Chris might just be the hardest working man in distilling. The title isn’t so much a compliment as it is a judgment on the all-electric distillery’s shortcomings. Running a wash through Du Nord’s 330-gallon stripping still and it’s 120-gallon or 60-gallon finishing stills can take upwards of five days working round the clock to get to the finished distillate—a process that’s as unsustainable in terms of cost as it is Chris’ time away from his family.
It’s the reason he and Shanelle have been working for the past year on an expansion plan with the thought of building a whole new facility and upgrading all of their equipment. “If all we did was feed the cocktail room, then this might work. But feeding all these places all across the state with electrically heated stills is insanity. I mean, it’s costing us three, four times the amount to make booze that it would cost anybody else. We’ve just gotten too big for where we are.”
Chris’ phone rings. It’s his wife. Before he answers it, he knows she’s wondering when he’s coming home.
“Bottom line,” Chris explains, “we need new equipment, need to switch over to steam, we need more efficient stuff, we need better ceiling heights, we have an infrastructure issue here—we have one drain in this entire facility and it’s at one of the highest points in the floor, sitting over there.”
With all the problems the distillery poses, it’s amazing that this place hasn’t broken his spirit. There’s something about distilling, though, that keeps him motivated and interested.
Part of it is the satisfaction he takes in taking raw grain grown by his father-in-law and making it into spirits that create true diversity on the liquor store shelves currently filled with Big Liquor’s cleverly-marketed brands. “[Craft distillers] can do something different, we can do it better, and we can do it right here. And we can prove that it can be done right here, in the middle of a city in a northern state, with what comes from this northern state.”
The other part of what motivates Chris is the fact that it’s a discipline that you can’t just master. “I don’t call myself our master distiller on purpose. I’m our head distiller. […] This isn’t something you master. You get better at it; you learn more and you get better at it. We’re still learning.”
For a guy like Chris Montana, who fights off boredom by throwing himself into the unknown, the challenges of the distillery keep alive the flame that inspired him to start Du Nord in the first place.
Chris’s phone rings again. He takes a look around, checking what’s left on his mental to-do list. Slanted light pours into the distillery from the sunset. After a marathon workweek, Chris is ready to head home.
Du Nord Craft Spirits // Photos by Kevin Kramer
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