Way back in August of 2014 I wrote up a short piece in this blog about J. Carver Distillery that you can check out HERE. At the time I got a short tour from Bill Miller and Gina Holman, and was very excited about what they had planned. They had just put in the dark wood bar, and had received their fermenters, but still had a lot of work to do on the place.
Fast forward to now and they've been up and running for some time, with spirits for sale around the Twin Cities. There was some delay in having taproom hours due to some complicated old national and local laws about samples of spirits and I had wondered if they would ever get to open it! Happily though, they just recently opened up the tasting room to the public and it was finally time for my wife (Sj) and I to get out there to check it out. The distillery building is in an old auto dealership just a short mile from my house, making this an easy commute!
The industrial front of the building certainly hearkens back to its previous life, but now you can see the coppery glow of the stills through the large glass windows, beckoning one in to see what wonders lurk within. The new taproom is well-lit but still intimate. The long bar is immaculate with rows of shiny beautiful bottles and mirrors on the walls behind. Gina was at the bar when we arrived and greeted us warmly as always, making us feel immediately at home. The feel of the place is very different from the other local bars and watering holes, with the upscale and classy look of a cocktail bar. We had signed up online for one of the tours, which costs $10 per person and takes about 35-40 minutes. Part of the tour price includes either a taster of three spirits or a cocktail. Gina quickly built some fancy cocktails for us to have in hand during our tour around the building, crafting them with speed, grace, and skill. I ended up with a tasty Gin Old Fashioned (made with their barrel aged gin, rosemary scented honey, and vanilla cherry bark bitters.)
Cocktails in hand, we met up with Dan Niesen (one of the distillers) who took us all over the distillery to explore the nooks and crannies. It was fun to see the whole process from local grains to the glass in my hand. They do truly try to source most of their ingredients as local as possible--Dan seemed needlessly apologetic that some of their rye came from a little farther away (but still in Minnesota!) They're also making good contacts with suppliers of local produce for some of their other products like grappa in collaboration with Waconia's Sovereign Estate Winery. I'll admit I didn't love the grappa, but I'm more of a bourbon or Scotch kind of guy.
|J. Carver's pot still|
During the tour we got to ogle the three stills that they have for different projects. I especially like the tiny experimental still that they use to do smaller batches without risking a much larger batch not turning out. This can also come in handy if they get access to a smaller amount of a local fruit or other fermentable. Dan took us through the whole process and really gave us a great tour!
We also got to check out the growing barrel room where whiskeys and gins are aging in climate controlled hibernation, becoming much more than the base spirits they began life as. I'm excited about when those whiskeys come to fruition! Already, the barrel aged J. Carver Gin is a treat--mixing the herbal spicing of a gin with the tannin, structure, and complexity of time in a barrel.
Tour over and drinks empty, we returned to the tasting room. The place had filled in a lot since we left, now bustling with other folks dropping in for a drink or tour. We found a high-top table in a corner where we would sample the other spirits. Each of us had three coming, so by sharing we got to try most of the available products. It was cool getting to test these, but other than bourbons, I'm not used to sipping hard liquor straight, so this was a little challenging. Our favorites were the Barrel Gin and Grimm's Farm Gin. The vodkas were OK, but like I said, I'm not used to straight up vodka, so this was difficult to judge.
One can buy a 375 ML bottle at the distillery, or they can send you with a one-day-only coupon for a discount at one of our local liquor stores. Sj and I ended up taking our coupon to Legacy Wine & Spirits in Waconia to buy bottles of the Barrel Gin and the Grimm Farm Ultra-Premium Gin. Time to get working on some cocktails at home!
I'm excited about what these guys are doing right in my own backyard. With the addition of three wineries, two breweries (Waconia and Schram), and now a distillery, Waconia is really starting to become a destination for craft alcoholic beverages. No longer do I need to drive to Northeast Minneapolis to try out something unique and local!