Skol Vikings

We were in Minneapolis in December to visit our nephew Martin, who is a strength and conditioning coach for the Minnesota Vikings. On Thursday, our first night there, Martin and his friend Lisa took us to Lucia’s in the uptown district, which, Martin explained, was for some reason south of the downtown district. We shared mixed appetizers; I had duck, Margaret steak, Martin salmon and Lisa pasta. We shared a tart, tasty grüner veltliner, and called it a day. A couple days later, Margaret and I were back for brunch at Lucia’s bakery.  There is also a Lucia’s wine bar.  One can eat very well in Minnesota.

Friday night, with snow lightly falling, we met up with our old friend Jamie and his new beau Jeffrey, at a small, loud restaurant in St. Paul, where they were well known. James is the artistic director for the Ordway Theatre, but, for 25 years, Jamie lived 3 floors up in NYC. I had steak and gin. For the table I ordered Conundrum, a funky blend of California whites.  Jamie called for his favorite, a deep and zesty Zinfandel. I apologize for not providing label info – the least a wine blogger is required to do. I’d taken a fall, and was trying to feel no pain.

After dinner, after scraping a few inches from the windshield, Martin followed James to the Ordway, where we took the tour of backstage, and joined the opening night cast party of “Elf, the Broadway Musical,” already in progress. From the glassed-in lobby, on the other side of the Christmas-lit common, we could see the St. Paul Hotel.

My friend Mohammad had told me, when I mentioned I was going to Minneapolis, that the St. Paul Hotel had the best whiskey bar he’d even been in. “Never heard of it,” said Martin. What are uncles for?

Having bid adieux to James and Jeffrey, we dropped in for a drink. On one side of the lobby, in the ballroom I presume, a black-tie affair, maybe a law firm or hedge fund, spilled over into the bar, on the other side. Three bartenders worked the finely hewn bar, behind them a tall tableau of sparkling mirrors and bottles. I ordered 2 Templetons, neat, for Martin and me — nothing for the girls, who were content to watch the fine ladies and gentlemen, some of them sloshed to the gills. Templeton was my idea, a chance to try another American rye, this one from Iowa and reputed to be Al Capone’s favorite whiskey. It had an amber color and sweetness from charred new oak barrels, and definite notes of clove and anise. Martin identified the taste as horehound.

On Saturday, Martin took us on a tour of the city, including the Mill City Museum, which was a celebration of the grain culture of the upper Midwest, its triumphs and tragedies. We learned that Minneapolis is situated by a waterfall, the only one on the Mississippi River. The natives called it Minnehaha, singing waters, so the founders named their city Minnehahapolis, which pretty much stuck.

Dinner that night was weisswurst, sauerkraut and German potato salad from Kramarczuk’s, one of Martin’s favorite provisioners. We drank Saumur, for no other reason than we’ve been drinking Saumur for months now, and loving it. The quarrying of limestone for the great chateaux of the Loire left hundreds of miles of tunnels, ideal wine cellars for the locals. This cabernet franc from Reserve do Vignerons was deliciously fruity, medium-bodied and vigorous.

More alcohol followed. Game day began with a Bloody Mary, and ended with a tasting of single malt scotchs. Somewhere in there the Vikings beat the Bears and a foot of snow fell on the victorious city.

Auchentoshan is the closest distillery to Glasgow, made in the lowland style, with unpeated malt, and triple-distilled, so light it has acquired the reputation as a breakfast whisky. We drank the Three Wood and Single Wood. (Is it sounding like golf?) Aged in American bourbon casks for at least 3 years, but almost always more, Auchentoshan Classic tasted of vanilla and coconut. In addition to bourbon, Three Wood also saw Oloroso sherry casks and Pedro Ximenez casks, which contributed toffee notes, and a fruity sweetness.

For comparison, Martin brought out a 10 year old Glenmorangie, this from the Highlands, a designation that includes the western islands, except Islay, which has a designation all its own. Interestingly, Glenmorangie owns the forest in the Ozarks from which oak casks are made and leased to Jack Daniels and Heaven Hill for their bourbon. After four years they are returned to Scotland, where they’re used to finish Glenmorangie products. Here was the peat and spice I generally associate with single malt scotch.

Oh, did I mention Death’s Door? Jeffrey had given us presents to welcome us to Minnesota. Margaret got a book of poems, and I got Death’s Door Gin, made from Wisconsin wheat and a relatively simple formula of juniper berries, coriander and fennel. It made a fine white lady. When we returned to New York on Tuesday, alas, we left it behind for Martin’s next guests.

We ate our last dinner in Minneapolis at Bar La Grassa, an Italian restaurant in the warehouse district. Martin had veal ragout over pasta; mine was rabbit. Lisa ordered a plate of roasted vegetables and Margaret had a salad. I picked out an interesting item from the Marche region, 2011 Velenosi Lacrima di Morro. The waiter thought it might be sangiovese, but we didn’t hold that against him. It was, of course, Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, a varietal seldom seen outside Morro d’Alba. Its name means “tear”, perhaps from its shape, or the shape of its clusters, or from the tear-shaped drops of juice that drip from splits in its thin skin.  Its deep red color is acquired by the addition of must pressed from selected, partly dried grapes, resulting in a full-flavored floral, brambly brew, such as only the Italians can make.

Martin drove us to the airport on Tuesday. He returned to Eden Prairie to prepare for the Packers; we landed at LGA filled with the wonderful spirit, and spirits, of Minnesota.

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