the true small batch craft approach, Scott uses the very best local ingredients paired with a still he has designed, fabricated, and re-tooled himself to meet his desired standards for production. It's the Norseman approach to creating truly hand crafted small batch premium spirits.


Distiller Profile: Scott Ervin
WD: Starting a distillery is no easy feat, with capital up front and a long return on your investment. Not to mention the TTB and other state government hurdles. What made you decide to take the leap?  
SE: What appealed to me about starting and running a distillery was the opportunity to be a part of something new in Minnesota and to have the chance to produce something I could be proud of. The challenges along the way have opened the door to happy accidents, as well as finding innovative ways to do things. Of course, when it’s 2 in the morning and something breaks down it can be pretty frustrating, but that’s what’s paved the way to the set up we have today, and I couldn’t call it mine without facing each of those challenges and rising to the occasion to find a solution. 

WD: You do this all by yourself, correct?
SE: And my booze hounds!

WD: We love that you even tinker with your own still. We've yet to come across a one-man operation. Micro is really micro, and small batch is truly small batch. That's a great story and selling point for Norseman.
SE: Totally agree - there’s something to be said for the quality of a product that’s overseen by a single set of eyes at every step of the process.

WD: Related to the previous question, finding the true craft distillers is a bit of a hot topic right now. Liquor labeling and marketing isn't always clear, and sometimes consumers learn later their small batch or craft spirit purchase is really just a bottling and re-branding of bulk alcohol, much to their dismay. As a craft distiller, what's your take on this clouding of the market?
SE: Honestly we’ve been disappointed to hear that many other craft distillers are purchasing bulk spirits. To me its like buying a fast food burger, adding a sauce you mixed up, and calling it a unique hand-crafted burger. To me that's still a fast food burger no matter how much aioli sauce you add.  

WD: Craft beer has really blown up, and many see craft distilling following in its footsteps. We agree, except there is still a significant hurdle in our opinion in that Minnesota distilleries cannot give samples, sell their own bottles, or make cocktails. Does the lack of a sample room hinder craft distillers?
SE: Yes, it's definitely slowing down the craft spirits movement. There is something un-american about not being able to share your products, hopefully the laws will evolve.  

WD: Just like craft beer, people are interested in the local angles and how things are made. Can you take us through your craft process?
SE: We’re constantly on the lookout for the closest and freshest high quality ingredients. Our barley is grown in MN and malted in Shakopee MN. Our corn and rye come from a family farmer near Hugo, MN. Our oak barrels are made in Northern Minnesota. We're committed to supporting local MN businesses, just as we hope Minnesotan's are eager to support local distilleries.

WD: You just released your first product, Norseman Vodka. Congrats! I see that a gin is next in line, followed by a rum and whiskey. Since learning about future products before they hit the market is what my kind "geeks out" on, what can you tell us about the gin, rum, and whiskey? I'd love to know what's going into them and when to expect them.
SE: We are currently working on developing an Heirloom Gin, which will be a simple and delicious botanical blend representing a more traditional gin, with just a soft touch of vanilla to mellow it out … think barrel-aged Gin. We're also test batching rum made with a  traditional Panela, which has a remarkable flavor profile even without aging. But most of all, I’m really excited about our rye whiskey, the un-aged version should be out shortly in a nano-release high proof moonshine. We're working on a secret (for now) aging process for the whiskey that we're looking forward to sharing with MN soon!

WD: Anything else you'd like to share? Super secret experimental spirit that'll blow us all away, maybe?
SE: We’re working on a few experiments with some unusual grains and aging with non-white oak woods.

Whiskey Detectives want to thank Scott for taking the time to participate in our Still Life profile, we truly appreciate it and wish him the best on his growing business. We will also update the profile as more information and release dates, etc. become available.


