Everyone knows where to find breweries and distilleries, especially with their popularity for tastings or a fun night out. But have you ever considered visiting a distillery? If you don’t already know, a distillery is where all of your favorite spirits are created: vodka, gin, whiskey, tequila.
Distilling is essentially extracting the alcohol from beer and wine, says Mark Schiller, co-owner of Loon Liquors in Northfield.
First, you add ground grain (either from local or other sources) to a mixing vault, heat the grain to release the starches, add malt and malt enzymes to convert starches to sugar, cool it down, transfer the fermented product to the still, run it through the still once to extract all of the alcohol, and repeat the process three times. Once it is collected enough low wines, it will be transferred to still again. After running it through the still and collecting only the portions of alcohol that are favorable, says Jake Hvistendahl, chief manager of 10,000 Drops in Faribault, add proof to the barrel or the bottle, and then place it in a barrel or bottle for controlled storage — usually between two to 10 years at a time for the best product. On top of this, Hvistendahl highly suggests doing lots of cleaning in between the steps.
The process sounds easy enough, but it’s a lot harder than it looks.
“The learning curve is just extraordinary,” said Schiller. “You have to be really good at it, you have to have a solid business plan, you have to have a ton of money and there’s just not that many people that are able to bring it all together – if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”
Schiller says another reason it’s not as popular is that someone needs to have capital in order to have a distillery: the equipment, the space, and the savings to age the liquors you create. There’s also not a lot you can do with a distillery, according to Schiller.
“If you went out to a brewery and you backed up a semi-trailer, you can fill it with growlers – you can buy as much beer as you want. But with a distillery, it’s just one bottle per person per day,” said Schiller. “With distilleries, it’s much smaller.”
These may be some of the reasons why distilleries aren’t as popular as breweries, but the surge of distilleries opening in the past decade explains why they weren’t a thing in Minnesota compared to other states.
While breweries and wineries gained in popularity across the Bold North, the permit to distill was still $30,000. At the time, bigger companies were leveraging the fee to keep smaller businesses out. After passing the Surly bill in 2011 to make it “feasible for small distilleries to start up in Minnesota without having to pay exorbitant fees,” according to Christian Myrah, founder and head distiller at RockFilter in Spring Grove, the permit is now only $1,100 — if you produce under 20,000-proof gallons — and has seen a surge of distilleries popping up all over the Land of 10,000 lakes.
With about 150 craft breweries and 75 wineries, Minnesota now has 35 distilleries since the legislation was passed.
In 2014, Loon Liquors became the first micro-distillery to produce distilled spirits in Southern Minnesota, followed by Spring Grove’s RockFilter in 2017, and then 10,000 Drops in Faribault, which officially opened its doors in June 2018.
All of the distilleries are unique — 10,000 Drops focuses on rum, bourbon and gin; RockFilter on whiskey and bourbon; while Loon Liquors makes an array of all spirits, including whiskey, gin, vodka, even tequila.
And because this new law allows for more and more local distilleries, it is surely expected there will be more on the rise with a surge in popularity in people visiting them and expanding their horizons.
“I truly would love to see people explore their palettes and look at spirits and sort of understand the process [of distilling],” said Schiller. “You should know how your product is made.”
By Abby Patterson