- On February 12, 2016
One of the MOST local producers to Zipps is also one of our favorites. Du Nord Craft Spirits is located 1.5 miles due south (thanks Google Maps) nestled near other neighborhood gems like Peace Coffee and Moon Palace Books. While researching this article we were surprised to recall that they’ve only been open and on our shelves for a little under two years. It seems like forever ago, and we our shelves wouldn’t be the same without them! Du Nord was in the first handful of operations to get up and running in Minnesota, and the first to open a cocktail room in Minneapolis. They’ve come to this business in a slightly unexpected angle, but it’s clearly a labor of love, which makes them perfect to explore this Valentine’s Weekend!
Du Nord is legit through and through. All the ingredients used to make their spirits are grown here in good ol’ Minnesota! Partially through family connections in owner Shanelle Montana’s childhood home of Cold Spring, they source corn and sugar beets and mill their own grain to boot. Milling, mashing, fermenting and distilling, it all takes place in house. Some small distillers fudge it a bit by trucking in spirit made from a larger company, or even a small one with a more established base. Now, we’re not saying that they’re wrong to do so or even that it’s necessarily bad, but there is something to be said about controlling every step of the production process. It makes everything that much more personal and focused. Chris and Shanelle Montana have clearly invested a lot of personal effort and attention to this project. Coming from backgrounds in law and government relations respectively, one might not have pictured them as the usual suspects to open a distillery. Lucky for us, they did and spearheaded the push to open cocktail rooms around the state. After the legislation passed, they built out a cocktail room that serves double duty as a great place to educate the public on how and why they do the things that they do as well as a great neighborhood haunt. They’re pouring cocktails made with the three signature spirits from Du Nord, so let’s break them on down.
Du Nord’s L’etoile vodka is made from a combination of corn from Shanelle’s family’s farm, as well as sugar beets. The grain is milled and fermented on one side of the room, and trucked aaaaaallll the way to the other for distilling in their two stills. It’s kind of awesome that all the science-magic takes place in one grand space. The resultant distillate is crisp and light. The body has enough weight to it that it drinks great by itself, but really shines in cocktails. On the nose there is a hint of rice pudding sweetness as well as a touch of alcohol. On the tongue, it has a slight sweetness, following through on what the nose promised. Corn distillate tends to have an earthy, sweet flavor that is very much indicative of its source ingredient, and that flavor comes through on this spirit. Is somebody you know a fan of Tito’s or Prairie? Give them a taste of this and they’ll light right on up!
Taking the local theme all the way through to the end, Fitzgerald gin is named after the classic author from St. Paul. It is a classic London Dry styled gin with a nose redolent of bright citrus. The label says lemon is included in the list of botanicals, but our nose swears we smell lime too. The body on the gin is very similar to the vodka, and some of the sweetness is there too. There is an earthiness coming from the inclusion of Angelica root which, in gin, has a magical ability to make all the botanicals meld together better as well as a chocolate-like aroma. Sniff the gin a second time now that you have that in mind, you’ll notice it straightaway. Coriander lends a bit of spice and citrus which really rounds it out. Not as juniper forward as a traditional London Dry, but impeccably balanced and one of our faves.
The third spirit Du Nord released was a bit of a surprise to us, given their first two products. A little less classic, and a lot more Midwest, Apple Du Nord is grandma’s signature dessert in drinkable form. They start with apple juice from Pepin Heights “Wealthy” apples in Lake City, MN and blend in some corn spirits to give it that supple body. Sniff a glass of this cordial and if it doesn’t smell like a big, fresh apple you might need to get your nose checked. The palate has a bold apple flavor as well as some orange and baking spice notes. It absolutely does not drink its 30% ABV and is almost dangerously quaffable. Try an A La Mode at their cocktail room and you’ll get transported back to a warm kitchen with an oven timer going off. It’s just that good.