Interview: Tattersall Distillery’s Dan Oskey

This guy has made Minnesota a better place to drink

A portrait of Tattersall Distilling founder Dan Oskey.
Tattersall Distilling founder Dan Oskey

photos by Kevin Kramer

As a bartender, Dan Oskey built his reputation crafting creative cocktails at Strip Club Meat & Fish in St. Paul and Hola Arepa in Minneapolis. Before launching Tattersall Distilling in 2015 with his childhood friend Jon Kreidler, he also co-founded Joia Soda and Easy & Oskey bitters. Since opening, Tattersall’s cocktail room in northeast Minneapolis has become one of the Twin Cities’ top destinations for deftly designed drinks—plus, ambience to match­—and its spirits are now distributed in 17 states and counting.

Tattersall recently released a rye whiskey that you’ve been aging for two years. How big a deal is that for you?

It’s a big deal. We really can’t make it fast enough. The thing is, you’re projecting for two years in advance. When we first started making rye, we did 12 barrels. We launched that in February, and that’s all gone. We more or less started off doing 12 barrels every few months. Now we’re probably doing about 24 a month. So we’ve really amped up that production. There has really been an insatiable appetite for our whiskey.

Could whiskey become a flagship product for you?

I’ve always considered gin the flagship, but yes, because we’re concentrating so much on this in terms of the whiskey. Over 80 percent of the whiskey production is just rye, and I don’t see that changing.

There has been an enormous brewery boom in Minnesota. Do you think we’ll see a similar proliferation of distilleries?

I don’t think it will ever be to the extent of breweries. You can homebrew, but you can’t legally home-distill because it’s potentially very, very dangerous. It’s also a tough market. You can’t self-distribute like you can with beer. And what are the first two products you’re going to make if you open up a distillery? Vodka and gin. A distributor needs another vodka and gin in their portfolio like they need a hole in their shoe. So it’s just a harder game.

How does Minnesota’s craft cocktail scene compare to other states’ scenes?

It’s incredible, actually. It’s really great. One thing I’ve noticed here is that the bartenders are all friendly with each other. I think there’s a really cool open exchange of ideas. And that translates to the end product. Everybody’s going to make better drinks.

How has your extensive bartending experience helped you run a distillery?

The first way is knowing what you want your product to taste like before you even start to design it. Having been a bartender and tasted several hundred gins, I knew what I wanted my gin to taste like. Same thing with the liqueurs. The second way is on the sales and marketing side. If I want to go talk to a bartender in, say, Tampa, Florida, I know what hours to go in. I know they might be getting up a little bit later, because they closed the bar the night before. And I know, too, what cocktails to talk about.

Tattersall founder Dan Oskey mixing cocktails.

What do you miss about being behind the stick as a working bartender?

I dream of working for somebody again, someday. I love the idea of working a shift. One of my sales guys and I were recently sitting at a bar in Chicago, and the guy was just getting beat up. And I thought, “I kind of miss that,” when you’ve got like 12 tickets, they won’t stop, and you’ve got to dig yourself out. Four hours goes by like 30 minutes. And if you’re in the zone, there’s nothing better than that. It’s kind of a rush, yet it’s almost meditative.

You’ve been involved in starting a distillery, a soda company, a bitters company, and a cocktail recipe app for iPhones. Any more startups in the pipeline?

No, not right now. You mentioned all the ones that succeeded—that’s very nice of you. I guess nobody knows about the failures. Some of them were really bad. One was a leather-tanning venture that failed before it even started. It was laughable. I was just in over my head.

What’s your favorite summer cocktail?

A Negroni. Give me big flavors. I like to be slapped around a little bit by flavor.

What’s your favorite Minnesota cocktail bar?

Sadly, I don’t get out as much around here as I would like, because I’m always in other cities [to distribute Tattersall]. The back bar at Young Joni really has some great drinks, and that room is just sexy. It’s kind of the perfect bar for me because I want to have a drink, but I also am basically a third-grader stuck in a grown man’s body. I want pizza all the time, and you can order pizza at the back bar, too.

Are there any cocktail trends that you wish would fade away?

I don’t think you necessarily need to have a Moscow mule list. But if that’s what works and that’s what your clientele wants, then great. I’ve always maintained that if your guests want something, then do it and do it the best you can. Trends are trends because people like them. They’re not drinking something they detest.

Name a spirit that deserves more attention than it gets.

Aquavit, though it has been really fun to watch it rise in popularity, too. And genever. We don’t make it, and probably never will. But I’ve always been a sucker for that. I mean, it’s the original gin, and I just don’t think it gets the love it deserves. Is that because it’s malty, or is that because it’s too bold of a flavor? I’m always blown away by the lack of genever behind bars.

What’s a simple secret for home mixologists to up their game?

Salt. Stir a little salt in some warm water, let it dissolve, put it in an eye dropper, and whenever you have a drink that has citrus in it, add a little salt. Salt is the most underutilized ingredient in cocktails. It wakes up other flavors, and it does so many things. It’s just like cooking.