Appetites: For a fresh flavor, try these Minn. gins this summer

Scott Ervin corks bottles
Scott Ervin corks bottles of vapor-infused gin produced at Norseman Distillery in Minneapolis, Minn. Tuesday, May 13, 2014. Ervin is the owner and sole operator at Norseman, which he started in late 2013.
Jeffrey Thompson / MPR News

Editor's Note: Click the audio player above to hear MPR News' Tom Crann discuss local gins with Dara Moskowitz-Grumdahl of Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine. Her thoughts on gin are posted below.

It's spring, a season marked for some cocktail enthusiasts by the transition from whiskey, brandy and other dark liquors of winter to the light liquors of summer — especially gin, the star of gin and tonic, Tom Collins, and the like.

This year, the gin at your local watering hole might not be from Amsterdam or London, but from a Minnesota distiller.

The growth of micro-distilleries in the region is really an echo-boom of the microbrewery mass-expansion we've seen in Minnesota the past few years. The first was Panther Distilling in Osakis, and a fascinating crop has followed them. I'm especially wild about these gins this year:

Solveig gin, from Far North

Mike Swanson grows rye for this on his family farm up in the tippity-top northwest corner of the state, near Hallock. The rye base gives his gin, which they call Solveig, a pretty, soft, fat, almost vanilla characteristic. It's delicate, just lovely, with pretty floral notes and a very delicate use of juniper.

Video: MPR News visited Far North distillery last year

Cedar gin, from Vikre

The Duluth distillery also uses Far North's rye base, giving the gin that fat softness. But then the young owners do something very interesting: They go into the woods of the North Shore to gather different wild botanicals to season the gin. I adore their cedar gin, which just has that great wet North Woods smell, because of the toasted cedar wood. It just smells like the wind over the Temperance River in the fall.

Organic vapor infused gin, from Norseman

It's brand new, and is sort of un-gin like in that its dominant scent is lemon, not juniper, I predict it will be really big with the gin-and-tonic set this summer.

Local varieties break from tradition

London dry is the world's most-popular gin. Juniper is a stylistic requirement — you can't have chicken soup without chicken, you can't have gin without juniper — and some sort of citrus. But London dry was actually a swing away from the original style of gin, which was from the Netherlands. It is sweeter, and much, much thicker with herbs and botanicals; it's sort of a kissing cousin of the various herbal liquors we still know today, like Chartreuse.

Because of this long history, gin has more fans, more styles, it has a little more artisanal cocktail flair and excitement; that's why the new distillers are tinkering with gin.

The unusual flavor these local gins give is why they will do well. Every artisanal cocktail bar in America is looking for some way to do a completely dry martini that's new — and this is how you do it.

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