January 29 – The Dames’ recent Sunday jaunt to North Shore Distillery in Green Oaks was both informative and tasty — the best kind of program! Owner Sonja Kassebaum graciously welcomed us to their new facility, which had previously housed a kitchen design space and warehouse, with coffee and pastries from a local bakery. The non-operative kitchen spaces have been repurposed into a spacious tasting room, complete with expansive wood cocktail bar, cocktail lounge, working demo kitchen and retail store; the warehouse, connected to the tasting rooms by a long hallway, now houses the distillery and packaging operations, overseen by Sonja’s charming husband, Derek, a chemical engineer turned liquor alchemist. NS Distillery is a small-batch distillery, and everything is done by hand, including bottling, labeling and packaging.
The distillery is also home to social media darling Ethel the Still (check out her Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds), a hardworking German import from the Arnold Holstein company. Named both for ethyl alcohol and Sonja’s grandmother, this small-scale still pumps out a lot of product. As we watched and listened, Derek shared stories about the process of making gin, even as he was emptying enormous glass jugs of the clear spirit into a large plastic storage barrel. We had an opportunity to mix a wee bit of our own gin; Derek had set aside some small shot glasses of gin distilled with only juniper berries (that’s what makes a gin a gin, by definition), along with droppers of distilled herbs and spices that they use in their Distiller’s Gin No. 6 (including angelica, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander and lemon). We played at this botanical bingo, each person adding a few drops of what flavors appealed to create our own blend. At 90 proof, and with cocktails and lunch still to come, a sip was the perfect palate cleanser. We also learned that while smaller craft distilleries infuse their alcohol with actual botanicals, high-volume commercial brands use flavoring.
We returned to the tasting rooms, where Sonja awaited, along with a lovely lunch of squash soup, chicken salad and a green salad with blue cheese and candied nuts. Sonja mixed several of their popular cocktails, including an herb-forward Norwegian Spring, made with their Aquavit Private Reserve, simple syrup, fresh lime juice, dill and cucumber. It was refreshing and light, as was the Gin Smash, made with Distiller’s Gin No.11.
It was a lovely afternoon, albeit a bit tipsy! This spot is definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re on the North Shore.