Craft spirits are a new frontier—the distilleries among us new pioneers cutting a new swath in familiar grains. For Proof Artisan Distillers, highlighting North Dakota’s bountiful barley harvests in an American single malt whiskey is the perfect way to swing their scythe.
Glen Fargo, called “The Single Malt of North Dakota” by Proof Artisan Distillers, is set to be released Wednesday, November 23 at the distillery’s second annual Proofsgiving party. The whiskey, which will be available at the distillery’s tasting room, is one of a few whiskeys made by the young Fargo company.
North Dakota is a prime barley growing state, and malted barley is the main ingredient in Glen Fargo. “I think single malt is going to make a statement, especially in the craft distilleries. The national people haven’t been producing,” says owner Joel Kath. Just like single malt Scotch whiskys, American single malt whiskeys are made and aged at one distillery from 100 percent malted barley. “[Whiskey] is easier and more cost effective to produce with corn,” he says of industry trends. “But the single malt is a different spirit. It’s lighter, a little drier, and our American style is not peaty or smoky.”
Glen Fargo is a one-year-old double-barreled aged whiskey, starting in new American oak and finished in freshly used bourbon barrels. Single malt, Kath explains, is a lighter distillate and is more sensitive to picking up oak flavors. By making a timely switch from new to used barrels, Proof can control how much wood comes through in flavor. While he had high expectations for how the local grains would distill, he’s been surprised at just how well his single malt has turned out.
“At one year, it is significantly higher in [my own point ranking] than I would have expected. It’s a shame to put ‘aged one year’ on the bottle,” he says, because its complexity exceeds expectations for a white dog, or young, whiskey. He describes it as showcasing fruit notes with burnt sugar and caramel corn elements that build as the whiskey settles in the glass.
In little over a year of business, Proof has gained recognition for their vodka and gins, made with locally-sourced potatoes, and Kath is excited to grow the whiskey line as well. Crooked Furrow bourbon is on deck for release and Fire by Proof, a cinnamon-flavored craft response to the national trend, was just released.
“We are jumping on the bandwagon with a cinnamon bourbon, but it’s a true bourbon,” Kath says, made using an in-house extract of Ceylon and Cassia cinnamon. It’s whiskey flavor is backed by the additive instead of overpowered by it. “It is not sugary sweet,” he explains. “It’s balanced. You taste the whiskey.”
Proof Artisan Distillery’s spirits are now available in over 300 retail locations and the distillery expects to push into the Twin Cities Metro in 2017. They operate a tasting room in Fargo, which draws a crowd Kath describes as “downtown eclectic”—students, young professionals, and 50 to 60 year-olds out for a relaxing cocktail. Proofs’ spirits lean toward the new wave of craft, exemplified by the citrus-forward Minions Gin and its whiskey barrel-aged sibling, used in a popular old fashioned in the cocktail room.
“We’ve got the process dialed in and we’re laying down numerous barrels of whiskey each week, both bourbon and single malt,” Kath says, making vodka, gin, and aquavit in between.
With their whiskey reaching a desired complexity, it’s a new phase for the budding brand and one of just a few North Dakota distillers. “Testing is the fun part,” he says, isolating a sample from a whiskey barrel at three months, preserving it, and then comparing to the same batch later on. “You have a frozen moment in time of that same barrel.”
“It’s really a joy. It’s like watching a child grow up: seeing the transformation. The whiskey starts as a white dog and month by month [we’re] watching its progress,” he explains, until it’s ready to go out into the world and make a name for itself.