By Jason DeRusha

NEW RICHMOND, Wis. (WCCO) — A couple of Twin Cities guys are making their own vodka, gin, and whiskey — and it’s winning international awards.

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In a nondescript warehouse in a small Wisconsin town 45 minutes east of the Twin Cities, a revolution is underway at 45th Parallel Distillery.

“When we started there were 50 in 2007,” Paul Werni said. “Now they’re adding a distillery every week.”

Werni is a northeast Minneapolis guy.

“I was thinking about doing this in Minneapolis, but Minnesota had a $30,000 annual permit fee,” he said. “That made it impossible in Minnesota.”

Wisconsin charged $1,000, so Werni set up shop in New Richmond.

He started with 45th Parallel Vodka, and it’s often listed among the top 150 spirits in the world.

“Our vodka is made for drinking straight,” Werni said.

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Now they make a rye whiskey, too, and a smooth Border Bourbon.

All of it starts with local grain, just south of the distillery building.

Vodka takes a long time upfront. Werni distills it in the tall column three or four times to remove impurities. This vodka has flavor.

Whiskey’s the opposite process — it ages for at least 2 and a half years.

“When you make whiskey it’s all about retaining impurity,” he said. “We have about 200 barrels of whiskey aging right now.”

It’s a dream come true — one sip at a time on the Wisconsin prairie.

“We’ve had a generation grow up with craft beers,” he said. “They expect this. They want a local product.”

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You don’t have to go to New Richmond to find 45th Parallel — you can find it at South Lyndale and North Loop Liquors in Minneapolis, Thomas Liquors in St. Paul and most Lunds and Byerly’s.

Jason DeRusha