Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Supported by Crop Research Grant, Far North Spirits Aims to Make Minnesota an International Leader in Rye Grains for Rye Whiskey

Far North Spirits is a micro-distillery in Hallock, Minnesota. The distillery is located 400 miles northwest of Minneapolis on a 1,500 acre family farm. In February, Far North received a three-year $188,495 crop research grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to complete a first-of-its-kind study to evaluate varieties of winter rye grown in Minnesota for agronomic performance in the field and flavor/sensory performance in the distilling industry.

Michael Swanson, owner, distiller, and farmer at Far North Spirits, will administer the grant. His vision is to make Minnesota a leader in the production of world-class rye spirits.

“Kentucky owns bourbon. Scotland, scotch. Minnesota will own rye,” said Swanson. “Our rich soil and extreme climate are perfect for growing this grain. AC Hazlet Rye, our favored variety, is already recognized as our signature.”

Although rye whiskey has grown in popularity in recent years, much of the rye distilleries use is grown outside the U.S., mostly in Canada. One major Kentucky distillery imports its rye from Germany. In addition to its use in rye whiskey, rye grain is an ingredient in most bourbon recipes.

Through field trials conducted on Minnesota farms and sensory analyses conducted at Minnesota distilleries, this project will result in a research report its authors hope will be valuable to Minnesota farmers, distillers, seed dealers, brewers and maltsters. The University of Minnesota Winter Rye Variety Performance Evaluation will conduct agronomic analysis to assess grain quality, winter hardiness, spring vigor, plant height, grain yield, resistance to lodging and other factors. Minnesota distillers will conduct sensory analysis on the rye to include distillate yield, initial viscosity, and assign a sensory score based on flavor and nose.

The finished study will include data on several varieties of winter rye and be a collaborative project involving several Minnesota farmers, distillers, the University of Minnesota Winter Rye Variety Performance Evaluation and the Barley and malt lab in the Department of Plant Sciences at North Dakota State University.

The goal is to provide producers and end users with an unbiased, reliable source of data, as well as the unique addition of flavor and sensory analysis. The report will be available publicly to all Minnesota farmers through the U of M and shared with micro-distillers nation-wide via the American Distilling Institute.

Far North Spirits, one of fewer than 50 micro-distilleries in the nation that also farms the grains it uses in its spirits, currently produces four spirits that use rye, including two gins, a vodka and a rye whiskey.


Anonymous said...

Cool. The only problem I see is that they seem to focus on testing the new make and do not mention anything about comparing the effects of barrel aging.


Unknown said...

Chuck, why do you think America turned away from rye after prohibition? (Allowing for the growth of clear spirits after WW2), in terms of brown spirits why did bourbon overtake rye? I have to be honest, I'm liking Rye more and more. And the domestic production of rye v corn is hugely in favor or rye. Not sure we produce enough rye to ever go back over bourbon.

Anonymous said...

Richnimrod said;

In the evaluations listed one was 'resistance to lodging'. I'm sure many will know the meaning of this; however, I do not. Chuck, can you explain?

Anonymous said...

Think of one of those disheveled looking fields where the grain stalks are tangled or leaning instead of standing orderly and tall. That is lodging. Can be caused by strong weather or certain soil conditions. It can affect any subsequent growth of the grain and plays havoc with harvesting.