We so enjoyed speaking with Emily Vikre, co-founder and CEO of Duluth, MN’s Vikre Distillery. A natural storyteller, it’s clear that she is not only a passionate and driven entrepreneur but also someone who values her Minnesotan roots and cares deeply for her community.
Be sure to check out the Negroni Highball Emily made for us live on Highballs at High Noon, watch her live session with Mary on Instagram, and stop by Vikre for some of the coolest cocktail kits and swag around.
Q: What was it that first got you into cocktails?
Emily Vikre: The Negroni, 100%. For years I was almost solely a wine person. I took courses about wine in France and Boston and was pretty deep into it. But, I had always loved Campari, and by always I really do mean I loved Campari from an earlier age than it was appropriate for me to be drinking Campari. My aunt in Norway let me have Campari mixed with orange juice (also known as a Garibaldi) when we would hang out and sunbathe at our cabin in Norway in the summer. Flash forward a number of years from then (but a number of years ago from now) and I went with a friend in Boston to the bar called Drink, which was brand new at the time. The bartender asked us what we liked, and the only thing I knew I liked was Campari. So she made me a negroni and I fell in love. It was the first time I saw that cocktails could be something entirely different than the terrifying, thoughtless, sugary things people were drinking at parties in college. Hop forward another couple years and we moved to Minnesota to start a distillery, and that's when I really started to dive deep into cocktails.
Q: What new cocktail discoveries are you exploring right now?
EV: Gosh, I don't know if there are any new discoveries I'm exploring, more like continuing to explore old discoveries. I like culinary-inspired cocktails, so I’ve been exploring spice blends, unusual nut syrups and vegetables in the context of cocktails. I also like taking drinks you expect to be shaken and figuring how to turn them into stirred drinks and vice versa.
Q: Why do you think people at home might be intimidated by making cocktails?
EV: A lot of cocktail ingredients are complex - think of the wide variety to be found in vermouths, amari, aperitivi, all the different base spirits... And then there is measuring and technique that goes into a well-balanced cocktail. So I can see how it all adds up to be potentially intimidating. But as you break down techniques and foundational ratios, it becomes less intimidating and becomes a great space for fun and creativity.
Q: What are some of your favorite cocktails to make at home?
EV: When I'm not testing out new ideas and instead just making a chill cocktail for myself to enjoy, it’s almost always a Negroni or Manhattan - I don't even measure when I'm making them. Although, earlier this winter I went on a mega-kick of making a stirred drink with Vikre’s aquavit, Amaro Nardini, blanc vermouth, and a wee bit of raspberry liqueur. It's technically a Negroni variation, but also entirely different.
Q: What do you take to a party?
EV: A low-intervention sparkling wine or a batched freezer Martini. I usually bring an interesting non-alcoholic cocktail, as well, because there are as many reasons not to drink alcohol as there are to drink alcohol and I really love for everyone to be able to enjoy complex and fun beverages.
Q: Where do you think the cocktail and bar industry is headed?
EV: Gosh, I wish I knew. I hope we’ve seen what a dose of magic true hospitality can inject into our lives and how valuable town square types of places are - these may be community centers, parks, a neighborhood bar or coffee shop, all those places where people meet and connect in a space that, in a sense, belongs to all of them. I hope bars and restaurants being closed has shed a light on the number of jobs these industries provide, how slim the margins are and how unsustainable that is. I hope we see an increase in the value people put on all of these jobs - both front and back of house - because I think we can rethink hospitality in a way that really supports everyone involved financially, emotionally, and more.
Q: What has the pandemic taught you?
EV: A lot of things but I'm going to focus on the most positive thing it taught me, which is how much you can accomplish if you focus on abundance, creativity, and taking care of the people around you.
Follow Vikre Distillery on Instagram.
Follow Top Note Tonic for the latest Highball at High Noon sessions.