(Images from norsemandistillery.com and norseman facebook page)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

High West Whiskey Campfire

What do Dewars, Jameson, Seagram's Seven, and Chivas Regal all have in common? They are all blended whiskeys. Blended whiskeys have been around about as long as whiskey itself. Simply, it is the process of taking different batches of a type of whiskey and blending them together to improve quality and flavor. For example, a company may add an older, aged whiskey to a younger one to improve it's richness and smoothness.

Blending can be done with any type of whiskey, such as Scotch (Johnny Walker), bourbon (most all Beam products), Irish (Tullamore Dew), and almost all Canadian whiskey is a blend. Chances are that unless the bottle specifically says it is a "single cask" or "single barrel" whiskey you are probably drinking a blend. And I've noticed that often "single barrel" whiskeys are not as smooth as blends because they have had nothing added to them.

Blending different barrels of one type of whiskey is common, but blending different varieties of whiskey together is not. That is why I was excited to try High West Whiskey Campfire. A blend of rye, bourbon, and (very close to single malt) Scotch whiskey. Crazy right! I've heard of blending rye and bourbon, but never blending three varieties including Scotch.



In fact, it's illegal to import single malt Scotch unless the product is already bottled. You cannot export single malt casks from Scotland. So, how did High West get around that issue? A process called teaspooning. Every cask they import has had a teaspoon of blended scotch added to the cask. Thus, it becomes a blended whiskey and is legal to export. That being said, this process is frowned upon in Scotland and the Sales Manager at High West would not tell me what distillery in Scotland provides the Scotch.

The folks at High West say the blending of these three whiskeys provides you with one sweet, spicy, and smokey libation. The bourbon provides the sweet, the rye provides the spice, and the peat in the Scotch provides the smoke. Did they pull it off?

Label Lowdown
Cost - $55 for a 750ml bottle
Content - 46% ABV
Origin - Indiana and Scotland, bottled in Park City, Utah
Interesting Fact - This whiskey is bottled at High West Distilleries, but they do not distill any of the ingredients themselves



Notes
Most Ridic
-Nose was smokey and sweet - peat, pine, butterscotch
-Taste was peaty, with hints of vanilla and spice
-Starts with the peat, moves to the spice and ends with the sweet

The Verdict: Sip it
This is an extremely interesting whiskey that provides a depth of flavor, as well as a variety of taste, in just one sip. Perfect bottle for your friends that enjoy peated whiskeys. The peat gives it a smokiness that many people really enjoyed at the tasting. Not so much for me. I have not yet found a peated whiskey that I enjoy. However, High West Whiskey Campfire is the closest I've found. The smoke calmed down when I added an ice cube, and I thought really opened up all the flavors in the whiskey, stopping the peat from overpowering it. I would definitely drink this unique whiskey again, but I'd toss in an ice cube right away.

Friday, March 7, 2014

High West 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan

A few weeks back, I, Most Ridic, had the opportunity to attend a whiskey tasting at the Lake Elmo Wine Company. This is a great, little wine shop with a great selection of wine, a good selection of beer, and an ever-expanding selection of spirits.

The focus of the evening was the spirits produced by High West Distillery of Park City, Utah. High West Distillery has been in business for around ten years, and they specialize in blended whiskeys. Almost all of their products are a blend of different whiskeys all together, or different ages of one variety. Mat Garretson, their sales manager, was in town and spent the evening walking a group of 20 through a selection of their spirits. We tried three whiskeys and two barreled cocktails. So, prepare yourself for several High West reviews over the next few weeks.



To start off our tour of High West, I'll be reviewing the 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan. For those of you that are not familiar with the idea of a barreled cocktail, it is simply the process of premixing, and then aging a cocktail. In this case, a Manhattan. The idea of premixing a cocktail is not a new one. You can walk into any liquor store and buy a premixed margarita right now. However, premixing premium cocktails is a relatively new idea. Bars and restaurants will premix specialty cocktails. In fact, that seems to be a trend in bartending over the past couple years. Case in point, Pazzaluna in downtown Saint Paul premixes their Mad Hatter Manhattan, and The Strip Club has gone one step further by premixing tipples and then putting them on tap! I'm not completely convinced the idea of barreling cocktails will take off, but I would not be surprised if you start to see more options in your local liquor store.

