Sunshine In A Glass: A Q&A With Brian Cummins, Great Northern Distilling

Plover, Wisconsin’s Great Northern Distilling are the makers of one of our state’s finest gins. Distilled from locally grown wheat and botanicals, their Herbalist Gin is soft and smooth, ideal both for sipping neat and mixing into cocktails. We spoke recently with Great Northern founder Brian Cummins live on Highballs at High Noon for an update on their upcoming move and a creative twist on the Negroni. Catch our conversation on Instagram (parts one and two) and be sure to follow Great Northern Distilling - big things are in the works!

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Q: What was it that first got you into cocktails?

Brian Cummins: Way back in the mid-90s when I was in college I was drinking classic gin and bourbon cocktails. I used to order a Gimlet at my local college bar and I distinctly remember the bartender saying "What are you, 60?". During my career as a chemical engineer in the paper industry, I started exploring craft beer and craft cocktails which ultimately led me to become a distiller.

Q: What new cocktail discoveries are you exploring right now?

BC: It isn't anything new or groundbreaking, but I drink A LOT of Negronis in the summertime. It just feels like sunshine in a glass to me and you can't beat one that's well made.

Q: Why do you think people at home might be intimidated by making cocktails?

BC: I'm not sure, because it really is the simplest thing in the world. There are so many amazing three-ingredient cocktails and most techniques are really easy. Maybe because they're afraid of making something that they will not like or get the proportions wrong. Plus, people get scared off by the culture of mixology or whiskey collecting. They feel somehow they are breaking the "rules" or doing something uncool. Just enjoy things! In the words of Roman philosopher Seneca "When shall we live, if not now!"

Q: What are some of your favorite cocktails to make at home?

BC: It really varies with the season, what's growing in my garden, or whatever inspiration hits me. Plus, I've got an extensive "competitive reference" collection, so I try to use different spirits as much as possible. That being said, I default to gin and rye whiskey more than any other spirits.

Q: What do you take to a party?

BC: I love to make up a big bottle of a pre-batched, spirit-forward cocktail like a Manhattan, Negroni, or Old Fashioned to share. I sometimes stretch them by adding club soda to make them more palatable for people that want a lower-ABV option.

Q: Where do you think the cocktail and bar industry is headed?

BC: I think the "9 ingredient" esoteric mixology that was popular in the mid 2010's is on its way out. Focusing on fresh ingredients, balanced flavor, and proper technique is the best way for people to up their game.

Q: What has the pandemic taught you?

BC: Patience with things that I cannot control and having faith that wonderful things can come from a bad situation.

Follow Great Northern Distilling on Instagram.

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