Craft spirits surge: Waconia distillery latest to begin sales

Minnesota is experiencing a craft distillery boom, too.

A Waconia distillery has sent its first shipment of gin and vodka to Twin Cities liquor stores, in what's another sign of the state's burgeoning craft distillery industry.

The J. Carver Distillery finished constructing its $3 million, 17,000-square-foot distillery in August, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal reports. The distillery is the first in Carver County and began producing vodkas and gins in September, sending its first batch of spirits to liquor stores last week, the company's website says.

The distiller plans to offer public tours and tastings starting early next year. It's also developing a rye whiskey, a bourbon and a brandy, the Business Journal notes.

J. Carver Distillery is one of the latest craft distilleries to pop up around Minnesota since the Surly Bill became law in 2011. The bill helped pave the way for start-up distillers to open by drastically decreasing the fee – from $30,000 to $1,000 or $2,000, depending how much the distillery will produce a year – for a license to open a distillery in the state.

And this past Legislative session a new state law made it legal for distilleries to sell their product onsite and allowed for onsite consumption – more than the small sample that was previously allowed. This new law is expected to fuel Minnesota's next alcohol boom, Twin Cities Business Magazine says.

Spirits surge

Dozens of distilleries have opened across the state in the past few years. In 2012, Panther Distillery in Osakis, near Alexandria, became the first legal whiskey distiller to open in Minnesota since prohibition, WCCO notes.

One of the reasons Panther Distillery opened in Minnesota was because the state has been called an "exceptional place" to distill spirits do to the fact its home to a wide variety of grains and clean water, and it has a dramatic swing in temperatures throughout the year, Rochester Post Bulletin reported.

The second distillery to open was Loon Liquors in Northfield, Heavy Table reported. And several others have followed suit.

Norseman Distillery, the first distillery in Minneapolis, was named "Best Distiller" by City Pages this year. They're known for their strawberry rhubarb gin, vodka and run.

Currently there are 13 micro distillers in Minnesota and the numbers are growing, Scott Wasserman of the state Department of Public Safety told BringMeTheNews via email Thursday. There are four micro distillers in the state which are licensed to produce up to 40,000 proof gallons per year and nine small micro distillers, which are allowed to produce up to 20,000 proof gallons.

Shanelle Montana, president of the Minnesota Distillers Guild, which pushed for a change in the laws limiting distilleries, told in March that the distillery industry in Minnesota will look far different next year because its expected to continue its growth.

At that time, the Minnesota Distillers Guild had more than 20 members, four of whom produced spirits, says.

National boom

The craft distillery industry around the country has been on the upswing lately due to consumers' interest in unique cocktails, reports note. The American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA), the largest trade association of independent spirits producers in the world, has over 200 members in 36 states, according to its website.

The ACSA says in 1890 there were about 5,000 distilleries in the nation, but after prohibition ended there were about eight operating legally. Now there are about 350 distilleries nationwide and that's expected to grow to about 500 by next year.

If you're interested in trying out some of the stat's distilleries, City Pages is hosting its first ever "Cocktailian" – a tasting event with local and national distilleries – in December. Find ticket information here.

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