Whiskey distillery barrel memberships, which essentially let you buy in ahead of time on aging whiskey in order to have first draw on what comes out of the barrel (the barrel of which you may end up owning as well), are one way craft distillers can generate some useful revenue while at the same time driving brand loyalty. I’ll cover this interesting trend more in depth in a future post, but for now I wanted to highlight one such program underway for a field to bottle rye whiskey being produced at what’s been called “the northernmost craft distillery in the [contiguous] U.S.”
Far North Spirits, according to Whiskey Detectives, sits just 25 miles from the Canadian border in a quiet corner of Minnesota. It was started by Michael Swanson and Cheri Reese who, wanting to return to rural life, set up operations on a nearly century old farm that’s been in Swanson’s family for generations, and which is where they grow grains for their spirits. For the rye they make use of something called AC Hazlet for the majority of its mash bill (along with heirloom corn and a small amount of malt barley), and have named this whiskey Roknar. The origin of the name is Scandinavian, meaning warrior.
Roknar is described as being a “take on the traditional Pennsylvania or Monongahela rye.” It looks to be milled, fermented, and distilled in small batches using a special copper pot still before being aged in 10 gallon, charred oak barrels. The expected release date is November 2015 at the moment, followed later on by a two year aged straight rye.
Where the barrel membership program comes into play is this – back in late December Far North began offering partial and full barrel options in partnership with a local liquor store. This might obviously be hard to take part in if you are not in the area, but I noticed the other day Ace Spirits, a well established online liquor store, had begun selling through its website the half barrel option as a special variant in limited amounts. A purchase of around $550 will net you the equivalent of six bottles of the rye, when it is ready for bottling, plus the empty barrel that was used to age it.
Far North Spirits, from what I’ve learned of their story, looks to be a smart distillery worth watching (their bottling is particularly cool). If you are looking to get in on one of only a handful of true “field to glass” distillers, this barrel purchase may be worth checking out. I would suggest though you first contact Ace Spirits to confirm availability (depending upon when you read this post) plus shipping options for when your whiskey is ready.
Nino Kilgore-Marchetti is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Whiskey Wash, an award winning whiskey lifestyle website dedicated to informing and entertaining consumers about whisk(e)y on a global level. As a whisk(e)y journalist, expert and judge he has written about the subject extensively, been interviewed in various media outlets and...