Craft Whiskey: It Changes

Whiskey seems like a constant. You imagine that the bottle of Four Roses in your hands tastes the same as the one you bought last year, and will taste the same as the one you’ll buy next year. And for bourbons produced by the gigantic whiskey houses like Beam Suntory and Brown-Forman, that’s mostly the case.

But craft whiskeys aren’t as dialed-in. Some brands intentionally change their blends from batch to batch. And some labels slowly mature and evolve as the company does.

Take Loon Liquor Co. in Northfield, Minnesota. When they debuted their Loonshine white whiskey in 2014, the spirit was rough and ready with an intense floral note, and a heady, hot aftertaste. Batch #37, five years later, shows much more balance.

“Now, I would say our nose is a little more subtle. You’re getting clove, nutmeg, some winter spice. I think that’s really come from the change in the grain,” says Simeon Rossi, Loon Liquor’s co-founder. “Where that first batch was really light and pretty neutral with lots of that hay and grassiness, now, since we let it rest three months on the oak, you’re getting more complex woody notes, the caramel is coming through.”

Rossi says that these pronounced changes in the Loonshine’s flavor are the result of a series of small tweaks from batch to batch rather than any major sea change. Over time, Loon Liquor Co. has increased their resting time on white oak staves, and they also changed their grain sourcing, utilizing a mash made up almost entirely of local grains from single-origin providers. Loon upgraded its brewhouse with purpose-built equipment in 2017, which Rossi credits for adding a much higher level of consistency and control over the spirit.

“Mark and I were really young guys when we started the distillery and we didn’t apprentice with anybody. We had never even been professional brewers before this, much less distillers. The learning curve is really steep and we were pretty naive,” Rossi laughs. “But I think finally in the last two years, I’ve become really confident in what I’m able to do and control. I think where we’re at right now is where we trying to shoot for at the beginning, but we didn’t know how to do it.”

Up in Duluth, Emily Vikre and her team have put their Sugarbush whiskey through a similarly rigorous process of workshopping. 

“All the whiskeys that we distill get tweaked and vary from batch to batch,” says the Vikre Distilling co-founder and president. “Literally every single one of our products has been tweaked and polished and changed multiple times since we started our project.”

 

 

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Hang on to your woolen beanies friends, because it’s October and things are about to get HAPPENING!!!!! We have many exciting things coming down the pipeline this month, so keep your eye on the prize (that being our social media, and our email list, and tips from your friendly local bartenders and peeps in the know) so that you don’t miss hearing about any of the fun times. It’s going to be a barrage. Of fun. And deliciousness. Because deliciousness is always one of our top priorities. Anyway…first up! SUGARBUSH LOT 7 is dropping – er, falling (get it? because it’s fall?) on OCTOBER 18! Cue. the. trumpets.⁠ Come get it at the distillery – where we will have it ON NITRO! No joke! – and look for it at stores shortly thereafter. This lot is 2 1/2 years old and it is delightful. (The bottle still just says it’s aged at least 18 months. Because we ordered too much glass for one of our original lots and we are still using it because we are very opposed to wasting glass. But, don’t let the glass fool you! I know it won’t because you’re too smart for that. The actual liquid is 2 1/2 years old. Which, I guess, is technically at least 18 months. And then some.) ⁠ ⁠ #sugarbushwhiskey #vikredistillery #drinkbetter #madebythelake #autumn #whiskey #craftwhiskey #graintoglass

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Vikre found herself dissatisfied with the characteristics of the ale yeast used in the first batch of Sugarbush, and pushed for a switch to a Belgian yeast, which she likes for its funky complexity. The distillery has also increased Sugarbush’s aging time to 30 months and slightly downplayed the whiskey’s characteristic maple flavor. Vikre says that her team definitely takes customer feedback into account but that for the most part, the tweaks to her distillery’s products are the result of a hunger for self-improvement.

 “We were all beginners starting out,” she says, of Minnesota’s craft whiskey movement. “You don’t judge a restaurant by going on opening night. No entrepreneur has their feet under them 100 percent from the day they start.” 

Vikre, like Rossi, hopes Minnesota’s whiskey lovers will recognize that passion for growth and invest in the journey along with them. “You don’t necessarily have to sample every lot, but stop back in some time. It’s been six years, things change!”

 
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