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Flying Dutchman Spirits

WHAT MAKES A GREAT CRAFT COCKTAIL?

Article by David Scheller

Photography by Joe Lavigne

I suspect many of us shared the same introduction to cocktails. When we were young, and the only liquor we could afford (or carefully pilfer from closely supervised liquor cabinets) was dreadful cheap rotgut, we had to mix it with something sweet to make it remotely palatable. I personally take credit for inventing the “Backwoods NyQuil” – a delicate blend of scotch and grape juice – although I do not recommend trying it.

Flying Dutchman Spirits of Eden Prairie is creating cocktails on the opposite end of the spectrum. Though any one of their craft spirits tastes like divine nectar served neat, and could vanish even the sourest mood in just one sip, it only becomes better once it has been lovingly tossed about in the old cocktail shaker.

What is this magic? That is precisely the question I posed to Mackenzie Lavigne, a distiller at Flying Dutchman Spirits, upon finishing a Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater in the distillery’s posh cocktail room. “Ha ha,” laughed Mackenzie, as she heroically began preparing me a second restorative without wasting time asking whether I would like one. “It's not magic. There are five keys to creating a great craft cocktail.”

Mackenzie held up a bottle of Sailor’s Rantsoen rum, clear as crystal. “It begins with a high-quality spirit. We begin the distilling process at the ground level by sourcing outstanding ingredients. Whether it’s locally grown corn, the freshest potatoes possible, or sugar cane which only met a machete a couple of days ago, nothing but the very best goes into our Hungarian-made Hagyo still.

“We only keep the best to come out of our still as well. Liquor can be divided into three different cuts. The ‘heads’ come out first. They contain high concentrations of acetone, a chemical which is suitable for removing nail polish and not much else. ‘Tails’ come out last. They are rich in fusel oils, the smell of which can most charitably be compared to apples and most accurately be compared to old hockey pads.

“Lesser distilleries reduce their overheads by including both heads and tails in their liquors, which they mask with parfum. We have only ever used heads and tails to make hand sanitizer, because we exclusively bottle the ‘hearts.’ They are the good alcohol – exemplary in smoothness and flavor, even when they are simple, neutral grain spirits.

“The second key to making a world-changing cocktail is fresh, natural supporting ingredients. We source local ingredients as often as we’re able, like our honey which only comes from proud Minnesotan bees. In the summer we grow cilantro, rosemary, lavender and basil in the planters on our patio. All of our juices are freshly pressed; all of our simple syrups are made right here in our cocktail room. We offer a different menu of 60 to 70 craft cocktails every season. That keeps things from getting stale, and also ensures we’re only using the most flavorful seasonal ingredients.

“The third key is important to anything you would put in your mouth: taste, which you may not be surprised to learn begins with smell. A great cocktail activates its drinker’s olfactory receptors in precisely the right way to introduce the flavors that follow. And whenever alcohol is involved, flavors are a tightrope act. When the supporting ingredients are too strong, they overpower the spirit. When the spirit is too strong, it overwhelms the supporting ingredients. A balanced cocktail introduces every flavor it is meant to. Perfecting how our cocktails meet the nose and tongue demands extensive taste testing, but we selflessly commit ourselves to so important a task.

“The fourth key is appearance. An exquisite cocktail must have an appealing color, include fresh ingredients as a garnish, and receive just the right amount of ice to chill without overdiluting. Using the correct glass is just as essential. Lowballs, highballs, martinis, coupes, copper mugs – each one affects the drinker’s perception of the cocktail, including how they will taste it.

“The fifth key is the most frequently overlooked: location. Craft cocktails are best cherished in a pleasant ambiance, which is why we paid special attention to the design of our welcoming, speakeasy-inspired cocktail room. It’s easy to find a comfy spot to share with friends here. Live music on Fridays and Saturdays only makes the experience that much warmer. You can see where all the magic happens just beyond the glass wall, and you can still enjoy our nicely lighted patio in colder weather thanks to our outdoor heaters.

“Our cocktail room creates the experience which truly elevates Flying Dutchman Spirits’ cocktails to perfection – but that’s not to suggest our guests haven’t got very nice homes as well. That’s why we offer our Sailor’s Rantsoen rum, Mediterráneo gin, Frontera Norte blue agave spirit and Nas-dro-via vodka by the bottle, as well as with kits so you can make your own brilliant cocktails wherever you please.”

Flying Dutchman Spirits’ distillery and cocktail room are located at 6801 Flying Cloud Drive in Eden Prairie. Go there at the spur of the moment, or rent the entire place out for the kind of special occasion which calls for indescribably good libations. You may learn more at flyingdutchmanspirits.com.

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