Let's talk about the 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan. Their cocktail consists of 2 parts High West Double Rye, 1 part Vya Sweet Vermouth, and 2 dashes of Angostura bitters for every 2.5 ounces of booze. They then age the cocktail for 120 days in used rye barrels before bottling. A very convenient drink that can be served straight up or on the rocks.



However, convenience means nothing if the cocktail is not up to snuff. Fortunately, it was. I thought the barreled Manhattan was a well-made drink. It was sweet and heavy, I knew I was drinking a Manhattan, and I knew it was a Rye Manhattan.

Label Lowdown
Cost - $45
Content - 37% ABV
Origin - Park City, Utah 
Interesting Fact - Named after the fact that Utah cast the 36th and last vote needed to repeal prohibition

The Verdict: Rocks it
My only issue with the drink was the amount of vermouth . I enjoy Manhattans with a lot less vermouth. Closer to a 4 to 1 ratio, than a 2 to 1, so it was just too sweet for me. Because it is pre-mixed you can't regulate the ingredients, and thusly you are stuck with how the distiller put it together. For me it got better with a few rocks to cut the sweetness, but my friends at the tasting found the rye flavor to be too strong, so i guess it depends on the individual preference.

I can't see buying another bottle for myself, but I do think this bottle makes a great gift for the booze aficionado in your life.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Solveig Gin

Back on the craft distillery track, this time we're hitting some hooch from Far North Spirits. Straight from the (Far North)west corner of Minnesota comes a Nordic-named gin called Solveig. It's a field-to-glass operation run by a husband and wife team who got tired of the rat race in the big cities and returned to their roots - all the way to Hallock, Minnesota, 25 miles from the Canadian border.

These two farming and distilling entrepreneurs worked hard planting, growing, harvesting, and distilling fine hand-crafted spirits that are finally starting to hit the market. Their gin is the first release, and it's packaged in a handsome, clean design that fits their Far North brand to a "T". From the gold on white color combo to the Scandanavian-esque typeface to the small details of the raised lettering on the distillery name and snowflake, its nordic sexy. Even the name is laced with that same heritage. Solveig, pronounced SOUL•VAI, is a Scandinavian woman’s name combining the elements sól sun and veig strength.


All right, enough about the heritage and design, what about the gin? Far North produces their gin from AC Hazlet Winter Rye planted and grown themselves. They then take their botanicals, including thyme, grapefruit, juniper and others, and start distilling. And here's where it gets interesting. Different from most gin distillation, Far North distills each of their botanicals individually. Then, they combine the distillates together to create their Solveig Gin. They believe this extra attention to each botanical yields a superior gin with more depth of flavor. Are they right? Let's taste and find out.


Label Lowdown
Cost - $33 for a 750ml bottle
Content - 43.5% ABV
Origin - Hallock, MN
Interesting Bottle Fact - Fourth generation farmers, reclaiming the craft of distilling


Notes
DP
-Light on the nose, not too pine-y
-Rich mouth feel for a gin
-Definitely sippable
-Entry is smooth and easy, floral
-Flavor hits mid-palate with coolness to it
-Finish is where the pepper-y rye comes in


Verdict: Sip It
A pleasant surprise for the Whiskey Detectives, we are tentatively excited for what craft distilling has to offer in the future. The couple of products we've had from Minnesota so far have been delivering on the craft promise. And Solveig Gin is one of them. If you like to try new things, support local businesses, or drink well-crafted spirits, this is a gin for you. We've said it in the past, but these tasty and complex gins will dispel all hesitations of those who fear their drinking a bottle of Pine Sol. Solveig is light, fresh, and sweetly flavorful, everything you want in a quality gin. At $33 the price is steep, but you're paying for the craftsmanship of field-to-glass, and that can't happen for $12 a bottle.


