Soju vs. Shochu: What’s the Difference?

by Tom 

Soju is an often overlooked category in America. World wide, it hosts the world’s number one selling spirit brand (Jinro Soju) and makes up 97% of the clear spirit consumption in South Korea. It is a relatively low alcohol clear spirit made from different grains (rice, wheat or barley) and starches (potatoes or sweet potatoes) meant to be consumed chilled in a communal atmosphere usually accompanied by food, often spicy Korean barbeque. It can also be substituted into any martini, bloody mary, negroni, highball, or collins in lieu of another clear spirit for a lower alcohol option, as it usually sits between 12% and 30% alcohol instead of 40% plus here in the States. Consider it a lower alcohol, more viscous, slightly sweeter alternative to other clear spirits. There are very lax rules to soju from the alcohol percentages, additives, and flavorings.

Our soju:

  • The Classic: Jinro Soju. It is literally the best selling spirit brand in the world. Sip it chilled with family and friends. $12.99/750ML
  • The New Yorker: West 32 Soju. West 32 is an ode to New York’s Korea Town, and a good example of how far Soju can reach and how it can be made anywhere. $19.99/750ML

Soju’s cousin, Shochu, is quite the opposite. Their names are very similar, as the “so” and “sho” translate to burned, and the “ju” and “chu” translate to alcohol in Korean and Japanese respectively. These are distilled spirits, where sake is a fermented product, separating it entirely. Shochu is much stricter with its rules and regulations. It has a history dating back 500 years and has different appellations just like champagne and cognac. It is made with similar ferments, usually sweet potato, barley or rice. The big difference is purity, as no Shochu can have any additives and in the case of top shochu they can only be distilled once to show the purity of the distillate, designated as Honkaku. Shochu sits higher in alcohol than soju, usually between 25-35%.

Our shochu:

  • Mugi Hokka Honkaku Shochu. Made from Shooner barley and left to ferment for 17 whole days before a single distillation run in an atmospheric pot still in the Tensei Distillery in the Osaki Township in Kagoshima. If that’s not enough, they let it rest for five years in enamel tanks. Mugi Hokka shows notes of dark roasted coffee and dark chocolate. A perfect pairing for red meat, coffee and chocolate. $34.99/750ML

  • Colorful Honkaku Sweet Potato Shochu. Made from two different sweet potatoes fermented with two different Koji yeast strains by two different distillers! A very rare occurrence. Colorful is how they describe the nose and palate as it is flush with papaya, nectarines, great florality, and a soft vegetal smoke in the background. $52.99/750ML

Now for the hard part, where does soju and shochu go on the shelf? There is no right or wrong answer. We have created a shelf in between vodka and gin that houses spirits that fit a small category and definitely do not belong with liqueurs. Here you will find soju, shochu, aquavit, grappa, amongst other distillates. Go explore next time you’re in the shop!

September Spirit of the Month: Aquavit

Aquavit is a Scandinavian spirit that is traditionally flavored with ingredients such as caraway, cardamon, fennel, or dill.  You can easily substitute aquavit into your favorite whiskey, gin, or vodka drinks for a tasty new variation.  Through September we will feature some of our favorite aquavits and show you how versatile it can be!  Let’s leave the lutefisk to the Nordics and broaden our savory cocktail arsenal with that dusty bottle of aquavit instead.

Week 1:

Aquavit Mule, aka Dala Horse

In a copper mule mug filled with ice, combine:

Garnish with a lime wedge and a sprig of mint.

Week 2:  Local pairing 

Aquavit can also be enjoyed chilled or over ice. This week we recommend trying Skaalvenn Aquavit with Northern Lights Blue Cheese from the Cheese Shop.  Each batch of Northern Lights Blue is hand crafted in small batches with fresh ingredients and milk from local Brown Swiss cows who are allowed to graze on pasture all year long, which helps create a rich creamy texture and delicious flavor.  The cheese is aged for a minimum of four months, longer than most blue cheese, which adds to its creamy texture and peppery taste.  This cheese will pair nicely with Skaalvenn’s Aquavit, which is distilled from wheat and flavored with caraway, fennel, orange peel, and aged in oak barrels.

Week 3: Nordic Summer Cocktail 

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill ¾ with ice, shake until chilled, strain, and serve with an orange twist.





Week 4: 

AkvaCran & Tonic 

Fill a tall glass with ice; add aquavit, cranberry juice, and lime juice; top with tonic water and garnish with a lime and sprig of mint. 

August Spirit of the Month: Mezcal

Each week for the month of August we’ll bring you a different cocktail recipe or food pairing featuring Mezcal (tequila’s smokier cousin). Mezcal comes from 9 different regions in Mexico, the most common being Oaxaca. Similar to tequila, it is distilled from the heart of the Agave plant. Unlike Tequila, any type of Agave can be used. It is also most commonly pit roasted prior to fermentation, giving the final product its distinct, smoky flavor. If you haven’t tried mezcal before, this might be just the nudge you need to get a bottle to experiment with!

Week 1:

Smoke on the Water
In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine:

Shake until well chilled and strain over fresh ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with a twist of orange peel.

Week 2:

Smoky Negroni 

In a mixing glass with ice, combine:

Stir until well chilled and strain over fresh ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

Week 3: Mezcal Food Pairing! 

This week we are going to pair mezcal with a fun snack from the Cheese Shop! We recommend trying Xicaru Silver Mezcal with Jamon Serrano and goat cheese (Order online HERE). Jamon Serrano is a dry cured Spanish ham sliced thin and one of the most iconic Spanish food products. While mezcal is from Mexico, the smokiness will highlight this meat well, and the goat cheese adds a nice creamy finish. Xicaru is available in 375 ML bottles so it’s a less intimidating purchase if you want to try mezcal for the first time. This is the perfect pairing to take along to a happy hour or picnic gathering to introduce your friends to the amazing world of mezcal (and the fun things you can find at our Cheese Shop)!


