Liquor is a very important thing. Robertson Davies placed it along with indoor plumbing as one of the only two requisites for civilization. The ancient Romans, Egyptians, Scandinavians, and many other cultures all held the concoction in such high regard that they attributed their own gods to it. Liquor has been called liquid sunshine, the most potent weapon in war, and the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems. Luckily, Minnesota has a benefactor in Michelle Winchester, whose Twin Spirits Distillery will ensure that we never run out of the stuff.
Michelle got into the liquor business when the youngest of her four sons grew old enough to look after himself, finally freeing her time up for a little entrepreneurialism. She wasn’t entirely certain what line of business she ought to pursue, but she had noticed the ever-present demand for liquor and the rise of craft brewing. She reckoned that craft liquor would become the next big thing.
Fortunately, Michelle was able to travel along with her husband Slade during his business trips to New York City. She was able to meet the proprietors of several new craft distilleries there, people who were much more willing to teach their tricks to an outsider than another New Yorker who could compete with them. “Learning about liquor was much easier while I was on vacation because I didn’t have to drive,” Michelle reminisced. With her new knowledge of the equipment, science, and business behind distillation, Michelle was ready to open Twin Spirits Distillery.
Michelle bought land in Northeast Minneapolis and got right to work. Her 600 square foot distillery now has two 100 gallon and two 26 gallon stills, and in them she makes vodka, gin, and what she has dubbed “Mamma’s Moonshine.” Her vodka is made from raw sugarcane and comes in two varieties. The first, M Vodka, is twice distilled and unfiltered for a fuller body, while the second, Claro, goes through a charcoal filtration process to refine and crispen its flavor. Her M Gin is flavored with juniper berries, the only spice gin requires in order to truly begin, along with cardamom, coriander, and sarsaparilla root to give it a light, fruity taste that’s perfect in a tonic or laced with vermouth.
Moonshine, as it turns out, can be anything in the world so long as it’s potable. That broad definition gave Michelle great freedom within which she could make her Mamma’s Moonshine, so she chose honey made by the bees at Honey Hill Farms in Hinckley as its basis. This gives it a sweet, flowery flavor, delicious straight or mixed. To add a certain mystique to the drink, Michelle only distills Mamma’s Moonshine during a full moon. Whether this adds something to the flavor is speculative, but it does put Michelle at a far higher risk of werewolf attacks than your average distiller.
While she has learned all the ins and outs of her science, Michelle adds a personal touch to her liquor by bottling it according to its taste and smell rather than a mathematical formula. “It’s like baking for my boys, really,” explained Michelle. “You can follow the directions on the box, or you can take a bite and decide when the brownies are done. Why make liquor any differently? It’s meant to make us happy, not be on schedule!”
If you would like to try one of Minnesota’s finest craft liquors, look for Twin Spirits Distillery’s bottles at any of the 60 liquor stores where it’s sold in the Twin Cities. To drink them on-site, visit Michelle’s cocktail room Wednesday through Saturday at 2931 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis. Visit TwinSpirits.us for more information, and remember what W.C. Fields said: “Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite, and furthermore, always carry a small snake.”
By David Scheller