Minnesota Will Own Rye


Supported by Crop Research Grant, Far North Spirits Aims to Make Minnesota an
International Leader for Rye Grains and Rye Whiskey

Hallock, Minn. ­– Far North Spirits, a micro-distillery located 400 miles northwest of Minneapolis on a 1,500 acre family farm, received from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in February 2015 a three-year $188,495 crop research grant to complete a first-of-its-kind study to evaluate varieties of winter rye grown in Minnesota for agronomic performance in the field and flavor/sensory performance in the distilling industry.

Michael Swanson, owner, distiller and farmer at Far North Spirits, will administer the grant. His vision is to make Minnesota a leader in the production of world-class rye spirits.

“Kentucky owns bourbon. Scotland, scotch. Minnesota will own rye,” said Swanson. “Our rich soil and extreme climate are perfect for growing this grain. AC Hazlet Rye, our favored variety, is already recognized as our signature.”

Through field trials conducted on Minnesota farms and sensory analyses conducted at Minnesota distilleries, this project will result in a research report that will be valuable to Minnesota farmers, distillers, seed dealers, brewers and maltsters. The University of Minnesota Winter Rye Variety Performance Evaluation will conduct agronomic analysis to assess grain quality, winter hardiness, spring vigor, plant height, grain yield, resistance to lodging and other factors. Minnesota distillers will conduct sensory analysis on the rye to include distillate yield, initial viscosity, and assign a sensory score based on flavor and nose.

The finished study will include data on several varieties of winter rye and be a collaborative project involving several Minnesota farmers, distillers, the University of Minnesota Winter Rye Variety Performance Evaluation and the Barley and malt lab in the Department of Plant Sciences at North Dakota State University.

The goal is to provide producers and end users with an unbiased, reliable source of data, as well as the unique addition of flavor and sensory analysis. The report will be available publicly to all Minnesota farmers through the U of M and shared with micro-distillers nation-wide via the American Distilling Institute.

Far North Spirits, one of fewer than 50 micro-distilleries in the nation that also farms the grains it uses in its spirits, currently produces four spirits that use rye, including two gins, a vodka and a rye whiskey. The Star Tribune named its first release, Solveig Gin, Best New Minnesota-Made Booze in May 2014. Rye grain grown by Swanson during Far North Spirits’ first year of operations was shipped to farmers and micro-distilleries in Minnesota, Maine and Illinois.

Far North Spirits is currently distributed throughout MN, ND, NJ, NY, and SD. Annual production in 2014 was approximately 2,400 six-pack cases; 2015 production is estimated at 6,000 six-pack cases.