Week 4: The Final Week! 

This week we’re going to make the easiest cocktail pairing ever.  Last weekend at the cabin?  Quick pairing to wind down after a busy week?  We’ve got you covered.  This week’s mezcal is going into Summer Lakes Bootleg mix, which will create a very tasty twist on a mojito.  We recommend trying Derrumbes San Louis Potosi, which uses above ground roasting methods for a less smoky mezcal.  You’ll get hints of bell pepper, minerals, and a little funkiness that’s going to pair great with pimento dip and some crackers from the cheese shop.  Quickest shopping trip ever, and you’ve got an easy but delicious cocktail and snack covered for wherever life takes you.

New Changes to Online Shopping

By Melissa, Operations and Systems Queen (and Cider Specialist!)

Author Arnold Bennett was quoted as saying, “Any change, even a change for the better, is always accomplished by discomforts.” In the last 16 + months of trials with new sales systems and ordering platforms at France 44, we have all experienced exactly what he was saying 100 years ago.

Let me start by saying THANK YOU to all of you loyal customers who have stayed with us through all the changes that have occurred. Staffing, business hours, technology, and operations have all changed a lot. Some things have gone very well (curbside pickup, virtual classes) while others didn’t go well (new apps). Your feedback has been heard about all of it and we have been working hard to adjust and make things better across the board.

The biggest complaints came about ordering online. The new platform we have been using is great for somethings we do, but not for the online store. For the last several months, we have been redeveloping the online store for a better user experience. For those of you who use the online store, you will see a very different layout. We hope that you find it easier to find the products you are looking for.

As for a new app, we have not been able to find one that meets all our needs. We will continue to look but in the meantime, you can always ask someone at customer service to look up your past purchases and points.  If a time comes where the perfect app can be ours, we will let you know!

Once again, thank you for your patience as we navigated all the changes we experienced together. Know that the one thing we will never change is our commitment to providing the best customer service we have the ability to give. We continue to welcome feedback as we work to improve our systems and online shopping experiences. Cheers, and thank you!

Drinking With A Purpose: Part 2

by Tashi Johns

On this installment of “Drinking with Intention” we will explore our liquor aisles to find distilleries and businesses that are minority owned, or that have master distillers that fit the bill.  I decided to dive into all the amazing things that our local businesses are accomplishing first and then will take you through our liquor aisles to feature even more distilleries leading the way in creating diversity within the liquor industry. The fight for equality is a long one, and hopefully one day we won’t need to write blog features about minority owned and operated businesses.  They will be so common it will be normalized and not anything to note anymore. I hope we see this someday soon!  In the meantime, here are some amazing companies to check out next time you visit us.



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Crooked Water – Minneapolis, MN | Heather Manley started Crooked Water in 2013, when there was only one distillery operating in Minnesota, after tasting a small batch spirit that really spoke to her.  This inspired her to make spirits that are approachable but with complex flavors.  She interviewed about a dozen distilleries from Wisconsin to the Dakotas and made a connection with Nick, the owner of Yahara Bay Distillery in Madison, WI and the rest is history!  With Heather’s background in food (she even owns her own seasoning company) and Nick’s distillery experience, Crooked Water was born.  Inspired by her favorite cask finished scotches, her first product was bourbon aged in sherry and port barrels which sold out immediately.  She then went on to create a gin and a vodka, and now has 13 products on the shelves.  Without investors to answer to, Heather is able to create products she wants to drink: high proof but approachable, high quality, and that honors her vision.  Heather also auctions off dinner parties at her house multiple times a year to raise funds for local nonprofits with missions of all kinds, raising over $100k to date.  She cooks everything herself and features Crooked Water cocktails and tastings!

I asked Heather how being a woman in the liquor industry has impacted her and she said it’s been an awesome experience and that being a woman helps her stand out.  She went on to add that it’s much more challenging to be a small craft business trying to find distribution partners and get her products out there.  She has done a great job though, with Crooked Water available in seven states!  Heather also informed me that everything Crooked Water needs is done in house, which is incredibly beneficial to it’s growth.  So far she hasn’t kept any profits and has reinvested everything back into her business.  Her partner Rhett creates the artwork (and has even won some awards for it), and with Heather concocting unique flavor profiles there’s not much more you need to stand out on the shelves.  It all speaks for itself.

You can find Crooked Water in our bourbon, whiskey, ready to drink cocktails, vodka, gin, and liqueur isles.  We recommend trying their Manley’s Old Fashioned.

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Du Nord – Minneapolis, MN | Yeah, okay, I’m obsessed with Du Nord and I’m not trying to hide it!  I’ve already featured the amazing things Chris Montana is doing in Drinking With A Purpose (part one), but I could not write about minority owned distilleries without giving them another shout out, especially considering Du Nord was the first black owned distillery in the US!  They also have a diverse cohort, including Maria K. who helps Chris lead their distillation team.

You can find Du Nord in our vodka, gin, whiskey, and liqueur isles. I (still) highly recommend trying their L’Etoile Vodka and Cafe Frieda Coffee Liqueur.

