Millers and Saints Distillery
Location: St. Louis Park, MN
Distiller: Joe Muggli
Current Products: Millers and Saints Vodka
Upcoming Products: whiskey and bourbon
Millers and Saints is a local Twin Cities distillery with a big family feel. Joe Muggli grew up in a family of 11 that always had a hand in making things themselves, even to this day. From a 4 acre farm to bee keeping to grapevines. His father-in-law, Ron Olney, was a career military officer who traveled the world experiencing many flavors and tastes, including being given his first taste of whiskey by a Georgia moonshiner as a young lad. That lifetime has given him the palate and the passion to make great spirits.
The family connections don't stop there. Those two found they had a willing partner, and spirit helping hand in Joe's brother-in-law, Jason Schoneman. It just so happens that Jason had started an alcohol business of his own a while back - Steel Toe Brewing. With all the pieces falling into place, Millers and Saints Distillery was on its way to producing craft spirits. Let's find out more.
Distiller Profile: Joe Muggli and Ron Olney
WD: How did Millers and Saints Distillery come about? What made you say, "Yeah, let's start making booze?"
M&S: Ron explains it this way: "After years of contemplating world peace over shots of alcohol in bars and camps around the world, I realized I wanted to make niche spirits that I would like. I had tasted alcohols made in old backyard-style pot stills using wood fires and was struck by the freshness of the aromas and tastes. Not at all "industrial". Moving to Minnesota in 2011, I continued this conversation with my son-in-laws Joe Muggli and Jason Schoneman, and discovered they shared the vision. We developed a plan, researched the industry, attended distillery schooling, enlisted mentors and struck out to create pre-prohibition spirits.
WD: You have a little help from Steel Toe Brewing, but you distill all your own spirits, correct?
M&S: Correct. Steel Toe Brewing makes the wash for our spirits to our specifications, and then it is pumped to our still which is literally a few feet from the fermentor. Jason, Ron and I came up with the recipe for the vodka wash after many test batches. We wanted to make sure we had the right taste and flavor profile, a spirit that we liked and were proud to produce. We wanted to expand the idea of what a vodka is, vodkas are not flavorless and tasteless. Do a taste comparison and you will see. Millers and Saints has a role in defining craft vodka in Minnesota (eventually whiskey, and other spirits), and we hope our customers enjoy what we are producing. It sure has been a lot of work to get to where we are at. All distilling is done with Millers and Saints equipment and by its owners. We do not purchase industrial neutral grain spirits and call it craft.
WD: Related to the previous question, we're asking this of all the craft distillers we profile. 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?
M&S: It's true that the definition of small batch and craft have been muddied by bulk sales and transfer of ethanol between companies for further processing and bottling. From my experience, the informed public expects small batch craft spirits to be locally produced from grain, one complete wash at a time and distilled one run at a time. This produces slightly different results with each run, and highlights the craftsmanship of the producers. However, if it doesn't say "distilled and bottled by", all of the craft is not occurring at the distillery. We are proud to have "Distilled and Bottled by: Millers & Saints Distillery, LLC" on all of our bottles.
WD: With the farm-to-table & grain-to-glass movements, people love the local angles and finding out how what they are consuming is made. Millers and Saints also touts it's American-Made and Minnesota connections throughout its distilling process. Can you tell us about that?
M&S: As most craft movements go, Millers and Saints is staying as local and American as possible. Our grain is from the Midwest, our wash is made locally by one of the finest breweries, Steel Toe Brewing, in the state, our barrels are made in Avon, MN, by the Barrel Mill, our still is made in America, by Global Stainless Systems, our boxes are made in Golden Valley, by Liberty Carton, our distributor, Bell Boy, is based in Golden Valley, our T-shirts are printed by Chux Design and Print in St. Louis Park and our label design was completed by our next door neighbors, Six Speed. We strive to be as local as possible with everything we do. When Millers and Saints does well, our community does well.
WD: You've already released one product: Millers and Saints Vodka. Congrats! I'd love to know how it's made... (what it's distilled from, etc.)
M&S: We have found that a wheat based wash using a specific yeast provides the character we wanted in capturing our pre-prohibition vodka. We tested many grain and yeast combinations to arrive at our desired flavor profile. We first complete a modified stripping run (we take heads and tails cuts), and then a finishing run, again taking heads and tails cuts. If I were a marketer I would tell you it was distilled 30 times (14 plate column plus the pot = 15 x 2 runs = 30). There obviously is much more that goes into making the spirit (i.e. how fast we are running the still, the reflux rate, temperatures, and the list goes on), but after we collect our final spirit we cut it with water with a specific profile. The end result is Millers and Saints Vodka, which has a hint of character, vanilla and caramel, a smooth mouth feel and little burn, and we believe this showcases the craft of craft distilling. For our other unreleased spirits, our recipes are wonderful, and so far, well-guarded.
WD: Millers and Saints is a true family affair all around. What are everyone's roles and how has the experience of working together shaped the distillery?
M&S: The relationship between Millers and Saints and Steel Toe is like family. That's what we are. Jason and I are brothers-in-law and Ron is our father-in-law. When Jason started the brewery, Ron and I were there to help, and we all pitched in together to get the distillery going. In reality though, it is our beautiful brides that allow Millers and Saints and Steel Toe to succeed. They make it possible for Jason to brew world class beer, and Ron and I to follow in his foot steeps with spirits.
WD: Everyone loves to get a good scoop, what can you tell us about your future products? What's going into them? When to expect them? I must say as whiskey fans, we're excited at the two you have coming down the line...
M&S: I like to describe our Vodka as a spirit for beer and whiskey drinkers, so as a whiskey fan please give Millers and Saints a try. We currently do have whiskey in barrels. The oldest being about six months old. Our grain profile is a mixture of barley, rye and wheat (in no particular order other than alphabetical). As mentioned earlier, our whiskey is stored into oak barrels made by the Barrel Mill. These are 30-gallon barrels which allows greater [contact] between the wood and spirit than a more commonly used 53-gallon barrel. As far as when to expect the whiskey, I can only say please be patient. We taste the barrels every few months and when we think it is ready we'll bottle, but we are likely 6 months to years away.
|Whiskey put in the barrel Sept 8th, 2014|
WD: Anything else you'd like to share? Super secret experimental spirit that'll blow us all away, maybe?
M&S: We've been busy with the vodka and whiskey so far, but we are constantly thinking about what is next. One of the hindrances is that Minnesota does not allow bottle sales at the distillery. If we were allowed to sell bottles at the distillery we can envision releasing really small batches of spirits. Breweries and wineries all ready have this ability, and surrounding states allow distilleries to sell bottles on-site. First, we need all craft spirit drinkers to tell their legislator that we want this. I believe this would really allow Minnesota craft distilleries to show our craft.
Whiskey Detectives would like to thank Millers and Saints for participating in our Still Life series. We look forward to tasting their spirits now and in the future. As always with these posts, we will try to keep them updated with any new information as it becomes available.