Thirsty? You’re in luck. In Paste’s drinking-and-traveling series, City in a Glass, we mix up a city’s signature swills and slide them down the bar to readers. Grab a stool. This round, in Minneapolis, is on us.
at enough bars in Minneapolis and you’re likely to hear the phrase “Nordic tiki” tossed around. This odd style of cocktail is a Northern European play on tropical libations, and it is specific to—and very prevalent in—Minnesota. In this part of the country, a third of the population is of Nordic descent (from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland and its territories). So instead of making tiki drinks with the traditional rum, many bartenders make them with Genever, a Dutch predecessor to gin, or aquavit, a caraway- or dill-flavored grain spirit from Scandinavia.
“Tiki’s regained its popularity globally,” local barman Robert Jones says. “We’re embracing our heritage as a city and thinking about tiki from that aspect instead of classic tiki. Using aquavit and other things that we have locally makes it kitschy and fun.”
Simeon Priest, head bartender at Hi-Lo Diner, had a Nordic tiki drink on his menu this summer that he made with aquavit, aperitif wine, pineapple juice, cinnamon and blue Curaçao. “[A Nordic tiki drink] looks like a regular tiki drink but tastes more like caraway or rye; they’re not the classic pineapple-in-your-face, sit-by-the-pool type of cocktail,” he says. Priest, who grew up in Minneapolis, says aquavit was something people’s grandpas used to drink. “As a kid you tasted it and thought it was gross, but now we’re understanding the intricacies of it and the process that goes into making it.”
Another reason why aquavit has risen in popularity in Minneapolis is because it just started being produced here. Five years ago, after a heated legislative battle, the state relaxed its distilling laws and the city has had a boom in micro-distilleries ever since. Two of the most well respected distilleries are Norseman and Tattersall, the later of which now makes aquavit. The spirit is so hot that Jones says they’re distilling it “almost from a necessity standpoint.”
But aquavit and Nordic tiki drinks aren’t the only interesting aspects of Minneapolis cocktail culture. On this city drinks tour, we’re going to introduce you to three only-in-Minneapolis cocktails (made by three Minnesota natives), show you where to find them and even how to replicate them at home.
Where to order: Spoon and Stable
You’ll probably recognize every drink name on the menu at Spoon and Stable restaurant in North Loop. There’s the classic Negroni and the Gimlet, for example. But you may not recognize the ingredients listed underneath. Chamomile in the Negroni? Fennel pollen in the Gimlet? Head bartender Robert Jones says he focuses on making these classics fantastic first—and then better than anyone else. “We’re keeping the integrity of what the cocktail is, but modifying it slightly to make it unique,” he says. “We may change the spirit or add a couple of bells and whistles. That way the people who have had a Sazerac before aren’t having the same one.”
Take his Sling. A Sling doesn’t have a set recipe; it’s more of a format. “Most people are familiar with the Singapore Sling, but when I think of a Sling I think: base spirit, spirit-modifier, something sweet and some acid,” Jones says. (A Singapore Sling is made with gin, triple sec, cherry liqueur, herbal liqueur, Grenadine, pineapple juice, lime juice and bitters.)
For Spoon and Stable’s summer version of a Sling, Jones mixes Tattersall aquavit (of course) with watermelon juice, lemon juice, simple syrup, absinthe and a pinch of salt. Prior to making the drink, Jones compresses the watermelon juice with mint via a Cryovac, or vacuum-pack machine. This gives the watermelon a bright red color and prevents the mint from turning grassy when muddled. “Aquavit has all these cool spices in it that you don’t normally find in other things,” he says. “The absinthe kind of pushes that caraway and anise-y flavors to the top of the drink and it just makes everything echo and go forever.”
1¾ oz. Tattersall aquavit
1½ oz. mint-compressed watermelon juice (recipe below)
¾ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup (1 part sugar: 1 part water)
1/8 oz. absinthe
Pinch Kosher salt
Cucumber wheel, for garnish
Watermelon ball, for garnish
Make mint-compressed watermelon juice: Combine a bunch of mint and watermelon juice in a Cryovac bag. Vacuum seal. Store in the refrigerator. Strain before use.
