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A spirited company releases first line of gins

Vikre Distillery runs two stills to create their gins. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)1 / 3
Joel Vikre and his wife Emily sit with their five-month-old son Espen and Squid the dog in their distillery in Canal Park. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)2 / 3
The Vikre Distillery released three flavors of gin last week in their “Boreal Gin” collection. (Submitted Photo)3 / 3

Duluth now has one of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world. 

Last week, Vikre Distillery, the first craft distillery in Duluth, located in Canal Park, released their first batch of “Boreal Gins.” The gins will be available at a variety of liquor stores and restaurants across the Northland.

The distillery began a year and a half ago with Joel and his wife Emily Vikre.

“We were thinking about it before that,” said Emily Vikre.

There are three different expressions of gin, each named after a tree from which they take some of their flavoring: “Boreal Juniper,” “Boreal Spruce” and “Boreal Cedar.”

“We have the juniper flavor which is very traditional. It has a splash of rhubarb which comes from our garden. It’s perfect for classic gin drinks,” said Joel Vikre.

The spruce is very floral and herbal. It’s a more contemporary style according to Joel.

“We pick the spruce in the spring when they’re still bright green little buds,” said Joel Vikre.

Joel Vikre describes the cedar flavor as being “a little out there.” It uses charred cedar wood chips and black currants from Bayfield, and he’s heard people describe it as having a licorice flavor.

“We’re turning this winter into a ‘gin-ter,’” said Emily Vikre with smile and gaining a sigh from Joel.

Joel says he first learned about distilling while working in Kenya.

“There was this grandma who lived in a mud hut adjacent to mine,” said Joel. “She would send her kids to school with a distilled liquor she called ‘tears of a lion’.”

The idea to craft their own distilled spirits came from a conversation over dinner and drinks at Duluth’s Kitchi Gammi Club, while the couple was in town visiting Emily’s parents.

“We realized that Northern Minnesota was possibly the most perfect place in the world for making spirits,” said Joel. “We started from the idea of whiskey. Lake Superior water is the best in the world, as the brewers here can


“We wanted to move to somewhere where we wanted to stay, where we wanted to put down roots and participate in a community,” explained Emily. “Plus, we were both starting to feel unhappy in our work and were itching to do something more creative and tangible. We wanted to make something.”

Joel then apprenticed in distilling at a rum distillery in Massachusetts.

“Distilling is a very tradition bound world,” said Joel. “While we respect that tradition, we want to fool around, try new things and be innovative.”

Their strive to be innovative will not come at the cost of making something they don’t personally like.

“We’ve decided we won’t make anything we wouldn’t regularly drink ourselves,” said Joel. “We don’t want to be just a novelty. The second purchase is the most important. People will try anything once. We hope they’ll continue to buy it.”

While the gins were released last week, the Vikre’s plan to launch an aquavit — a Scandinavian caraway flavored liquor — later this spring and different varieties of whiskey — bourbon, rye, and single malt — down the line once the whiskeys have aged long enough. Vikre Distillery is located in the Paulucci Building in Canal Park with a storefront along Lake Avenue. The couple is planning to host a grand opening of the distillery visitor’s center in April, at which point they will begin offering regular tours and tastings. Until then, tours are also available through The Duluth Experience or by appointment.

In the meantime, Vikre Distilleries hopes that their gin will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

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