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Finding Minnesota: The State’s 1st Legal Whiskey Distillery

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
Bill Hudson has been with WCCO-TV since 1989. The native of Elk Rive...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Eighty years after the end of prohibition, there’s a company distilling whiskey legally in Minnesota.

In fact, it’s the first and only still of its kind in state history.

Panther Distillery, the dream of Colorado businessman Adrian Panther, has only been in operation for eight months, but it’s already developing  a name for itself.

Inside the distillery, located at the edge of frozen cornfields in Osakis, Minn., the first thing one notices is the smell.

Bob Hagedorn is one of the distillers at the business.

“It’s kinda funny, ‘cause this area’s very rich in heritage as far as moonshiners go, especially Stearns County,” he said.

In the heart of Minnesota farm country, there’s ample supply of ingredients: pure water, yeast and golden grains.

“We’re using corn, red wheat and rye…all locally grown,” Hagedorn said.

Water is added to the yeast and cooked down for hours to create a batch of sour mash. But not until the mash goes into temperature-controlled fermenting tanks does the magic really happen — the fight between yeast and sugar which transforms the brew.

“Six days — and the yeast is dead and the sugars are consumed — and we’ve got a tank with alcohol and corn in it,” Hagedorn said.

The mash then gets pumped into giant copper pot stills. Five hundred gallons of mash distills off about 50 gallons of whiskey.

By its very nature, the distilling process produces a product that is crystal clear, just like water. But it’s not until it is placed in oak barrels, and it’s aged, that it produces that beautiful, caramel color.

“When the alcohol hits that wood it creates a chemical reaction drawing out all the wood properties,” Hagedorn said. “Color is one [reaction], but you also get some flavor overtones from the wood as well.”

It’s a critical distinction between the company’s unaged White Water Whiskey and Bourbon.

“In order for us to call this Bourbon, it has to be aged in virgin white oak charred barrels for a minimum of two years,” Hagedorn said.

And he says the process has minimal waste, even the spent mash is finding purpose.

“When done distilling, we give the spent mash to area farmers who feed it to their livestock,” Hagedorn said.

The distillery also has plans to add a dry gin, spiked apple spirits and some rums to its product line.

Since last July, when its doors opened to the public, more than 6,000 people have toured the distillery.

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