(Images from DP's iphone)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Norseman Vodka

The Whiskey Detectives love discovering and trying new craft booze. Just as some of our friends and family enjoy all the new varieties of craft beer dominating the market, we look forward to the craft whiskey market following in its footsteps. So, I, Draper Pryce, was delighted to find the subject of our post today. And even more delighted that it was locally produced hooch from right here in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Norseman Vodka is distilled from grain and bottled by the Norseman Distillery. It is the first product to market from this small batch craft distillery, with gin, whiskey, and rum on the way sometime in the future. When we say small batch, in this case we really mean it. The words craft, small batch, and micro get thrown around the distillery scene a lot, but Norseman is one distillery that really fits the micro moniker. Scott Ervin is the head distiller and one-man show behind Norseman Distillery. His only two assistants are real booze hounds, literally. Ervin oversees the production of each batch of spirits himself from start to finish, with his two dogs Max and Rocket by his side. Following the true small batch craft approach, Scott uses the very best local ingredients paired with a still he has designed, fabricated, and re-tooled himself to meet his desired standards for production. It's the Norseman approach to creating truly hand crafted small batch premium spirits. Let's find out how Scott's hard work turned out.


In honor of Max & Rocket, my boozehound Savannah

Label Lowdown
Cost - $23 for 750ml bottle
Content - 40% ABV
Origin - Minneapolis, Minnesota
Interesting Bottle Fact - 100% Owner Operated


Notes
DP
-Pleasant nose, no alcohol dominating
-Slightly syrup-y mouth feel, can see it slowly drip down inside of glass after a taste
-Mild sweetness, but the grain flavor still comes through
-Good vodka-ish flavor, and relatively smooth



Verdict: Sip It
A lot of times copy on websites can be a lot of chest puffing and marketing speak to get people to buy. But, that's not the case with Norseman Distillery. After tasting this flavorful vodka I truly believe Scott is practicing what he preaches. Norseman Vodka's depth of flavor and smoothness shows that he has spent time developing every aspect of his materials, equipment, and production himself until he got the premium product he was after. And that's everything the Whiskey Detectives hope for out of a craft distillery - a great tasting product distilled by true craftsman. If you're tired of the big name vodkas that think filtering the flavor out of the spirit makes it premium, give Norseman Vodka a try and awaken your tastebuds to what premium craft vodka can be, when you actually taste the grains.


(Images from DP's iphone)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Canadian Club Reserve Whisky

In our previous post, we let you know who we felt about Canadian Club. This time around, we tackle the mid-range offering, Canadian Club Reserve Whisky. I, Draper Pryce, decided to give it a try when looking for a base spirit for a Manhattan. As we said in that last review, Whiskey Detectives enjoy CC as a readily available spirit for a Manhattan.

With that in mind, I was hoping for a smoother, better tasting cocktail from the next step up in the Canadian Club line up. The Reserve is aged longer, at 10 years, and made from hand selected whiskies that are barrel blended. Sounds like CC whisky given a little extra age and care. Everything I was asking for, right? Well, let's just see about that.



Label Lowdown
Cost - $20 for 750ml bottle
Content - 40% ABV
Age - 10 years
Interesting Bottle Fact - Selected by our master blender these reserve whiskies are matured in white oak barrels for 10 years to create a rich and smooth flavor


Notes
DP
-Similar nose to CC, but less alcohol-y
-Still a throat burn
-Better flavor profile, slightly smoother
-More syrupy
-Still caramel like, sweeter


Verdict: Skip It
It all sounds well and good, but ultimately Canadian Club Reserve is not that much better than the standard CC. The Reserve is slightly smoother and has a little bit better flavor profile. But, it's not stand out better. You're still not going to want to drink this canadian straight. And if that's the case, it's only going to hide behind some mixers anyways, as the improvement is not enough to grab your taste buds. So, save that extra money and stick with the standard Canadian Club for your cocktail needs.


(Image from DP's iphone)