From Northwestern Minnesota, Michael Swanson and Cheri Reese of Far North Spirits sent us these stunning images and report from their 2014 rye harvest. Working field-to-glass, the couple distills from start to finish, with every step of production done by hand. Cheers!
The 2014 season actually began in the fall of 2013, as is the case with winter grain crops here in the far north.
We grow a winter rye variety called AC Hazlet, which was originally cultivated for the Canadian prairies from two rye varieties originating in the Central Chernozem region of Russia (Gazelle and Saratov). Hazlet was selected for its exceptional winter-hardiness, reduced height, and high fertility.
Michael with seeds
We’ve found that properly mashed and fermented, AC Hazlet has excellent flavor coming off the still, with greater vanilla notes, and milder pepper and spice notes than the common rye widely available on the market.
Field near distillery
We planted the rye into canola stubble in the field adjacent to the distillery. Seeding rye in this manner results in better over-wintering because the tough canola stubble catches insulating snow during the winter. Temperatures can sink to -35F in our area, and so this is vitally important. Germination rate was around 98%, and a very good stand was evident early.
Rye headed out
Spring showed vigorous growth, and the rye was beginning to “head out” (flower and form heads of grain) by mid-June despite being one of the wettest summers in years.
Ripening accelerated in July and into August with the welcome arrival of hot, dry weather.
Michael in the Swather
We swathed the rye August 10, and thrashed a few days later. Quality and yield were both excellent, with average yield being 55-60 bushels per acre.
Charlie & Michael
After the grain is cleaned, we store it just outside the distillery door and fill totes (with the help of dear old dad, Charlie), for mashes for our gin and (our soon to be released) rye whiskey.
Skål to a good harvest – the makings of a great spirit!
For more on Far North Spirits, read here.