Faces of Duluth: Emily Vikre

Emily Vikre Headshot

Faces of Duluth tells the stories of the people behind Duluth’s iconic attractions, hidden gems and everything in between. Traveling to Duluth? Learn the locals’ tips and tricks for seeing all the city has to offer.

For 10 years, Vikre Distillery has been curating timeless cocktails with the unique feel and flavors that celebrate Duluth, and providing tourists and locals alike with a tasting room that feels like home. We sat down with co-founder and CEO, Emily Vikre, to chat about how Duluth’s culture and spirit inspire both her cocktails and business.

What’s your Duluth story?

My family originally moved to Duluth when I was four! We moved into the most wonderful neighborhood filled with imaginative kids and caring, community-building adults. The kids roamed the neighborhood yards freely building forts and inventing games. We were constantly in the woods or by the Lake. Having that experience and connection to the outdoors here made Duluth so special to me. It was like the horizon line of the Lake was tattooed on my soul after I left to go study and work.  And that is what ultimately drew us back.

What’s the inspiration behind Vikre? What sets Vikre apart from other distilleries?

The distillery was really founded on a calling back to this place by the Lake and the land. We were visiting my parents back here in Duluth and they had just been at a spirits tasting. They explained how they had learned that all you really need for making good spirits is good water and good grain. And we were like, ‘Hang on just a minute! Duluth has the best water in the world. And Minnesota grows tons of grain. Someone should really start a distillery in Duluth!’ and the idea stuck. I think what sets Vikre apart is how the flavors capture the nature and culture of the Northwoods and Lake Superior in a bottle. We have a fanatical devotion to flavor and quality, combined with the unique Duluth-y charm and quirkiness. Not to mention we have the best water in the world and a spirit can’t be any better than the water it is made with.

When did you first open Vikre?

We received our federal license to distill in September of 2013, so that was when we were allowed to really start developing our products. We released our first products – our three gins – and opened for public tours in February of 2014. 10 years ago! At that time the state laws didn’t allow us to give visitors samples, so we just did tours because even then our goal was to be really of-the-community and wanted people to be able to come in and see what we were up to. Over time we worked with the couple other distilleries that started at the same time as us to get some laws updated so we could have a cocktail room for folks to visit.

How did you first get into distilling?

We got into distilling because we had the idea to open a distillery! We didn’t have any background (or even interest, to be honest) before that. But, one of the things I love most is to learn new things, and when I get into something I get into it pretty deeply. I dive into so many books and historical texts and experiments. And still now, every day is learning, learning, learning. Learning more about distilling, cocktails, business and psychology.

What is a typical day like for you running your own business?

A typical day definitely does not exist. I wear about 700 hats and bounce between them frequently. It’s not sexy, but I do spend a lot of time in meetings. The business has a lot of pieces and a lot of smart, hard-working people that need to stay coordinated. On some days I’ll spend time working on our marketing creative – I still do almost all of our writing, photography, video and creative direction, social media, etc. because that’s how we connect to a lot of people (although it’s a problem when I do silly things like break my wrist playing pond hocky and can’t type or work a camera for a few months!). I also work with the teams that develop new products and develop our cocktail menus testing out new flavor combinations. That’s my favorite work because I looooove botanicals and I like feeling like a witch. And then there are some days where I spend most of my time staring at sheets of numbers looking for patterns to help guide business decisions. 

What do you enjoy about the craft beverage community in Duluth?

It’s such an awesome community. I love the people and the creativity and energy. I have a number of the other craft beverage folks on speed dial for asking questions and problem solving. I think very few people realize how difficult the beverage industry really is, especially for small companies like all of ours. You’re trying to operate a business that is manufacturing, distributing packaged goods, hospitality and tourism all in a single package. And it’s in an industry that is highly competitive and incredibly dominated by a few absolutely ginormous players with bottomless pockets. If you don’t have friends in the industry to put your head together with and run ideas or issues by, it would be pretty easy to lose your marbles. 

Your cocktail room is such a fun spot for tourists and locals alike. What do you hope guests feel and experience when they are there?

Our goal with the cocktail room is to have it feel like you are stepping into the living room of a close friend who throws the best dinner parties – who is creative, quirky and chic, and who wants nothing more than for you to have a seat in a comfy chair so they can prepare you an amazing cocktail they’ve just invented. We want it to feel homey and individual and special all at the same time.

What are some of your favorite Vikre cocktails?

We change our menu seasonally and I have a few favorite cocktails on every menu, which adds up to too many cocktails to list. Our Monty Python menu last fall may have been my all-time favorite, though. I just loved every cocktail on that menu (and I love Monty Python). Another favorite I had from a couple of years ago was called the Slow Roll out of Fresno, which had guava and chocolate and Fresno chilis. I also love classic cocktails and think their simplicity really lets the remarkable quality and flavor of our spirits shine. My go-to is a martini with our Spruce gin. Clean, crisp, classic.

What are some of your favorite things to do in Duluth with guests from out of town?

We do a lot of outdoors things: hiking in Hartley Park or along the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT), going cross-country skiing if there is snow, hanging out by the lake, things like that. Of course, we take them to Northern Waters for sandwiches and to the distillery for cocktails. When possible, I also love to take people to the local galleries and to one of the many amazing performances we often have happening in town. I think it is unbelievably cool to be in a community this size and have an opera, a symphony and a ballet as well as such a diversity of local bands.

Posted on March 6, 2024