Trailblazers 2016: Michael Swanson and Cheri Reese of Far North Spirits

Mike_Cheri

Mike and Cheri Swanson // Photo by Megan Sugden

Kentucky has bourbon. Scotland has Scotch. But if Michael Swanson and Cheri Reese, founders of Far North Spirits, have anything to say about it, Minnesota will have rye whiskey. The distillery located on the Swanson family farm in tiny Hallock, Minnesota (population 981) has been making its grain-to-glass spirits, including Roknar Minnesota Rye Whiskey, which saw its first significant release this year, using estate-grown AC Hazlet winter rye.

Rye whiskey is what Far North Spirits hopes to make its name on, and they recently released two new expressions of Roknar—a Maryland-style rye whiskey with has slightly less rye and more corn than the Minnesota Rye version, and a 100% rye whiskey.

Related Post – Distiller Profile: Mike Swanson at Far North Spirits

This year, the husband and wife team behind the distillery harvested the first of five rye varieties grown as a part of an ambitious three-year Minnesota Department of Agriculture crop research grant to study locally-grown rye for distilling. They are distilling these rye varieties to assess the differences in distillate yield, initial viscosity, flavor, and aroma. The results of the three-year study will be made available to other rye producers around the state, with the hope that they will use the information to help make Minnesota a leader in production of world-class rye spirits.

Far North Spirits by Megan Sugden059

Far North Spirits // Photo by Megan Sugden

While whiskey is their main focus in the coming year, Far North Spirits is gaining a reputation around the country for its other offerings too. Gustaf Navy Strength Gin took home a Good Food Award in 2016, and Far North’s spirits are carried at notable bars and restaurants within the distillery’s nine-state distribution area, including Le Bernardin and The Modern at MoMa in New York City, and Cala in San Francisco.

Cheri’s work to curate the Far North brand and relay Michael’s passionate conviction for estate-grown spirits to drinkers around the U.S. has put Far North at the forefront of Minnesota’s spirits scene.


Our mission at The Growler is to tell stories that inspire progress in local food, drink, and culture. And in that spirit as part of our 2016 Kind-Of-A-Big-Deal Issue, we felt the need to point out 25 people, ideas, businesses, and organizations who have done necessary, important, and groundbreaking work in 2016. See the rest of our 2016 Trailblazers here.

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Brian Kaufenberg is the editor-in-chief of The Growler Magazine.

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