Lovejoy’s – Saint Paul, MN | Charles Lovejoy was bartending at the Happy Gnome in Saint Paul when he started running their bloody mary bar and making the mix from scratch.  Without telling patrons he had made it, he asked for feedback and was able to tweak his recipe to perfection and Lovejoy’s was born.  After bottling some of his mix for a gift basket auction to raise money for his mother’s nonprofit, he joined forces with his sister to create a business to sell it to a broader audience.  $2 of every bottle sold was donated to Family Place until it unfortunately had to close a couple of years ago.  Since then, Charles has partnered with other nonprofits helping homeless youth in the twin cities and now donates to Face to Face, Truth Center, and Connections to Independence.  I asked Charles how his hot sauce came to be, and he said he was never much of a hot sauce person but he had a regular that always complained his bloody mix was never hot enough so he decided he would make one to “burn his face off”, which was a huge hit!

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When asked to speak on being a black business owner, Charles said since he’s always been a black man he’s not sure how else any of this could have played out.  Every small business has its ups and downs but he has found an incredible community of entrepreneurs, artists, and people willing to help within the twin cities.  And of course, having representation matters.  He said that if anyone has ideas to start their own business that they should just go for it, and that they will find plenty of support here.

You can find Lovejoy’s in our mixer section.  They currently have the original bloody mix, a Thai basil mix, and hot sauce.  I recommend trying them all!  But especially the hot sauce if you’re looking for good flavor with deep heat.  (It’s my favorite, I put it on everything!  It’s also unofficially an amazing hangover cure, but you didn’t hear that from me.)

Vikre – Duluth, MN | Emily Vikre and her husband Joel felt the tug to return to Duluth after living on the East Coast but were unsure how they were going to make that happen.  Her parents had attended a spirits tasting and told them all you really need to make a quality spirit is good water and good grain, and their idea to move home and start a distillery to do just that was born.  They spent some time in Boston to learn more about the process, and six months later they were in Duluth making their new found dream a reality.  Emily has a background in cooking and wine and got to work developing the recipes for their first product, gin.  She felt that gin was the best way to represent the Northern Minnesota theme of the lake and forests.  She develops the flavor profiles and recipes for all their products, and works with their lead distiller Erin Otis to test small batches and perfect the product before it hits the shelves.  They use local rye and botanicals, most of which come from Food Farm, where they are also able to forage for the sumac and spruce tips for their gin!

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Emily hasn’t noticed any barriers to being a woman in the liquor industry, but she has been intentional about building an inclusive production team where people feel comfortable.  And that makes a difference!  Vikre also partners with various organizations for fundraising endeavors.  Part of the proceeds from cocktails and cocktail kits sold in their tasting room go to charity, their current partner being Friends of the Boundary Waters to fundraise for their education and community outreach programs to make the Boundary Waters accessible to more communities.

You can find Vikre in our whiskey, vodka, aquavit, gin, liqueur, and ready to drink sections.  We recommend trying their Juniper Gin.



Brough Brothers – Louisville, KY | Brough Brothers is the first black owned bourbon distillery in Kentucky!  Founded by Victor, Bryson, and Chris Yarbrough; the three brothers came together to create real change in the neighborhood they grew up in and within the liquor industry.  They chose to build their distillery in their old neighborhood in Louisville to help with revitalization and to bring jobs to their community.  Bryson is also their master distiller, and the first black master distiller in Kentucky!  These brothers have certainly made a name for themselves already, and we’re excited to see where their endeavors will go next.

As a brand new distillery they only have one bourbon on the market right now, aptly named Brough Brothers.

Uncle Nearest – Nashville, TN  | The Uncle Nearest co-founder, CEO, and historian Fawn Weaver decided it was time to share the story of Nathan “Nearest” Green, the first ever black master distiller who taught Jack Daniels how to distill.  Once the Jack Daniels company finally acknowledged Green’s contribution to the spirit industry back in 2016, it was go time.  She partnered with Green’s great great granddaughter, Victoria Butler, who had just retired from the Department of Justice but came out of retirement to learn how to distill and became the first black female whiskey master blenderWith an all female leadership team to boot, Uncle Nearest is making headlines in the whiskey world.

We currently carry their 1856 Premium Aged Whiskey.


Benriach, The GlenDronach, and Glenglassaugh – Scotland | Dr. Rachel Barrie is the master blender for all three distilleries, and is known as Scotland’s First Lady of Whisky.  She is also one of the few female master blenders in the world, and the first female to be inducted into Whisky Magazine’s prestigious “Hall of Fame”.  Her background in chemistry and love for whiskey has made her an incredible asset to the scotch world.

We recommend trying The GlenDronach 12 Year scotch.


21 Seeds – San Francisco, CA | Kat Hantas wanted to turn tequila into something smooth, refreshing, and as approachable to drink as a glass of wine.  She started off by infusing tequila in mason jars in her kitchen, which she then started taking to parties and sharing with friends.  Her infusions were a huge hit so she partnered with her sister and best friend and they went to Mexico on the search for a tequila distillery and found one that was owned and predominantly staffed by women and 21 Seeds was born.  They even made it onto Oprah’s Favorite Summer Things list of 2020!

We recommend trying their Cucumber Jalapeno tequila.

Herradura – Jalisco, Mexico Silver tequila | María Teresa Lara started her career at Herradura as their quality control supervisor, moved her way up to serve as their manager of research and development, and retired as their master distiller.  She was both the first woman to lead production and the first female master distiller at a tequila distillery.  She has since retired but certainly made history during her career, and has passed down her expertise to her apprentice Karinna Enriquez who is the current master taster.

We recommend their Silver Tequila.

Revel – Morelos, Mexico | Okay, technically Revel makes agave spirits but they live in our tequila isle as they should so here we are.  The founder and CEO of Revel, Micah McFarlane (who is originally from Minnesota!), wanted to create a spirit that combined the roasting techniques of mezcal with the steaming techniques of tequila to create this agave spirit which is 100% made in Morelos, Mexico from avila agave.  His vision is to share Morelos with the world, and create high end agave spirits for everyone to enjoy.  You should definitely keep tabs on this up and coming distillery.

