ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota is finally getting in on the national craft spirits boom as a new distillery prepares to open on the site of the old Hamm's Brewery in St. Paul.
A 2011 change in state law drastically lowered the cost of starting a small distillery in Minnesota, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Thursday. The law was aimed mainly at allowing craft breweries to sell their beer at on-site taprooms, but it also slashed the fee for starting a distillery from $30,000 to just more than $1,000.
Now, at least nine distilleries are in various stages of preparing to make spirits legally.
''We grow great grain and corn here,'' said Lee Egbert, co-owner of 11 Wells, the distillery that's going into the Hamm's brewery. ''We're also known for our water - you know, 'the land of sky blue waters' - so it only makes sense. Minnesota is going to be a huge whiskey state.''
Leah Hutchinson, spokeswoman for the American Craft Distillers Association, said the craft spirits boom stems from the trend of consumers who prefer to eat and drink locally made products.
''I think the whole locovore movement has a lot to do with it,'' Hutchinson said. ''People really want to buy local and support the producers.''
There's a history of small-time distillers in the state, especially during Prohibition.
Elaine Davis, a professor of management at St. Cloud State University, was writing her parents' memoirs when she discovered her grandmother cooked moonshine.
''She said she made more money turning in moon(shine) than pigs,'' Davis said.
She also discovered that Stearns County was a hotbed of moonshine production and that most of the spirits produced there were made from Minnesota 13, a corn variety that was popular because it grew well in state's short season.
Bob McManus, the other co-owner of St. Paul's 11 Wells, ran across Davis' book during his research and was instantly intrigued. He and Egbert secured some heirloom seeds for the corn and hired an organic farmer to grow it. The corn has been harvested and is drying in preparation for the whiskey they will call Minnesota 13, which they plan to start distilling in January.
The distillery's name, 11 Wells, comes from the number of wells beneath its site, which is shared with Flat Earth Brewing Co and an aquaponic fish-and-vegetable farm.
''We've got such a great water source here, with such great history,'' Egbert said. ''We're lucky to be here.''