Far North Spirits Co-Founder Mike Swanson

Far North Spirits Guest Post: Mike Swanson on The Soil of the Midwest

A Guest Post written by Mike Swanson, co-founder of Far North Spirits

The Lost Lantern Midwest Collection launches on March 27. It’s our very first regional collection, and as the name suggests, it’s focused on a region that we see as one of the unsung heroes of American whiskey: the Midwest. The region is home to hundreds of distilleries, and our Midwest Collection showcases six of the brightest lights in the Midwest. But those aren’t the only amazing whiskies coming from the Midwest. In fact, there are many other distilleries across the region beyond the ones we feature who are making great whiskey.

One of them particularly stands out and is one we’ve been a fan of for a long time: Far North Spirits in Hallock, Minnesota. In fact, the reason they’re not a part of the Midwest Collection directly is simply because we haven’t been able to visit the distillery in person yet–and, since Far North is the northernmost distillery in the contiguous United States, some six hours north of Minneapolis, it’s going to take a special trip.

Far North Spirits is one of the country’s only true farm distilleries and has worked hard to emphasize the connection between whiskey, the grain it’s made from, and where and how that grain is grown. After all, whiskey is fundamentally an agricultural product, and the grain it’s made from matters… a lot.

We asked Mike Swanson, cofounder of Far North, to contribute a guest blog post about his experience growing grain and exploring how much grain varietal type and the soil it’s grown in can affect the final flavor of whiskey. Here’s Mike–and thank you again for contributing! We expect Far North will be a Lost Lantern partner at some point in the near future after we visit, so it’s exciting to start to showcase their vision now. –Adam

Far North Spirits Guest Post: Mike Swanson on The Soil of the Midwest

The Importance of Soil

Soil is not separate. In fact, it may be the most important – and defining – ingredient in our whiskey. From the road, a field of rye looks tidy – uniform stalks sprouting sea green in May and transforming to light amber in July. But, like the surface of a serene ocean, what lies beneath is a riot of activity and life. 

There are more microorganisms in a handful of soil than there are people on the planet.

Indeed, the world’s soil is home to nearly a third of all of its living organisms. This soil ecosystem nurtures life above ground as well as below. Pollinators, burrowing insects and earthworms, birds, reptiles, and a Watership Down-worthy cast of animal characters all play their respective roles. 

It is from this vibrant ecosystem that healthy soil is produced. Healthy soil nurtures exceptional grains. Exceptional grains are foundational for making great whiskey. And we believe that there is a crucial step further. When SINGLE VARIETIES of grain are carefully selected and grown for flavor in an environment where they can thrive, the depth and character of that grain variety can be beautifully expressed as whiskey in the hands of the distiller.

I’m paraphrasing, but seven years ago a butterfly flapped its wings, and today I’m opening barrels of great whiskey. This is why I love combining farming my family’s land with distilling. One develops a deep connection and understanding of your home and farm – your estate, if you’re fancy – and you’re continually learning about the living things that are all around you. 

Connecting and Knowing Your Land

The lessons you learn from observing the deep seasonal rhythms of your place translate to many applications inside the distillery. Not to get too grandiose, but you learn classic virtues: patience, humility, temperance, diligence, fortitude. You also learn more than you ever wanted to know about boiler igniters. It’s a high/low kind of thing. But all of it adds up to connecting to and knowing your land, and then being able to produce something that embodies the unique characteristics of that particular land that you can share with people. 

Slow Down, Pause and Savor

I think people want to slow down, to pause and savor. And I think they would like to know that what is in their glass comes from someplace good, someplace beautiful. In the end, I want people to love my whiskey not because it’s sustainable, but because it’s better. And I firmly believe that it’s better because it’s sustainable, that it’s made with skill and passion in a place that is beautiful.

(1g soil: up to 1B organisms)


Additional guest posts from our Midwest Collection: