Award-winning Twin Cities distillery a hit

What do Norsemen do best?

Norsemen Distillery

Photo courtesy of Norseman
The bar in the Norseman cocktail room is anchored with this colorful mural.

Laila Simon
Portland, Ore.

Heading out in the Twin Cities on a Friday night with eight people is ambitious when you want to find somewhere you can sit. Half of our group ran from the car, running because of the -5 degree weather, to the entryway of a popular distillery in northeast Minneapolis, Tattersall. Despite a large room with ample seating, every chair was taken with large groups, like ours, that looked like they planned to stay around for a while. We decided, before our other half had to leave the warmth of their car, that we should probably try something else if we wanted to sit and be able to talk to one another.

When the idea of going to Norseman was being thrown around, I didn’t think anything of it. Only when we arrived did I start to laugh at the wonder of my being drawn to Nordic places wherever I go. Even if that means ending up at a Nordic distillery while visiting Minnesota for a friend’s wedding, or getting a Nordic Wilderness coloring book for Christmas because it is my “brand.”

The name “Norseman” comes from a local legend involving Northwoods lumberjacks pillaging homes. The townspeople used their own grains to distill “specially formulated alcohols capable of inspiring great merriment in those who drank them.” These spirits were given to each house in preparation for the woodsmen’s return, in bottles labeled “Norseman.” When the angry thieves lifted it from the homes and drank it, they instantly became merry and jovial, embodying the small-batch, local-ingredient principles of Norseman Distillery (according to their Facebook page).

Norsemen Distillery

Photo courtesy of Norseman
Eclectic might be one word for it—Norseman’s big open space offers many different seating options.

At 7 p.m., the industrial space was pretty empty, and after some back and forth with the host on whether or not we had eight or nine people (nine would have had us at a standing table next to bar), we confirmed that we only had eight and were seated at a long table tucked among booths. The Cocktail Room is an open area, closed in by glass garage doors with a long bar extending from the entryway. The standing tables are natural cuts of wood, a tree trunk cut into two, with the bark exposed underneath. A big room to the right is minimally designed with concrete floors, strings of lights overhead, and a fireplace. The distillery has a seasonal menu of original cocktails, ranging from $8-12, many with Norse names like Pære, Valhalla, Voss, and their non-alcoholic drinks, Bjorn, Sigrid, and Solveig.

Also on the menu is a good-sized “From the Kitchen” section that could provide enough for a meal, depending on how much you want to spend. A few of the items seem to be remnants of a heavier Nordic-influenced smørbrød selection from when the bar first introduced food. The offerings include a beet salad, assorted pickles, and fish and chips. The menu has transitioned into more bar fare, rather than a full dinner spread.

Norsemen Distillery

Photo courtesy of Norseman
The drink called Røyk lives up to its name (which means “smoke”), looking like a mad scientist’s concoction as it’s poured at the table from lab glass.

Because we were all new to the drink selections, all of which include Norseman distilled liquors, we asked our server for a recommendation. My friend sitting to my right took his advice and ordered the Røyk: “Harvest Whiskey, sweet, aromatic, smoke standard/bottle conditioned for one year to allow a marriage of flavor.” The amber mixture came in a smoked glass that smelled strongly of bonfire with faint smoke coming off it, and a mulling-spice flavor finish. This drink is definitely one of the most fun orders on the menu; the server brings the elements in what looks like chemistry equipment and pours it at the table. It might have been a bit on the strong side; we as a group had to share it to help her finish the drink.

I went with the Mineral Ricky: “Norseman Strength Gin, lime, limestone, rice vinegar, Himalayan salt,” and was very pleased with the clean taste. The earthy combinations are simple, not over the top, living up to Norseman being named Best Distillery (by City Pages) both in 2017 and when they were first starting in 2014 (Tattersall won in 2016 and seems to be their main rival in the area).

Someone at our table also asked our server about the “Silver Platter Pizza” that comes with 13 different hot sauces. He said that in the early days of the distillery they would serve Jack’s Frozen pizza, a brand from Wisconsin, and it became so close to their hearts that they continue to serve it, albeit elevated with 13 hot sauces, ranch, and the option to add prosciutto. We also ordered Pomme Frites for the table—fries that also came with a few handmade dipping sauces—and a couple particularly hungry friends ordered two of the tacos, one shrimp and one mushroom (this feels very close to a “Nordic” taco). All of the food was hot and fresh and paired perfectly with the unique cocktails. This is a place I would return to again next time I am visiting the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” For now, I will just have to keep an eye on their alluring Instagram.

For more info, visit norsemandistillery.com or said Instagram, norseman_distillery.

Laila Simon is a recent graduate of St. Olaf College. Based out of Portland, Ore., she writes poetry, spends her days working at a Nordic nonprofit, and looks for her next travel opportunity. Previously published in St. Olaf’s The Quarry, Silver Birch Press, and on the Rain Taxi: Review of Books website.

This article originally appeared in the May 18, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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