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History of Our Minnesota Distillery

Distillery History

Staying true to our mission to bring our customers an experience that is both unique and authentic, in November 2014, Chankaska purchased a 500 liter Pot Still from the Carl Company in Germany. This handcrafted Copper Pot Still and Reflux Column can create most kinds of spirits except vodka. It is from this Still that our small-batch brandy, whiskey, and gin originate.

In theory, the process of distillation is a fairly simple one.  Alcohol boils at 78 degrees Celsius while water boils at 100 degrees Celsius.  We employ this principle during distillation by heating a low-alcohol liquid - called the “mash” in distillery terms - and capture the alcohol vapors that boil off of it.  The result is a liquid with a higher alcohol content than what we started with.

With our Still, we use a special double distillation process in which we run the liquid through the Still twice in order to achieve the flavor profile necessary for the highest quality spirits. In the first distillation, called the Stripping Run, a base mash made from either fermented fruit or grain, containing 4 to 12% alcohol is heated in the Pot of the Still. Once the base mash reaches 78 degrees Celsius, the alcohol begins to boil off as gas vapors, leaving most of the water in the mash behind.  The alcohol vapors travel up through a series of pipes to the Column, where they are further refined.  From there, the vapors travel through another pipe to the Condenser, which cools them back into a liquid state. A device called a “parrot”, aptly named for its resemblance to a parrot’s head, captures this liquid. This first distillation takes between 2 and 3 hours to complete. At this point, the liquid, which we call Low Wines, is approximately 30-45% alcohol. The Low Wines are collected and sent through the Still in a second distillation.

The second distillation is referred to as the Spirit Run and requires careful attention. There are three distinct phases of this run which require separating the final liquid spirits into different vessels. The first phase is called the Heads, and the spirits in this phase are around 90% alcohol and smell like nail polish remover or jet fuel – not pleasant! After a few minutes, the unpleasant aromas of the Heads begin to fade and the sweet aromas of the Hearts begin to emerge.  This is the best portion of the run, and a different vessel is used to collect them.  This phase makes up about 80% of the final spirits collected.  After a couple of hours, the Hearts begin to fade and the alcohol levels drop precipitously. This is where the Tails begin. The Tails are not desirable, and like the Heads, we keep them separated from the Hearts. The entire Spirit Run can take more than 3 hours to complete.

From here, the Hearts are sent to age in oak barrels or stainless steel tanks, depending on the type of spirit being made. Brandy and Whiskey will age in oak for anywhere from several months to several years, while Unaged Brandy and Gin are stored in stainless steel tanks and can be bottled soon after distillation.

While the theory of distillation is a simple one, in practice there are a thousand different variations that can be utilized to make the delicious spirits we offer.  We knew we only wanted to pursue this endeavor with the best and most authentic distilling equipment and ingredients available. We hope you enjoy them!