Our First Taste of Sol
By Roger Kamholz in Food on Jun 13, 2011 7:20PM
The opening of North Shore Distillery's brand new on-premises tasting room on Friday, along with the launch of its public distillery tours, comes on the heels of the Thursday release of Sol, North Shore's latest new product, a vodka infused with lemon, lime and orange peel, chamomile, and other botanicals (the full ingredient list is a secret). Eager to sample some Sol and learn about the process behind North Shore's lineup of spirits, we hit the road to pay North Shore a visit.
Upon arrival we were welcomed by Sonja Kassebaum, who together with her husband, Derek, founded the distillery and handle most of the operations. Sonja led us on a tour of the production floor, which they obviously keep impeccably clean. Ethel, the still, is positioned toward the back of the space. As with most stills, it's made with copper and is a unique custom design. North Shore's was fabricated in the Lake Constance region of Germany by Arnold Holstein Gmbh. Sonja said the copper shell is hammered into form by hand in such a way that the surface becomes essentially seamless. Why copper? The element extracts sulfur-based compounds created during distillation that would otherwise be foul or harmful if consumed.
Ethel is specially suited for North Shore's product line. It has a special electrically heated water tub around its base, which allows Derek, the master distiller, to precisely control the temperature of the still's contents during distillation and avoid overcooking the delicate ingredients North Shore uses - herbs, flowers, fruit peels, spices. This kind of control was instrumental in refining Sol, which was known during its lengthy development as "Project X." Indeed, Sonja pointed out containers labeled "X10," "X14" and the like, which hold past attempts at perfecting the Sol recipe.
How much tinkering does Derek do? Well, North Shore has been in business for about six years, and one of the treats of the new tour is to see the shelves of the 500-odd samples that document every batch of spirit the Kassebaums have made thus far. Seeing the rows and rows of bottles, you get the sense Derek, whose background is in chemical engineering, enjoys experimenting. In fact, he was toying with an absinthe recipe before it was even legal to sell. (When the spirit was again legalized for sale in the U.S., North Shore was one of the first American distilleries to bring one to market.)
Back in the tasting room, which includes a wood bar Derek built himself, Sonja poured us a taste of Sol. Vodka is not our first choice when it comes to sipping spirits, but Sol just might change our minds. At first blush, it was surprisingly mellow and smooth - the essential oils of the citrus seemed to calm the vodka's heat on the palette. The inclusion of floral chamomile kept the bright notes of citrus in check, as well. The result was complex, subtle and quite sippable. Sonja explained that they're careful to use only the citrus peels when crafting Sol, leaving behind any bitter pith. (They've got a handy little device called a Rotato that expertly peels the lemons, limes and oranges in long, elegant strands.)
Sol remains in short supply at the moment. Besides at the distillery tasting room, your best bet to try it is at Sepia, where head bartender Josh Pearson has created a special craft cocktail featuring Sol. He calls it Victorian Lace; it has Sol, Yellow Chartreuse, fresh lemon and simple syrup. The glass gets a rinse of Creme de Violette and is garnished with a cocktail cherry.
And now you'll know where to find us this weekend.
North Shore Distillery is located at 28913 Herky Drive, Unit 308, in Lake Bluff.