We recommend the Revel Blanco.


Appleton Estate – Nassau Valley, Jamaica | Joy Spence is a legend in the industry because after sixteen years as chief chemist at Appleton she became their master blender, the first woman master blender in the industry!  She started out teaching chemistry but decided to get some experience in the field.  While working at a job that was boring her, she saw the distillery bustling across the street and applied.  They loved her so much they made the position of chief chemist for her and hired her two weeks later.  Joy has dedicated her life to the rum industry ever since!  The Jamaican government has given her two awards for her dedication to the industry.  She received the “Order of Distinction in the Rank of Officer” and was the first woman to receive the “National Medal of Science and Technology”.

We recommend trying the Appleton Estate 12 Year.


Ghia – Los Angeles, CA | Melanie Masarin decided that drinking wasn’t for her anymore and while on a trip with friends started to think about how she could bring something fun and elegant to the NA world.  Inspired by her childhood in the Meditteranian, and the aperitifs her grandmother would serve, she launched Ghia.  Ghia is “a spirits-free apéritif adapted for modern times” and can be enjoyed over the rocks or as a part of many NA cocktails you can find on their website.

You can find Ghia in our non-alcoholic section by the registers.  Not sure if you’ll love it?  Don’t worry, it comes in single serving cans too, so why not give it a shot?

It’s Cap Corse Time!

by Tom Schneideker

Alright everyone, gather ’round: I need to introduce you to something very special to me. Its name is Cap Corse Quinquina Blanc, and you need to do yourself a favor and stick a bottle in the fridge. Cap Corse is a quininated aperitif wine that lives in our vermouth section. Is it vermouth? Well, no, not really; its bittering agent is quinine instead of wormwood. That same quinine is in the tonic in your G&Ts. It is technically part of the tonic wine family, which is very similar to Lillet. So similar, in fact, that both Lillet and Cap Corse date back to the same year, from the same country. These products use different grape varieties from their respective regions, different citrus, and different bittering recipes. While Lillet went mainstream and shied away from the Quina title (or ‘Kina’ as they dubbed it), Cap Corse stayed much closer to its original roots.


Cap Corse hails from the northern peninsula of Corsica off the French coast named, well, Cap Corse. It has been in production since 1872 and is still a family run operation on the island. Cap Corse is bright, fresh, and somehow perfectly sweet and bitter. It is made with an ancient thick-skinned relative of the leman named cedrat to add bring citrus and balance out the quinine bitterness. See, back in the day, quinine was imported from Africa and South America in the form of cinchona bark. It was used as a blood thinner and became the cure for malaria. Everything in a gin and tonic has a purpose, from the alcohol killing anything in the water, the tonic with malaria, and the lime for scurvy.


Now for the $18 question: how do you use Quinquina? First and foremost, the answer is 2 oz quinquina to 4-6oz soda or tonic water, to your taste. This is a refreshing low alcohol, sessionable cocktail. You can also toss a drizzle on top of a G&T for more of that bitter and citrus.


My favorite, however, is using quinquina in a white negroni. Use equal parts of a bone-dry gin (the new favorite is Greenhook), Cap Corse Quinquina, and Luxardo Bianco–a beautiful gentian liqueur akin to a more natural Campari. But here’s the kicker: you need to walk 100(ish) feet across the street to the co-op and buy a fresh grapefruit–an onerous task indeed. Once you add a half part of freshly squeezed grapefruit, stir, strain, and serve in a coupe or Nick and Nora glass. Its fresh, zingy citrus plays with the dry gin and bitter botanical perfectly. This is the only drink you need for these hot summer evenings.

I repeat:

Stir and strain into a coupe or Nick and Nora glass, and enjoy. 

Try it out and let us know what you think!

Interested in knowing more about quinquina, vermouth, and spritzes? Check out our summer class offerings!


GET SPRITZED! | Wednesday, August 11th, 6pm | Join Sam for a hands-on dive into the Spritz; from its origins as a soldier’s drink in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to its modern-day, Aperol-branded incarnation. Along the way, we’ll mix up a smörgasbord of Spritzes, Spritz-relatives, and other aperitivo-inspired drinks in the France 44 Classroom.


HOMEMADE VERMOUTH: A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE | Thursday, August 19th, 6pm | We bet you didn’t know you could make vermouth yourself! We’ll go into the history behind vermouth and learn the classic components and steps for batching your own aromatized, fortified wine – we’ll supply the ingredients, and you’ll leave with a small batch of a hand-crafted vermouth of your own.

Adding Voices to the Conversation: Small Efforts, Big Impact

by the France 44 staff

Last week, Bill wrote a piece about the sexism that exists within the beer industry, and what our response as a business should be to it. A lot of the questions he posed are not easy ones to answer. What should our criteria be when we’re deciding what products to promote in our store? What should our response be when we learn about makers and producers who harm or cause trauma to others? Are we doing enough in our own business to make sure our employees are safe, respected, and happy?

The pandemic has perhaps allowed us (or forced us) to take stock of a lot of things. We’ve looked at how we spend our time, what we consume, and how we consume it—be it food, alcohol, information, entertainment, etc. Maybe we’ve decided to prioritize things differently now that we’ve experienced “time” in a different way.

And perhaps, while experiencing a different lifestyle this past year, while hearing voices different from our own speak, and coming to see things in a new light, we’ve learned the power behind the word “no.” No more misogyny. No more uncomfortable situations. No more making excuses for others. No more saying, “that’s just the way this industry is.” No more turning a blind eye. No more silence.

