Ask born-and-raised Minnesotans and they’ll give you an extensive list of differences between them and Wisconsinites or North and South Dakotans. Ask bartenders in the Twin Cities and they’ll tell you numerous confused-out-of-stater stories. Living in different states can feel like living in cultures as different as night and day, but for bartenders on the borders, there is real beauty in the dusk and the dawn.
North Dakota is the birthplace of the Smith & Kearns (or Kerns, or Curran) cocktail—a hangover cure turned supper club staple made of crème de cacao or Kahlúa, cream, and soda water. While supper clubs aren’t known for blazing trails in the cocktail revolution, there are still remarkable things happening on our shared border.
“The ‘craft cocktail’ is still new here,” explains Lij Larson, beverage director at soon-to-open BeerFish in Fargo, “but people are willing to try anything we put in front of them.” Lij has been bartending, training, and consulting on the Minnesota–North Dakota border for his entire career. “The growth of the cocktail movement has changed what people around here think of bartending. It’s changed what bartenders think of themselves and what they think is possible for them in this industry.”
From a brandy old fashioned topped with Squirt to straight shots of Angostura bitters, there’s no denying Sconnies have always drunk to the beat of their own drums. But Jess Morris, lead bartender at Stillwater’s Tilted Tiki, doesn’t see much interstate rivalry at her bar. “It’s actually a healthy blend of Minnesota and Wisconsin cultures,” she says. “It’s a really tight-knit town and people are really loyal. Some people might come in skeptical at first, but once they feel comfortable, you’re in.”
Morris’ enthusiastic approach to hospitality undoubtedly plays a part in making people from both states comfortable. “People don’t always want to embrace the menu cocktails and that makes sense. Polynesian cocktails can be scary to people from the land of vodka sodas,” she laughs. “We are very dedicated to figuring out someone’s flavor profile, and we’ll get them something they’ll like.”
A little pride in where we’re from is natural. But whether you drop three olives in your beer, have a snit on the side of your bloody mary, or prefer a Tom Collins with or without grenadine, something we can learn from these border bartenders is we might not be all that different. So head east or west to your favorite border town this summer, pull up a bar stool, and trust your bartender to make you something with the perfect amount of local flavor.
Minnesconsin Old Fashioned
A “compromise” cocktail
1 oz Dampfwerk Barreled Apple Brandy (MN)
1 oz 45th Parallel New Richmond Rye (WI)
¼ oz Grapefruit Sugar Oil*
1 dash Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla (MN/WI)
Club soda (WI)
Stir first four ingredients in a pint glass with ice, and strain into a lowball with one large ice cube. Top with a splash of soda.
Peel an entire grapefruit. Place peels in a container and cover with ½ cup sugar. Wait overnight until liquid-y. Add 2 tablespoons of boiling hot water, stir to dissolve, strain.