Pop quiz: What does whiskey taste like? Characteristics that come to mind likely include rich and oaky, smoky and smooth. Spirits boasting notes of vanilla, caramel and spice — that pretty much defines the category, right? Well, not anymore.
As the spirit industry continues to grow, new distilleries are stepping outside the traditional whiskey box and creating products with a familiar name but unexpected flavors. In Minnesota, a hesitancy to compete with traditional whiskey markets such as Kentucky has yielded some creative interpretations.
“Kentucky has been making whiskey for ages, the ball is rolling down the hill,” says France 44 liquor buyer Tom Schneider. “So changing the game for new local distillers is important. There is some pretty interesting experimentation happening in Minnesota, and that could change the landscape.”
Some of the whiskeys that have hit the market in recent years include those made from surprising malts, aged in unorthodox barrels and versions that are clear in color — but far more refined than moonshine since they’re made with barley, not corn. The results are spirits made like whiskey (from whiskey grains), but that taste quite different. These newcomers — some boasting herbal, hoppy and citrus flavors — should be treated more like gin or vodka when making cocktails. Check out these three surprising whiskeys made in Minnesota:
Its foundation is bourbon mash, but the distillation process is more akin to a vodka. The result? Vodskey, a sweet and full-bodied spirit that has a character all its own. Find it: France 44, Elevated, Haskell’s, Lake Wine & Cheese, Top Ten, Total Wine & More.
Single Malt Silver Whiskey
This clear whiskey is made from an unusual India pale ale-style malt and spends zero time in a barrel, but still bursts with flavor — sage, blueberries and citrus among them. Find it: Available at the Minneapolis distillery; see brotherjustus.com for details.
Hard Hops Nut Brown
Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery
Chankaska teamed with Mankato Brewery to make a whiskey-like spirit that has some traditional whiskey notes, like toffee and roasted nuts, but also a hoppy element. Find it: All Total Wine locations.