We know sexism and misogyny exist in many industries—it’s not specific to the beer, liquor, wine, or hospitality sectors. You’re here on our wines and spirits blog, so you’ve gotten a peek into this particularly male-dominated world. There are a lot of things that need to change, and it can be pretty depressing to realize how deep we need to dig in order to uproot all the rottenness.

True and lasting change is brought about by building a firm foundation of many small, individual efforts of pushing back, saying no, standing alongside and fighting with others for better things, and creating a small corner of the world that functions differently—that is to say: in a respectful, equal, safe, and supportive way. It doesn’t sound like too much to ask for, but these standards can be surprisingly scarce in a world ruled by a bunch of white guys.

We have more gender diversity on our staff than ever before. We’re so lucky—and so proud—to have such a wide array of voices, backgrounds, and perspectives that we can learn from and champion for. Each of the folks below has highlighted a maker/producer within our industry that has helped to inspire, challenge, or create important memories for them. We hope you’ll be equally inspired to try them out, continue the dialogue, and support the larger vision for a better future.


Hailey: El Maestro Sierra Fino Sherry combines two things that excite me greatly; unique and delicious wine plus an inspiring story of women doing their damn thing in an industry dominated by machismo. The El Maestro Sierra bodega was established in 1830 by José Antonio Sierra, and is now run entirely by his female ancestors. Dr. Carmen Morrega Pla took over after the death of her mother Doña Pilar Pla Pechovierto in 2021. That might not sound so wild if you aren’t familiar with the context, but it is quite rare to find a winery in Spain (or globally, for that matter) where this is the case. That’s a rabbit hole I’ll spare you from for now. We’re talking about an industry that historically has been, and is still to this day, dominated by aristocratic dudes – so, you can imagine the determination, bad-assery and perseverance these women must have had. 


I could go on and on about why sherry is so intriguing and crazy (google “solera system” if you want to get nerdy and have your mind blown into a million pieces), but I’ll leave it with a quick note on this specific wine. Fino sherry is one of the lightest, most delicate styles of sherry made, so expect a bone-dry wine with super high acidity and notes of saline, thyme, cashew, lemon zest and a touch of ripe apple. If you like oysters/shellfish, cheese, risotto, or just food in general, this is for you! 


Kayla: Oberon is my favorite summer beer. It’s clean, refreshing and reminds me of cabin season. Going to the lake, and riding around on a pontoon boat with my family. Beach-towel-model Maddy couldn’t agree more.  

Tashi: You might remember reading about Erstwhile Mezcal in my first blog post for France 44 about drinking sustainably. I’m here to talk about it again because my experience writing that blog was incredible!  Our distributors were very supportive of my endeavor and linked me with distilleries that fit my criteria. I was able to get in contact with the co-founder of Erstwhile, Yuan Ji.  She took time out of her day to have a zoom meeting with me and give me a mezcal 101 lesson and tell me all about the amazing things her company is doing.  It was incredibly impactful for me to have so much support from perfect strangers while I was writing this piece to share with my France 44 family. The time and care Yuan took to connect with me is the kind of thing I love to see at work and in my everyday life. We live in a world built by and for men and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or overlooked or just plain tired.  Supporting each other in our endeavors, no matter how big or small they might seem, is so important. Yuan did that for me. Not to mention that Erstwhile works directly with small family owned mezcal producers that utilize the skill sets of all family members and give them a voice.  Yuan was able to get me some quotes from the daughter of one distiller and the niece of another who are heavily involved in getting their family’s mezcal out into the world. We currently have Erstwhile’s Espadin Mezcal, which is the perfect balance of sweet and smoky.  I had never tried mezcal before tasting Erstwhile and while celebrating my blog post with the rest of our liquor team, I found it to be delicious. Even for a beginner! I’ll forever be thankful (and a big fan) of what Yuan and her Erstwhile family are bringing to the liquor world


Melissa: Seven years ago, I started a journey into cider drinking. It became a hobby/passion for me and I wanted to learn as much about it as I could. Most of the books and articles I read were from well-known cider producers that were men. It was all great information from people I have huge amounts of respect for, but there seemed to be voices of women missing.

In a conversation with other cider enthusiasts, the name Eleanor Leger came up. Eleanor is the founder of Eden Cider in Vermont and took the cider world by storm with her ice cider. Since 2001, she has continuously produced beautiful ciders that pay respect to the apples she uses to make them. More than that, she has given her voice to the cider community and helped throw a spotlight on women in cider.

At CiderCon 2019 (an annual cider convention for makers and enthusiasts to get together), I had an opportunity to meet Eleanor. I was nervous about this because she is a cider superhero of sorts. Turns out, she is a “normal” woman. She is easy to talk to, ready to share experiences, techniques, and ideas with her colleagues, and always encouraging of those around her.

Eleanor is a pioneer in the US Craft Cider industry and a role model for women wanting to be cider producers.


Karina: I first met Leah Jorgensen (pirate princess, owner, and winemaker) when she visited France 44 several years ago. Leah makes Loire-Valley-style wines in the Rogue Valley, located in southern Oregon. Not many people know about the Rogue Valley (the Willamette Valley gets all the fame and glory), and not many people make wine the way Leah does. She draws from her Scandinavian/Italian heritage as well as from her deep-rooted loved for the wines of France’s Loire Valley to form her remarkable winemaking philosophy. As a shy and introverted wine-baby back in 2016, Leah’s charisma and spunk shocked me into believing I could forge my own path in the wine industry. She is an extraordinary, unapologetic, and brilliant force in the wine world.

