the cocktail room at Vikre
On some small level, traveling to Vikre distillery this weekend was like finally seeing that band live. The one that’s constantly playing in the car CD player (what other CD players do we have anymore?) I was introduced to them early last summer while researching local spirits, and now their Cedar Gin occupies a permanent place on my home bar. The anticipation of knowing their spirits but not their personality caused me to drive a bit faster as we pulled into town on Friday, ten minutes before their early 8pm closing time.
Vikre is known for their extremely flavorful, botanical gin, but they also have vodka and aquavit in their repertoire. Their Canal Park cocktail room menu includes drinks using all of the spirits, plus intriguing elements like Bent Hop IPA syrup, cayenne salt, and lingonberry juice.
The old brick building is an ideal backdrop with the right blend of raw and refined. Browse the broom-closet sized shop of muddlers and other bar ware while the drinks are being mixed, or examine the stills, which are separated from the bar only by glass. Avant-garde fixtures over a community table and a cozy-meets-stark living room area encourage mingling while sipping.
Well if you have ever seen Wheezer live, you can understand the level of extreme disappointment I am about to convey. And I say disappointment because I had healthy hopes for my visit to Vikre.
It wasn’t the drinks – all four of our choices were satisfying and only mine was underwhelming. It was the service.
Upon arrival the bartender didn’t even smile. Instead, he gave us the two-handed bullhorns (the term had to be explained to me), – a gesture often used in a packed college bars meaning show me your IDs. As the guys reached for theirs and I dug into my purse, I spoke with a friend about the menu. When I looked up for the bartender’s advice, he again made a hand gesture meaning ID and didn’t offer any element of service or hospitality. My little heart sank as I realized what we were in for – no Minnesota Nice, which is typically especially strong on the north shore.
We sipped our cocktails in the living room area, but I envied the drinks around me. And I was so distracted by the notable poor service that I couldn’t much enjoy my Duluth welcome drink. The Beverly contains a syrup made from Bent Paddle’s IPA, mixed with Boreal Juniper, lime, apricot syrup, and cayenne salt. The juniper of the booze positively overwhelmed each of the other elements with the exception of apricot. A more balanced gin would have served this drink better, or maybe more intensity of the other flavors.
My friend Brian had the winner, as we passed our glasses around the germ-friendly group. The Siberian Tiger was dessert in a glass: Boreal Cedar Gin, butternut-spice liqueur, cream, and vanilla bitters. The cedar notes were in balance and although some of the cream naturally separated, the texture was very pleasant overall.
The North Shore has taprooms full of bartenders who joke and smile, make educated suggestions and ultimately offer a reason to come back. When it comes to from-the-source cocktails, I’m sticking with Du Nord. With drinks that are about half the price and supremely kind and genuine staff, I’m lucky to have what’s in my backyard.
Of course we left immediately after finishing. Ultimately a couch is only so inviting, what is really inviting is…being invited. To enjoy, to stay, to chat.