A fourth-generation Montana orchardist decided to buy a copper-domed, German-made Carl still in 2009, when he had an excess of apples.
He began making – and selling out of – a sweet, unaged apple brandy combined with apple cider. He called it Harvest Legacy. It could be made quickly, unlike his 3-year-old, oak-barrel-aged apple brandy.
The third batch of the aged spirit was ready in January. By then Lukas Swanson had already sold his still to two couples from Coeur d’Alene.
Hilary and Randy Mann and Dan and Danielle Beckius bought Swanson’s still, fermenters, tanks and back stock to start their new business.
Up North Distillery opened in Post Falls in October and began where Swanson left off – making apple brandy as well as honey spirits. It started with a bar and stillworks. Pending government approval, the third arm of the business – a bottle shop – was slated to open Friday so they can start selling their spirits as well as make them.
For the past 3 1/2 months, Up North Distillery has been slinging craft cocktails, wine and beer in its newly remodeled bar. The focus is on alcohol from regional distilleries, breweries and wineries – as well as their own spirits.
Their own distilling is done on site, and a window lets patrons watch the process from barstools. While most distilleries ferment and distill grains, Up North focuses on apples and honey.
“We take it to the next level beyond mead,” distiller and co-owner Dan Beckius said. “Not many people are doing that.”
Up North offers three honey spirits: an unaged alcohol that Dan Beckius describes as “similar to moonshine or vodka,” a barrel-finished product aged one year on white American oak and another barrel-aged honey spirit that requires three years on white American oak before it’s ready.
Dan Beckius, 43, likens barrel-finished honey spirit to whiskey and the barrel-aged honey spirit to bourbon.
“It’s a flavor thing,” he said. “You get a smoother spirit that has just a hint of honey finish.”
His predecessor had been using apples from his family-owned orchard near Corvallis, Montana, as well as Montana honey.
“Everyone’s doing gin or whiskey,” said Swanson, 32, who has since moved to Maryland. “Being differentiated as far as product offering is something that I thought was important. With my family’s apple orchard history, it was kind of a no-brainer.”
Dan Beckius and his partners are looking toward Green Bluff for local sources of cider – they don’t plan to press their own apples – as well as honey.
“We make what’s known as a specialty spirit,” Dan Beckius said. “It’s more expensive for some of the raw materials. That’s why more people do grain. It’s easier to get and it’s cheaper.”
He and Randy Mann met at an American Distilling Institute workshop on the West Side back in 2013. Both had wanted to start their own distillery.
About a week after the class ended, they introduced their wives, and the couples decided to join forces. They worked on their business plan for about a year and a half. About a year ago, they bought Swanson’s equipment. In March, work commenced on the remodel.
They bought the building, a former autoshop off of Seltice Way, for its easy accessibility and visibility. They kept the shop’s garage door in their design but tempered the industrial feel with the rustic appeal of salvaged wood from a barn in Sprague for the backbar, shelving and countertop.
Reclaimed tin from an old barn north of Post Falls lines the base of the bar. Light fixtures are fashioned from old chicken feeders. Jackson Costa, a recent Coeur d’Alene High School graduate who’s starting his own business, made the arms to hang the light fixtures as well as the shelving.
Randy Mann estimated it cost $500,000 to start the business. All told, Dan Beckius said the figure was more likely between that number and $750,000.
Dan Beckius became interested in distilling about five years ago during a trip to Tennessee. He had brewed beer at home in the past – made wine, too. After the visit to a distillery whose name he doesn’t remember, he began doing research online to learn more about the distillation process.
“It’s a science and an art combined,” he said
Eventually, after moving from North Carolina to Idaho, the Wisconsin native decided to attend the ADI class in Gig Harbor.
Randy Mann, a lineman with Avista, moved to Coeur d’Alene from Portland in 1996. He started homebrewing about a year later. About six years ago, he began looking into distilling.
“It fascinated me once I started learning about it,” he said. “It consumed me. It became a passion.”
For now, the four owners have no employees. They take turns bartending.
“Everybody does a little bit of everything,” Dan Beckius said.
The cocktail menu changes monthly, but a couple of the signature drinks will carry over, such as the Grapefruit Rosemary Mule – with vodka or gin, pink grapefruit, ginger ale, lime and a sprig of rosemary – and Sweet Heat, with vodka, jalapeno, pineapple, lime and fresh ginger.
It’s been a favorite. “I don’t think the Sweet Heat will ever go away,” Randy Mann said.
Along with signature drinks and craft cocktails, Up North offers three rotating beer taps and vodka, moonshine, gin, rum and whiskey flights, each with three samplers.
There’s no food on the menu, but customers can bring in take-out orders from other establishments or call for delivery.
Patio seating is planned for summer. Up North also wants to invite local bands to perform.
Meanwhile, along with its honey spirits, Up North makes three cider-based beverages: an unaged apple brandy, an apple brandy aged three years and something they’re calling Big Kid Cider.
“It ends up being sweet,” Dan Beckius said. “But it still has a kick to it.”
He and Randy Mann are using Swanson’s recipes, including the one for Harvest Legacy.
“I want those guys to succeed,” Swanson said. “And I hope the products that I started are the engine that helps get them there.”
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