Whiskey Review: Vikre Distillery Iron Range Single Malt - The Whiskey Wash

Whiskey Review: Vikre Distillery Iron Range Single Malt

To start, it feels worth sharing a quote (apropos for any whiskey aficionado)  from Emily Vikre in an interview she did with TasteTheDram.com, upon being asked if she “believe[s] now is the most exciting time for a whiskey lover”:

“I think anytime you have a great whiskey in front of you is the most exciting time for a whiskey lover!”

Emily and Joel Vikre, founders and owners of Vikre Distillery in Duluth, Minnesota, found their way to craft spirits production unexpectedly just a few years ago. In 2011, young and married and living in Boston, both were pursuing health-related careers – she was earning her Ph.D. studying food policy and nutrition, and he worked for a large global-health NGO. Whiskey and craft spirits, let alone opening a distillery in Emily’s hometown of Duluth – was not in their plan. But, since they shifted gears, it seems to be working out. In addition to numerous individual spirits awards, Vikre Distillery was named Best Craft Spirits Distillery in the U.S. by USA Today in 2016.

It was on a visit from Boston to Duluth, over drinks with Emily’s parents at a social club dating back to the late 19th century and rooted in Prohibition history, that the conversation turned to whiskey. Someone mentioned that Minnesota is home to many key ingredients – from growing the needed grains, to the presence of peat bogs – and from there, the notion of opening a distillery was born. They ultimately credit this discussion and various components of northern Minnesota terroir and environment – the nature, the wildness, the pristine quality of Lake Superior – for drawing them to re-settle in Duluth and venture into the craft spirit industry.

Emily explained in an article she wrote for Lucky Peach, “Joel is good with building and equipment, while I am good at cooking, baking, and putting flavors together. Joel had experience with business strategy; I had the artistic bent for brand development. Starting a distillery would combine our talents and allow us to work together. We would live in a place that we love. We could use the distillery as a platform to work on issues we cared about, like community, local agriculture, and watershed preservation.” Their timing was opportune, and with a piqued entrepreneurial spirit, Vikre Distillery was born.

Interestingly, Emily and Joel leveraged networking advantages of the Duluth community to bring a large group of small investors on board, ultimately selling off 50 percent ownership in their distillery to get it going. In a similar vein of community-minded efforts, but specific to the broader craft distillery industry in Minnesota, as Emily and Joel are members of the Minnesota Distillers Guild. They are vocal advocates for further modernization concerning the legal and tax framework around craft distilling, as a means to help this industry to continue to grow, increase opportunity and successes for small businesses and better contribute to the boon the state has seen as a result of similar progressive changes across the craft beer and wine industries.

Given the time, financial and labor investments that are particularly involved in whiskey-making, the Vikre’s decided to focus on other specialized, un-aged spirits while their whiskey aged. This approach has resulted in a variety of spirits – several award-winning – inspired both by northern flavors as well as Emily and Joel’s shared Norwegian heritage: three different locally-inspired gins, two aquavits (one aged, one un-aged), one vodka and, historically, two whiskeys. Vikre Distillery’s third whiskey, Iron Range American Single Malt, was just released in March in conjunction with its third anniversary. Iron Range American Single Malt also happens to come from the first batch of whiskey distilled when Vikre opened.

Vikre Distilery iron Range

image via Vikre Distillery

Tasting Notes: Vikre Distillery Iron Range American Single Malt

Vital Stats: Brewed in collaboration with Bent Paddle Brewing Co. (also of Duluth), who started the process “as they would a beer” (but sans hops), this first release of Vikre Distillery’s Iron Range Single Malt used American Ale yeast. The mash bill is 100% malted barley, sourced locally and made with Lake Superior water.

The whiskey is aged for a minimum of two years in used bourbon barrels, before finishing in mixed cooperage that include white port barrels. It is bottled at 92 proof in both 375 and 750 ml bottles and retails for approximately $40 and $70, respectively.

Appearance: Golden yellow wheat.

Nose: Dates, banana and a subtleness of tawny port.

Palate: A honeyed stone fruit gentle sweetness is balanced with a dryness and “bite” of white peppercorn. A wheat toast quality immediately brought to mind Stella D’oro Breakfast Treats (a biscuit-type product I loved as a child), along with lingering spice on the tongue and a slight aftertaste reminiscent of Heineken beer.

The Takeaway

Especially given its younger age, Vikre Distillery’s Iron Range Single Malt is a pleasant sipper. It opens nicely with a little breathing room, as well as the addition of one rock. Future releases are being fermented by Vikre, currently with a Belgian yeast strain, and more toasted malts are being used. It will be interesting to see how the profile of this whiskey evolves in Vikre Distillery’s next iteration, given these changes.

User Rating 2.5 (6 votes)


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