Drinking with a Purpose

by Tashi Johns | Welcome to my next installment of drinking with intention!  You might have seen my first blog post, “Drinking Sustainably” written for Earth Day this year. During my research I was inspired to do a part two where I feature distilleries giving back to their communities.  Who doesn’t love a delicious drink that helps put some good back into the world?



During my quest to find eco-conscious distilleries I read about Du Nord, located here in Minneapolis, and knew I had to write another blog piece that would feature them and highlight all they’ve accomplished within the last year alone. 

On Monday, May 25th George Floyd was murdered by a police officer which created city wide unrest.  The following Friday, the riots that also erupted reached the Du Nord warehouse and it was burned down.  The owners, Chris and Chanelle Montana, saw how much their community was hurting and decided to turn this set back into a way to support their community.  They started by creating a GoFundMe page to raise money “as a way to support small and under-represented business owners, whose physical stores or offices were damaged as a direct result of the civil uprising and were under-insured, or lacked critical funding to get them back into business again.”  This funding helped rebuild the  Du Nord warehouse and supported businesses across the Twin Cities.  By June they had created the Du Nord Foundation and were able to distribute these emergency funds to 76 businesses in a total of $496,751 to rebuild and revitalize.

I was able to chat with Chris and he told me about the strides he has taken as a business owner to help instill change in the industry.  Du Nord is the first black owned micro distillery, and if you check out their team page you will see a wide variety of diversity on their staff – something not often seen at distilleries.  Chris said that the murder of George Floyd really made him think about what Du Nord was doing.  It was a wake up call to do more and to ask how big they can go, which is how the Du Nord Foundation came to fruition.

Two days after their warehouse burned down, Chris was assisting a pop up food pantry by lending them some space in the distillery (see title photo) to store the donated items because it was about to rain.  As they were moving in, neighbors stopped by to donate and volunteer, and a line of community members needing supplies formed down the block.  Overnight the Du Nord Community Market was up and running by the power of dedicated volunteers.  It ran every day for two weeks (until they had to close for building cleanup and renovation), and in those two weeks they utilized 300 volunteers and helped 400 families each week.  They were recently able to re-open their community market and are now taking orders online with curbside pickup.

Chris has spent a lot of time thinking about how to use his place as a business owner to help create an equitable distribution of wealth to build generational wealth, and says that owning a business is the best way to do that.  So the “BIPOC Wealth Development & Incubator Project” was born. This is a way for Du Nord spirits to funnel profits into the Du Nord Foundation nonprofit to create a hub to grow BIPOC small businesses trying to come up in the food and beverage industry.  These businesses will be given space, access to a commercial kitchen, and be able to sell their products and build their brand right out of the distillery.  They won’t have to pay rent, so they can take the time they need to perfect their products and build their brand.  If they choose to pay rent it will be on a sliding scale and that money will go directly back into the program.  There will be no time limit on how long these businesses can use the space either.  Du Nord is in the works to purchase properties to launch the incubator project, including an expansion into north Minneapolis which will also house a second location for their Community Market.  You can read all about this venture here.

One last thing I would like to share about the amazing work Chris and his team have accomplished is their production of hand sanitizer.  In the beginning of the pandemic when we were experiencing a shortage of hand sanitizer Du Nord decided to start producing it.  They originally were giving it away, but order requests started coming in so they were able to sell it at a reasonable cost and bring people back to work and give them hazard pay to make it.  This benefited both Du Nord and the community at large, and you can still order hand sanitizer on their website!

You really can’t beat a local distillery doing good across the twin cities.  I highly recommend checking out their website, giving their cocktail room a visit once it opens again, and maybe even volunteering with the Community Market!  We are happy to carry Du Nord products and hope you will give them a try next time you visit our store.

You can find Du Nord in our vodka, gin, whiskey, and liqueur isles. I highly recommend trying their L’Etoile Vodka and Cafe Frieda Coffee Liqueur.


Northland Spirits was co-founded by Mark Parrish with some friends to create a company that gives back to their community.  Mark comes from the hockey world, even playing on the 2006 US Olympic team.  So naturally, 5% of all sales go to support local Minnesota community hockey programs.  Their vodka is organic (they’re working on the certification but it’s made with organic corn) and made with all local ingredients, keeping the entire process in Minnesota and then giving back to keep our tradition of hockey thriving!

They only make vodka right now so our recommendation is an obvious one, The Spirit of Hockey.


Last year when the pandemic began, St. Agrestis stepped up to help provide hand sanitizer when there was a severe shortage nationwide.  They donated hundreds of gallons to folks like the NYPD, FDNY, hospitals, and Black Lives Matter organizers “to ensure that those protesting and marching for change were protected”.  They also recently joined a mentorship program which focuses on giving people of color foundational experience in the liquor industry, focusing on management and ownership.

Another cool thing St. Agrestis has done, to connect back to my drinking sustainably blog, is create large format products to cut back on packaging waste.  The St. Agrestis Spritz is sold in kegs, which are lightweight and recyclable.  If the equivalent amount of glass bottles were used to make the cocktail traditionally, about 36 lbs of glass would be used.  This switch has resulted in a waste reduction of 92%!  Since inception they have decreased the weight of recycling by over 15,000 lbs!

St. Agrestis also donates to local school organizations and community groups as a way to give back and stay connected to their city.

You’ve probably tried the St. Agrestis Amaro and Inferno Bitter, so we recommend trying one of their new “bag in a box” cocktails!  We have all three: Negroni, Black Manhattan, and Boulevardier.

