Minnesota beginning to catch up with the craft spirits boom
Before Prohibition, many Minnesota farms had a still.
Farmers made use of leftover grain by making spirits that helped offset some of the financial heartaches of agriculture. That practice didn't necessarily stop during Prohibition, but after its repeal in 1933, a series of restrictive laws made it much more difficult to manufacture and sell alcohol, and the practice eventually disappeared.
Fast forward to 2011 when a change in a law drastically lowered the cost of starting a small distillery. Minnesota finally started to catch up with the rest of the nation in a craft spirits boom that harkens back to the state's roots.
"We grow great grain and corn here," said Lee Egbert, co-owner of 11 Wells, a distillery that will open on the Hamm's Brewery site on the East Side of St. Paul. "We're also known for our water -- you know, 'the land of sky blue waters' -- so it only makes sense. Minnesota is going to be a huge whiskey state."
Minnesota's craft distilleries in high spirits
Location: 4242 285th Ave., Isanti, Minn.; facebook.com/IsantiSpiritsLlc
Spirits: Rye whiskey, bourbon, gin
Background: Rick Schneider is a college art professor (he teaches glass blowing) who grew up in Rochester, Minn., but lived in Virginia, Maryland and Alabama before coming back to the state to start living his dream -- distilling.
He and his wife looked at 70 hobby farms before settling on one just outside Isanti. Their distillery will be located on the property.
Originally, Schneider wanted to grow the grain for his whiskey, but it turns out he doesn't have enough acreage. No matter, he has organic farmers growing for him "within two miles" of his future distillery. "You can't get much greener than that," Schneider said.
Schneider might be the most well-trained of the state's startup distillers. He attended a weeklong hands-on workshop at Dry Fly Distillery in Spokane, Wash., and also worked as an intern in Michigan State University's distiller program -- the only collegiate alcoholic beverages program in the country.
When he was there, he created a rye whiskey that is now aging in barrels, ready to be sold as soon as he opens.