Anew spirits company called Duluth Whiskey Project released a trio of flavored whiskeys into the market in January. But while the products are new, the man behind it, founder and owner Kevin Evans, is anything but: Evans is a familiar face at Vikre Distillery, where he has helped with spirits production since Joel and Emily Vikre founded the company in 2013. Now that his brand is off and running, though, he’s on the hunt for a location of his own.
Evans grew up in the Twin Cities and has worn many hats throughout his professional life. A former logistics officer in the Marines, he left the Corps in 2004 with the rank of Captain and earned a graduate degree in business shortly thereafter. He began a career in finance but ultimately found the work to be uninspiring. So when his wife took a position at Essentia Health in Duluth, he jumped at the chance to pursue his passion for distilling. “Making something is fulfilling, as opposed to shuffling numbers around,” Evans says.
His interest in distilling began when he received a homebrewing kit from his wife not long after leaving the Marines. Evans read everything he could about the distilling process and attended conferences and classes, one of which was taught by the late Dave Pickerel, a master distiller who served as a consultant for countless micro-distilleries across the country.
Right before the move to Duluth in November 2012, Evans emailed then-mayor Don Ness asking who in the city he could talk to within the distilling community; Ness connected him with the Vikres and Evans began volunteering his time to help run the stills, give tours, and represent the distillery out in the market. At the same time, Evans worked on starting his own company. Over the past couple of years, the Vikres allowed Evans to use their facility to start creating his own whiskey. “It was a nice opportunity for [all] of us,” Evans says. “I can’t be thankful enough for these guys.”
Duluth Whiskey Project is currently co-located within the Vikre distillery, but Evans hopes to purchase his own space within the next year. He nearly had one—the old Kemps Creamery building in Lincoln Park—back in 2016 but ultimately had to walk away from it. He’s still very much interested in that location, however, as well as other sites within the burgeoning Lincoln Park Craft District. He’s even mulling over the possibility of pursuing new construction.
As for his whiskey, Evans has a wheated bourbon in the works that he intends to release after aging for about five years. (Currently, his oldest barrel is about a year-and-a-half old.) In the meantime, he’s concentrating on flavored whiskeys, which don’t need extended aging. The trio launched in January includes mint, cider, and honey varieties. In May, he’ll add to the lineup with a “shandy” flavor, which has notes of lemonade, vanilla, and malt. For all his products, Evans sources his ingredients as locally as possible, using honey spun in Duluth, grain from the Widdes Feed & Farm Supply in Esko, malt from the Twin Cities, and barrels manufactured at Black Swan Cooperage in Park Rapids.
Crafting spirits is an art form and Evans is excited to experiment with all different styles, including a peated whiskey and pot still whiskey—an Irish style that arose in response to the hefty tax placed on malt in the late 1700s. To save money, Irish distillers used a mixture of malted and unmalted barley, resulting in a whiskey known for its spicy profile.
Evans currently has a staff of three part-time employees and is in the process of hiring a fourth. All are University of Minnesota–Duluth students and help with everything from bottling to marketing and social media.
Distiller: Kevin Evans
Spirits: Cider Whiskey, Honey Whiskey, Mint Whiskey
Address: 525 S. Lake Ave., Duluth, MN 55802
Where to find it: Black Diamond Liquor (Eagan), Canal Park Liquors (Duluth), Lake Aire Bottle Shoppe (Duluth), Mount Royal Bottle Shoppe (Duluth), various Super One stores around Duluth