norseman cocktail room
Visiting a taproom isn’t only about the beer. Until five years ago, Minnesota breweries were forced to function without a way of directly serving pints of beer to their guests. It was enough for a brewery to put a high-quality product in a bottle, can, or keg for distribution.
Obviously this is no longer the case. With 100 breweries in the state plus countless bars and restaurants, taprooms need to present a particular draw to drinkers.
Seldom do I hear about a brewery business model that does not include a taproom, however modest. At the same time, taprooms are not bars, and they take work. When a consumer chooses a taproom over a bar or restaurant, that means something. It brings a person closer to what they are drinking, which ideally includes being closer to understanding how a brewery functions. It gives drinkers opportunities to talk about how the beer is made, or what flavors to expect. Novice and experienced drinkers are actually put on more even footing than at a bar, where knowledge and guidance are spotty at best.
As the local distilling scene continues to heat up, the same truths are developing.
Places like DuNord, Wander North, and Tattersall are seizing the opportunity to reach consumers directly. Even outside of the cocktail hub that is the Twin Cities, distilleries are able to support cocktail rooms, including one of my favorites, J. Carver of Waconia, plus Duluth’s Vikre.
Each place has its charms, but a recent trip to Northeast clarified some of the critical elements that may convert devoted regulars of the Marvel Bars, Parlours, and Eat Street Socials of the area. The cocktail room at Norseman Distillery combines the best in service, taste, and ambiance to create an irresistible and craveable experience.
I was skeptical of the place for no good reason at all, but arriving to find table service immediately dispelled my qualms. Not only was our server immediately friendly and knowledgeable, we were offered ample suggestions based on our tastes, and a beautiful, airy space to relax.
The liquid meal of sorts opened with an amuse bouche, a miniature cocktail of the day presented as an aperitif.
From there we opted for a round of mixed drinks between a very small group, and each was better than the next.
First, the Nacional, made with apricot, lime, and rum felt optimal for a warm, breezy day. It presented enough acid to cut the rum, but unfortunately the apricot was lost entirely, making it too one-dimensional for me.
A sip of the Leathered Aquavit took our palates in an entirely different direction. Vegetable leather steeps for 4 days in the rye-based spirit, creating a depth of anise and caraway flavor that rids the tongue of all else. It would make a wonderful digestif, as it lingers a bit astringently in the back of the mouth.
The classic White Russian, made with all Norseman spirits, is a far cry from the rail versions, or even the homemade ones enjoyed in front of The Big Lebowski. The whole glass is beautifully balanced and flavorful, like a concentrated version of those weird college nights at the bowling alley.
Finally, the simple Valentino – which contains only bitters, fortified wine, and vodka – offers a nice balance of citrus and aromatics, plus beautiful spiced apple notes.
Even more impressive than each taste was the service. Several samples were offered to us without asking, simply because we engaged with our server about our preferences. For those accustomed to finding two or three bottles of Norseman vodka or rum in their local liquor store, the line-up has steadily increased. By the way, cocktail rooms can only serve booze that they make, so admire the array of their expertise when ogling the chalkboard menu.
From sweet and dry aromatized wine to portent fernet, the large selection makes the possibilities nearly endless. The sweet aromatized wine leaves mulling spices and crushed grape notes on the tongue, while the fernet is not as lovely for simple sipping – its potent herbal flavors and weed-like finish beg to be mixed. The Orange Liqueur, too, is hot and not very sweet or fruity in the way one might imagine, and feels more like the zest or oil of an orange.
Among the cocktail rooms within the state, there is an understated professionalism about Norseman.
Ample parking is a plus, as are the non-alcoholic drinks, presence of a food truck, and clean, open space. Considering that the products are made in house, however, with no distribution costs or logistical difficulty, the prices aren’t a steal. They fall into the high-average range as compared to other cocktail rooms.
Norseman is not to be missed. They have something here that many other bars, restaurants, and taprooms fail to capture. Though they started out as a production facility only, it feels as if this is what they were meant to do.