Question to ask your drinking buddies next time you crack a bottle of something brown and strong: What's the most Minnesotan whiskey? Obviously I think the answer has to be something made from rye or corn grown here, and if you use that criteria you get a bunch of good options: Far North Spirits ryes, for instance. If you want your Minnesota grain distilled in Minnesota, then aged in Minnesota barrels, you end up with answers like Tattersall rye or J. Carver rye and bourbon. But then, have you considered the Minnesota lifestyle, of big northern camping and kayaking, and doing it in urban chef style?
Aha! I had totally not thought about that until I sat down with Hai Truong, chef and owner of Ngon Bistro, to try Minnesota's first ever whiskey developed exclusively for the very specific needs of a #Northern chef who loves going even farther #North to camp.
Here's how it all began: Truong has one of the most interesting cocktail programs in St. Paul, barrel aging cocktails in small barrels on his bar, and inventing various dead-dry Tiki riffs. He wanted an all-Minnesota whiskey to work with, and after being impressed with J. Carver's sourcing, started working with them to combine a corn-and-rye whiskey blend he could use for Ngon's cocktail program. "I love bourbon and whiskey, and all our cocktails are liquor-forward. I want to taste the booze." As he got into the blending process, sampling different barrels and layering the flavors to reach his perfect mix, he had to confront the question all whiskey makers must: What proof did he want his final whiskey to be? Which he ended up answering as any decent chef would,"I don't get my pepper, my tomatoes, or my garlic half-diluted with water, why would I get my whiskey that way? I can always add water if I want, but I can't take it out." Then Truong, an avid camper, further realized that if he got it cask strength he could pack half as much in to a campsite, and Wrath of Khanh was born.
Is it the most Minnesotan whiskey ever? Could be. More proof for that thesis, it's named for a bonafide Minnesota child, Hai Truong's son Khanh, whose picture graces the label. He's reportedly furious when he wakes up, and it's the kind of thing that makes parents long for a drink by the end of the day. Is Khanh poised to be our own version of Morton's Salt Girl? Why not?
Anyhoo, I tried some Wrath of Khanh whiskey, and it's really good: Peppery and lashing with spice, big and biting. In the house version of a Mai Thai, the Hai Thai, it mingles with the citrus and sweet elements to make something dry and lovely. "It's not Prohibition anymore," Truong told me. "We don't have to hide the taste of bad liquor. Using good whiskey in a drink makes a huge difference."
Truong is not actually making any money on this whiskey, he just liked it so much when he created it that he wanted to share it with the world, for your camping and cocktailing pleasure. As of this writing you can find it in the various places camping-chef-types shop: Solo Vino, Henry & Son, Marshall Liquors, Thomas Liquors, First Grand Liquor, Spiritz Liquor, and, very appropriately, the liquor store of the great portage town of the north, the Grand Marais Muni.
If you're a chef-camping type up for a challenge, Truong's got a challenge for you. First, get a good marshmallow stick. Make a good campfire. Dunk a marshmallow in your glass of Wrath of Khanh. Now, gently, slowly, and without turning it into a fireball, roast until toasty brown. Do you have that kind of patience? Is this the Minnesota adult version of the classic 'marshmallow test' as to whether you can successfully delay gratification? These are the kinds of questions you can now ask yourself and your drinking buddies, while contemplating Minnesota whiskey.