There are many ways in which people are contributing to the local craft spirits industry: at the production level in the distillery; at the retail level behind the bar; even as media covering the scene. Lee Egbert, though, is doing it all.
As a founding partner of 11 Wells in St. Paul, Egbert worked alongside Bob McManus to bring 11 Wells’ wheat whiskey, rum, and bourbon to the market, and helped breathe new life into the historic, but crumbling Hamm’s Brewery complex where the distillery is located. Egbert used the knowledge gleaned from traveling the world studying different herbs and botanicals to help 11 Wells launch Minnesota’s first vermouth.
But before getting into distilling at 11 Wells, Egbert was using that knowledge to dive deep into the world of cocktail bitters with the company he started in 2013, Dashfire. “Five years ago, when I started, I’d say maybe 20 percent of people even knew what bitters were,” Egbert said in an interview with The Growler, “and now, I’d say that ratio has totally flipped.”
Since introducing Minnesota’s first and only barrel-aged bitters, Vintage Orange No. 1, Egbert has added 20 more bitters formulations to his product lineup, secured a building and equipment for his own distillery, and signed a national distribution deal that will increase Dashfire’s footprint from six states to 40 (plus parts of Canada). By next year, Dashfire could very well be among the top 10 largest bitters companies in America.
If that wasn’t enough to keep Egbert occupied in recent years, he is also a co-founder of Thirst Network, a digital media network whose goal is to tell compelling stories in the world of beverages. Thirst Network spent 2017 filming a documentary telling the story of IPA in America and Minnesota, which they are currently editing. The documentary is likely be released in 2018, and the team hopes to start new filming projects thereafter.
For one person, Lee Egbert has done a great deal in the past five years to progress the local spirits industry forward. And, what’s most encouraging, is that he’s not done yet—not even close.
Trailblazers are the people, ideas, businesses, and organizations doing necessary, important, and groundbreaking work in the realms of food, drink, and culture. See the rest of The Growler’s 2017 Trailblazers here.