Vodka is officially passé. The Wall Street Journal pronounced this last April. With glee. It was an inevitable backlash to the spirit’s entanglement with a bygone bubble of luxury and way, way too many candy-colored trend-tinis.
Paul Werni and Scott Davis are unfazed by the news. In 2006, Werni, who lives in Northeast Minneapolis, left a 10-year-old landscape-construction business that he’d started with a partner. Craft beers had taken off, consumer appetites for “local” and “artisanal” were growing. He traveled, studied distillation, and convinced himself he could produce a great artisanal vodka. After setting up a microdistillery in New Richmond, Wisconsin (where business fees were lower), he invited his friend and college roommate Davis (Davis and his wife, Erin, co-own the Toast Wine Bar and Café in the Minneapolis Warehouse District) to join him as creative director of 45th Parallel Spirits, LLC.
They buy corn from a single family farm situated precisely on the 45th parallel, halfway between the equator and the pole and just a few miles from the distillery. Werni and Davis do everything from fermenting the ground corn to distilling, blending, filtering, bottling, and promoting their product. They say many competitors buy already-distilled alcohol to blend or refine. Exerting farm field–to–bar rail control is how they set 45th Parallel apart.
“Too often, vodka is stripped of all flavor,” Davis says. “By making ours from start to finish, we coax the flavor we want from the corn. We don’t want it to be completely neutral. We want it to taste like the grain.”