I have way too many bottles of liquor at home, and there’s really no rhyme or reason. I’ll never forget the time I spent $80 on three different bottles of rum to try to recreate the Kill Devil shot, which cost only $3 (plus driving expenses) at Smalley’s in Stillwater. This past weekend, I spoke at Grand View Lodge’s “Distilled: Art of the Cocktail” weekend, where Minnesota craft distillers (and one from South Dakota) convened. It reminded me of an article I wrote two years ago with Dan Oskey on the top big name liquors you should buy. I decided to ask these distillers which of their products they would recommend, and which, from a national brand, they would recommend. Now, save this article on your phone and then go to your favorite liquor store. You’ll put together a pretty awesome home bar.
BET Vodka, Minneapolis
Rekya Small Batch Vodka, Iceland
From Ben Brueshoff at BET: The Reyka bottle has a certain beauty and elegance from its minimalist aesthetic. And, much as we promote sugar beets from Minnesota, they too emphasize their place of origin—Iceland—and reinforce this messaging loud and clear in the process of making their vodka…from the arctic spring water that is used to the lava rock filtration.
Glacial Lakes Vodka, South Dakota
Ketel One, Holland
Copperwing Gin, St. Louis Park
Junipero, Anchor Distilling, California
From Kyle Kettering at Copperwing: Junipero has a wonderful juniper aroma and flavor at a whopping 98.6 proof, with subtle lemon citrus flavor and fennel seed/juniper finish. Like Copperwing’s gin, it also has a nice velvety texture when sipped neat.
Pike Street Bourbon Whiskey, Panther Distillery, Osakis
Makers Mark, Kentucky
From Sam Carter at Panther: Pike Street bourbon is a sour mash whiskey, which is related to each batch produced before it. Pike Street mash bill comes in at 70 percent Minnesota corn and 30 percent Minnesota wheat, delivering a smooth balance of flavor. It packs a kick at 92 proof, making it the perfect whiskey for classic cocktails. Regular Makers Mark bourbon has a great vanilla and caramel taste to it with light fruit notes. Their Makers 46 is a phenomenal whiskey at the price, too. Always great in a cocktail or to drink neat. I’ve always considered Makers Mark the most reliable whiskey to pour for friends and guests.
Isanti Rye, Isanti Spirits
E.H. Taylor Rye, Buffalo Trace Distillery
From Rick Schneider at Isanti: This whiskey is the oldest Minnesota Rye at 4 and a half years old from 53-gallon char-4 barrels. It has a unique flavor imparted from a high percentage of rye malt softening the spicy notes and a roasted Barley Malt adding a punch to the caramel and vanilla flavors we all love in American whiskeys.
Alander Spiced Rum, Far North Spirits, Hallock
Ron Zacapa 23 Solera, Guatemala
From Cheri Reese at Far North: Ålander is made from raw cane sugar and then infused by hand with whole bean spices—the same spices you’ll find in Scandinavian baking. Wine Enthusiast picked it as one of their “Top 100 Spirits” for 2017, and it’s fantastic in a rum Old Fashioned (especially with demerara simple syrup) and equally delicious in a Stormin‘ Nordic (our take on a dark and stormy—ginger beer and lime).
Roger Clyne’s Mexican Moonshine Tequila Reposado, Minnesota co-owner
Don Julio, Tequila, Jalisco
From Curt Weitnauer at Mexican Moonshine: We’re an independent craft tequila distilled at Fabrica Tequilas los Finos in Tequila. Distributed in Arizona, Colorado, and Minnesota, plus available in a few other states. About 4,000 cases last year nationwide. Official tequila of Chase Field and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Struggling to stay alive among the giants.
Manley’s Ready-To-Pour Old Fashioned, Crooked Water Spirits, Excelsior
St. George Spiced Pear Liqueur, California
From Heather Manley at Crooked Water: Manley’s Old Fashioned is exactly what you would acquire at any high-end mixology bar in downtown Minneapolis but in the comfort of your own home and in about 25 seconds. The St. George’s: I used it in a cocktail leveraging a gorgeous Japanese whiskey and some bitters. It’s a true fall spirit mixer, which is one of my favorite seasons. Plus, St. George is a national company, 20,000 cases a year. They’re a small guy rising fast.
Orange Crema, Tattersall Distilling, Minneapolis
From Dan Oskey at Tattersall: Our 80-proof Orange Crema is an orange liqueur similar to Cointreau that’s a little brighter and has a much longer finish. And it’s less expensive. Since orange is probably the most universal cocktail liqueur (margarita, mai tai, sidecar, etc.) it makes a ton of sense to stock your bar with a good one.
The Helgolander, Dampfwerk Spirits, St. Louis Park
From Ralf Loeffelholz at the Dampfwerk: Helgolander is a typical German-style amaro or Kräuterliqueur that was meant to be drunk neat as an after-dinner drink or night cap, but with a much higher versatility: from a “Spritzer” or “French 75″ to a sound Old Fashioned with your favorite whiskey in your home bar.