Knowing Your Neighbors: Vikre Distillery

DULUTH, Minn. — Crafting spirits starts with water. According to Vikre Distillery co-founder Joel Vikre, distilled liquors are “800% water.”

And at Vikre, it starts with the pure fresh water of Lake Superior.

“The lake is such a defining feature of life here,” says Emily Vikre, Joel’s wife and the other co-founder of their eponymous business.  “Everything is kind of oriented around the lake.  The town slopes down toward the lake, the view is encompassed by the lake, the weather is dominated by the lake.”

Emily says she has an almost spiritual connection to Lake Superior.

“It was like the lake just gifted us this idea,” she says.  “I have the world’s most perfect water here – we can maybe craft the world’s most perfect spirits from that.”

A few years back, the Vikres had the idea for a distillery here in Duluth, the first of its kind.

The idea was to take the spirit of the North Woods and bottle it up for people to enjoy.

“I grew up here; this has always been home,” Emily explains.  “We were home visiting my parents and started discussing whisky and the natural resources and the lake.”

Joel says they didn’t even know how to make whisky – or any spirit for that matter.

“But the idea that it was possible here and that it could be amazing here just kind of got its claws into us and before we knew it we had moved here to do it,” he said.

Joel and Emily Vikre officially opened their craft distillery in 2014.

And their last name, as difficult as it may be to pronounce –

“VEE – krah!” exclaims Emily.  “But we accept people giving us any pronunciation!  We’ll take it all!”

That last name has become synonymous with the quality spirits they produce, from gin to vodka, to whisky, to the more Scandinavian-inspired aquavit.

The Vikres find inspiration in the landscape around them.

“We pick spruce tips and juniper berries and we grow rhubarb and we pick sumac and we’ve just found all these local tastes that are just out there to be found in the forest, and we’ve reflected them in what we make,” Joel explains.

Duluth’s reputation as a craft beer destination is well established now.

But craft distilleries are still a new concept.

“I think a lot of people who are familiar with craft beer are trying craft spirits for the first time,” Joel said.  “So it’s been fun to be the place they get to do that. I really think that as craft distilleries like us experiment with the resources that we have where we are, that craft spirits will become as big of a deal as craft beer is.”

High hopes, but the Vikre family has been nothing if not ambitious right from the start.

Vikre does have plans to release more unique spirits in the coming months.

Joel Vikre says sometime next year they’ll have a whisky that’s made using Bent Paddle’s Cold Press Black Ale.

The distillery is located in the Paulucci building in Duluth’s Canal Park district.