Make drink: Combine all ingredients (except garnishes) and ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake. Strain into a Collins glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a cucumber wheel and a watermelon ball.
Where to order: Hi-Lo Diner
Photo courtesy of Eliesa Johnson
Hi-Lo Diner in Longfellow has only been open a few months, but it has a history that stretches back to 1957. The retro diner originally opened in Pennsylvania all those years ago but closed in 2009. In the time since, the Hi-Lo team bought the pre-fab building, had it restored and then transported it, piece by piece, to its new home in Minneapolis.
Head bartender Simeon Priest says they like to keep that old-school diner feel alive with the menu. He has everything from cocktails made with ice cream to cocktails made with Tang. “We also set out to reinvent some of the cocktails from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, which was the dark ages for cocktails in this country,” he says. In the preceding decades, many of the great American bartenders had moved to Cuba or London, places where they could still practice their craft during Prohibition and the world wars. “We are revitalizing these older classics like the Grasshopper, but also making a few more modern cocktails that we think taste nice.”
One of his popular new creations is the Oaxacan in Memphis (say it out loud to get the pun). It is actually an update of the Rusty Nail cocktail, which is made with smoky scotch whiskey and Drambuie, a sweet, herbal liqueur. The Oaxacan in Memphis swaps in Tennessee whiskey for the scotch, Mexican mezcal for the smoke, urban-sourced honey for the sweetness and amaro for the bitter herbs. “We add a thyme tincture on top to give the first few sips and the nose of the cocktail a bit of an herbal note as well,” Priest says.
Oaxacan in Memphis
1 oz. George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee whiskey
1 oz. Del Maguey Vida mezcal
½ oz. Licor 43
¼ oz. Tattersall Amaro
¼ oz. Skinny Jake’s Fat Honey (thinned out, 1 part honey: 1 part water)
Thyme tincture, for garnish
Rosemary sprig, for garnish
Combine all ingredients (except garnish) plus ice in a mixing glass. Stir. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass that contains a single, large ice cube. Garnish with a rosemary sprig and a spritz of thyme tincture.
Where to order: Marvel Bar
Photo courtesy of Erin Kincheloe
If a bartender told you he put water in your cocktail, you’d probably send it back, thinking you were being ripped off. But at Marvel Bar in North Loop, water is actually listed as an ingredient on the menu. “We love water, and lots of it,” general manager Peder Schweigert says. “Dilution is really one of the only common elements behind a cocktail, along with alcohol, and we love to play with the ways that different dilutants affect the end product.”
While many of Marvel Bar’s drinks are technique driven—for example, one cocktail is rested on charcoal for 10 days, “both softening the flavors and adding a hint of smoke,” Schweigert says—most are simple at their core. The Sugarbush, for example, is made with gin, maple syrup, maple water and water. (Maple water is the pure, clear sap that comes out of maple trees in the spring.) The drink is inspired by Schweigert’s life growing up in Minnesota.
“Every spring I head about four hours north to process maple syrup with my father,” he says. “And one of my favorite things is making tea with the partially cooked-down maple sap. As the day winds down, we will often add a bit of whiskey to that maple tea as well.”
He tries to capture that sense memory in the Sugarbush cocktail by using a gin aged on roasted maple wood chips. “Some of the other elements you smell are wood, both fresh and burning, and the brisk nature of the Northwoods in spring,” he says. “[It’s] my attempt to take people north with me, minus the snowshoes.”
50 mL Leatherbee Autumnal Gin (2015)
90 mL filtered water
75 mL maple water, such as DRINKmaple
5 mL Grade B maple syrup
Combine all ingredients, plus ice, in a cocktail shaker. Shake. Strain into a Collins glass filled with fresh ice.
City in a Glass columnist Alyson Sheppard writes about travel and bars for Paste and Playboy. She currently resides in the great state of Texas.