Located in a pocket of Northeast just north of Broadway, architect Scott Ervin has opened the first micro-distillery in Minneapolis titled, "Norseman Distillery." Ervin’s first product, Norseman Vodka, distributed by Johnson Brothers, becomes available this month at select liquor stores. “So many people think premium vodka has to come from Europe,” Ervin says. “It doesn’t. Some of the best ingredients are grown right here in the Midwest.” Norseman Distillery, also the first distillery to open in the city since 1999, is determined to prove it so.
“Surprisingly, many large-scale distilleries and even some of the micro guys don’t actually make the spirits they sell,” Ervin says. “They purchase NGS, sometimes labeled neutral grain spirits, from fuel ethanol plants and resell it. That just didn’t sound right to me.” Instead, Norseman is a “true grain-to-glass distillery.” He buys his malted barley from a Shakopee company and mills the barley, corn, and rye in a repurposed industrial coffee grinder. He mixes the milled grains with yeast and sugar, and puts the mixture into one of his 275-gallon tanks. After topping off the tank with water and taking a few measurements, he lets the mixture cook. “Making really great spirits is like making really great chocolate-chip cookies,” Ervin says. “The recipes are generally pretty similar, but the devil is in the details. You really have to dedicate yourself to the process to set your product apart.”
Ervin staggers the fermentations so a fresh batch is ready every two days, which is where the books come in handy. “I’ve spent the last couple of months more or less living down here,” he says, “I taste test the product as it comes off the still, sometimes every few minutes. That way I can cherry pick only the best quality cuts.” Once the yeast finish eating the sugar in the wash and the alcohol level is over 10 percent, Ervin pumps the liquid into the stripping still—a tall column that uses steam to separate the alcohol from the wash. The resulting raw alcohol is then redistilled in a second finishing still with a special column Ervin built for fractional distillation. Ervin separates this material into three cuts: the heads, which smell like rubbing alcohol; the hearts, which comprise Norseman Vodka; and the tails, which is a leftover mix of lower-grade alcohols. When he’s done distilling, Ervin cuts the alcohol with a bit of water down to 80-proof vodka, fills the bottles, applies the labels, and packs the labeled bottles into boxes. “I’ve designed and built everything here myself, right down to the labels,” Ervin says. “It’s a one-man show.”
Check them out and next time you're in a liquor store thats sells Norseman vodka, gin, whiskey, or rum give them a try.