A Graphic Designer’s Guide to Liquor

by Dio Cramer

A full two years into legal-liquor buying, I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert. Just kidding! The truth is that I am still at the stage of life where price is the most important variable in choosing my alcohol. After that, I turn to the design of the label, which is a much more interesting way to choose liquor.

A little intro for y’all since I am new to the blog — Hello! My name is Dio and I have been doing graphic design for France 44 and the Cheese Shop for about a year now after getting my start in the wonderful St. Paul Cheese Shop. I’m a designer and illustrator, a Capricorn, and also someone skeptical of the “don’t judge a book by its cover” mentality. You can certainly judge it after you have actually read the book, but up until that point, I believe the cover can give you a valid sense of what lies ahead and whether or not it’s going to be worth it. Same goes for liquor. Even before I knew what kinds of liquors I liked the taste of, I loved looking at the labels.

Labels, bottle shapes, and general marketing is incredibly important in the world of liquor. These elements form a personality that draws targeted demographics towards (or away from) a specific bottle and often guide them in choosing one bottle over another. This is especially influential when you can’t taste the very thing that you’re buying. Designers use visual aids to tell a story that we internalize, either consciously or subconsciously, and help us form opinions about the bottle before popping the cork.

With liquor labels, I’ve found that the great designs seem to fit into two main categories: nostalgia and novelty. Some brands stick with the same design that they have been using for years, and other newer brands try to emulate that same classic or nostalgic vibe. This feels right for liquor that is aged or brands aiming for a sophisticated look. On the flip side, many brands use novel designs to try and get customers to pay attention to their bottle and buy their product. This latter category of novel designs is what I focus on in this piece, but perhaps there is another blog post in the future that dives more into the history of liquor labels and explores the nostalgic and classic designs.

Nostalgia vs Novelty

A liquor store is a fantastic place to explore the contours of your design tastes and expand your design terminology. To begin, I spent some time comparing the Gin section to the Whiskey section. The difference is stark. Obviously, whiskey is a much darker liquid than the clear gin, so right away the two aisles feel emotionally different. Many of the whiskey labels had dark caps and labels with contrasting white text. The serif and script fonts combined with dainty flourishes create a vintage and old-timey feeling. Age is an important factor in whiskey so many of these bottles have large numbers incorporated into the design, advertising how many years the whiskey aged. Most of the classic whiskey brands are aiming for that classic, dated look.

The gin aisle, on the other hand, has a much lighter and more modern feeling. It seems that the goal here is timelessness. Many labels have thin text with light decorative elements, and blues and greens seem to be the primary colors of choice. One of my favorite label designs is Future Gin, followed by the “Blue” from Forthave Spirits. These two designs are eye catching, but for different reasons. Forthave Spirits is emulating old homemade concoctions with their handwritten script label. A bottle like this would fit into the apothecary vibe, which I’ll admit I am a sucker for. The Future Gin is immediately eye catching with colorful (yet pastel) abstract art. It looks modern but in a kind of timeless way.

Moving on to the rest of the store, I chose bottles that stood out to me, and then tried to sort them into distinguishable sub-categories. I came up with: bold graphic, hand-drawn, geometric, tarot card, and new-wave psychedelic. 

Bold graphics


The tactic here is obvious – designing a beautiful bottle that sticks out among the rest. Some of these have only illustrations and minimal text, some use the text as the graphic to draw your eye, but all of them will capture your attention as you scan the aisles.

Hand-drawn art and text


I am particularly drawn towards hand-drawn art, partly because that is what I do and partly because it adds a human element to design. These bottles have character–they feel more alive than their neighbors. These can feel modern like the pen and highlighter design of Secsy Mbole, or elegant and nostalgic like the Branco de Sta. Cruz. If I were to design a liquor label, it would probably fit amongst these hand-drawn labels.

Geometric designs


Geometric style of graphic design has far deeper roots than I can explore in a single blog post, but these bottles sure are eye-catching. In particular, these stand out from the nostalgic-style of many liquor labels. These designs are decidedly modern, which gives them a classy feeling. I might choose one of these as a gift. Elegant and lively, a good visual addition to any house (Of course, I’d hope the contents were appreciated too.)

New-wave psychedelic beer art


This sub-category is specifically for beer labels. If any wine or spirit bottles in our shop fit into this category, I certainly missed them. Craft beers are all the rage these days. They are popping up left and right, and the makers have turned to wild, out-there marketing in an attempt to distinguish their products from the rest. Many of these labels are designed to appeal to counter culture stoner types, much like the psychedelic phase of the 60’s. To that point, I am currently drinking Prairie’s Vape Tricks, which is not only delicious, but visually a piece of pure stoner art with green and yellow mouths blowing trippy shapes out of smoke. Craft beer is certainly the most graphically out-there of the liquor world, and these labels do not disappoint.

Tarot card theme


Last, and perhaps most interestingly, is the theme of the Tarot cards. The other subcategories I found are general design categories, but this is thematic and much more specific. These bottles are characterized by mythological figures, magical themes, and hand-drawn illustrations that emulate the design and feeling of tarot cards. Some feature biblical-like scenes of destruction and devils like Rabble and Chamucos, and some are more mystical and whimsical like AlterKind Stranger, and Il Mostro. Perhaps it’s the long history of witchcraft and alcohol-like concoctions that make these bottles so appealing — or perhaps it’s the figures that give them so much character — but these are the bottles I am most intrigued by. Each of these designs contain a story, and the intrigue into that story is what makes me curious about the liquor inside.

What are the labels you are drawn to? Are they nostalgic or novel? Crisp geometric shapes or hand-drawn mystical? Does the personality of the label match the contents?

Personally, I plan on taking home Il MostroKind Stranger, and Future Gin, where I can promise you these bottles will live on in my home as vases and other vessels once the alcohol is long gone, as I am unable to get rid of beautiful bottles or jars of any kind. Maybe then I can report back on the full sensory experiences of these liquors, contents included.

Drinking Sustainably for Earth Day (and every day!)

by Tashi Johns

As a new member of the liquor team I decided to combine my background in sustainability with learning about our products to bring you a brief guide to drinking sustainably on Earth Day, and every day!  You might be familiar with the concept of a carbon footprint, where you measure your environmental impact on the world based on your lifestyle habits (if not, you can learn all about that here).  It’s important to know where our food and beverages come from, with a major emphasis around buying local to decrease your impact, but how often do we think about these things when at the liquor store?  I’m excited to share with you a few distilleries doing really cool things to reduce their environmental impact, and take you on a tour through our liquor isles to feature a sustainable treat from each section.  We don’t always have a lot of control over what kind of impact our everyday lives make on the environment, but we can be more conscious shoppers and try some new things in a toast to mother earth.

courtesy of Far North Spirits

Far North –  Hallock, MN | Far North takes their environmental impact seriously, and I’m happy to say that we carry quite a few of their products.  They start by growing their own grain (except malt barley) on the distillery property, reducing the need to bag and ship grain.  The spent grain is then used as fertilizer on the fields.  Far North is so good at reducing, recycling, and composting that they don’t even have a landfill dumpster on site!  They’ve adopted water conservation techniques during the distillation process to reduce waste, they carefully source their botanicals and spices, and also purchase their barrels from local cooperages focused on responsible forestry practices.  There is plenty more I could go on about, like their intentional farming practices and eco-friendly building, but let’s keep this blog moving.

You can find Far North products in many of our liquor sections – rum, bourbon, gin, vodka, and whiskey!  We recommend trying their newest release, Solveig Anna’s Garden Gin.

Cosmo Bianco - Tattersall Distilling
Tattersall Cosmo Bianco

Tattersall – Minneapolis, MN | Everyone loves the mini Tattersall pre-mixed drinks we carry by the registers, and I’m happy to inform you that these impulse treats come from a company that cares about sustainability!  Tattersall sources their grains from Minnesota, most coming from within 45 miles of their distillery, and other ingredients for the distillation process and cocktail room from within 100 miles.  They participate in a spent grain program where local farmers pick up grain for animal feed, and have a robust composting program that includes waste from their cocktail room.  Tattersall also purchases their barrels from Minnesotan based cooperages, and started a new partnership with NetZro to turn spent grain into flour!

You can find Tattersall in almost all of our liquor sections – absinthe, aquavit, gin, rum, vodka, bourbon, whiskey, various crema and liqueur flavors, and three ready to drink cocktails!  We recommend trying their newest cocktail called the Cosmo Bianco.


Valentine Mayor Pingree Bourbon

Valentine Distillery – Detroit, MI | In 2019 Valentine implemented a sustainability plan focused on becoming a carbon neutral distillery and has been making moves to jump start that process.  They currently pay extra to purchase renewable energy to power their facilities, with plans to install wind and solar on site!  They installed a piece of water reclamation equipment that will recapture 95-98% of water lost during the distilling process, an important endeavor to the conservation of the Great Lakes, as well as a rooftop transfer unit that utilizes cold air from outside to cool the process water used during fermentation.  They also purchase their grain from farmers in the Great Lakes region and return the spent grain to them as animal feed.  Their cocktail lounge neighbor, MBrew, plants a palm tree every year as a part of their sustainability efforts and their most recent palm now grows in the distillery, capturing 30-40 pounds of carbon dioxide released during the fermentation process each year (see the top picture).  Valentine has made great strides to becoming carbon neutral!

You can find Valentine in our bourbon, whiskey, vodka, and gin sections!  We recommend trying their Mayor Pingree Bourbon.



Whiskey | Jack Daniel’s distillery sends 99% of used materials to be reused or recycled as a part of their Zero Waste to Landfill goal.  They’ve made lots of updates to their production process to reduce waste and save energy.  Their parent company, Brown-Forman, is leading sustainability companywide and invested in a wind farm in Kansas to offset 90% of energy consumption of all their distilleries.

Glenmorangie Nectar d Or

Bourbon | Maker’s Mark has a spring fed lake on the property which is a designated water sanctuary.  They focus heavily on watershed protection, have planted thousands of trees and bushes, purchased buffer land around the property, and introduced a reverse osmosis technique for recapturing water from the distillation process.

Scotch | Glenmorangie has created a partnership with Heriot-Watt University and the Marine Conservation Society known as the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (DEEP) to restore oyster reefs, which are some of the earth’s most endangered habitats.  They’ve also implemented the use of an anaerobic digestion plant to purify the by-products created through the distillation process, which drastically decreases their carbon footprint!*

The Botanist Gin

Gin | The Botanist uses all renewable energy at their distillery as well as a circulatory heating system to recycle hot waste water from the distillation process.  They support PlantLife and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust as a part of their dedication to biodiversity on the island, as well as the Botanic Gardens Conservation International in their mission to stop the extinction of plants, and also fund PhD students studying Scottish juniper.  They’ve also eliminated single use plastic on site and their glass bottles are recyclable.*

Mezcal | Erstwhile imports small batch mezcal from Oaxaca Mexico from two multi-generational family farms that take their mezcal seriously.  Giving small family farms the ability to produce mezcal in a way they can be proud of creates a more sustainable product.  Agave takes at least seven years to mature, and producers that aim for a consistent product year after year tend to rely on harmful farming practices.  Some mezcals are made solely from wild agave, some of which can take 35 years to mature, and are driving some species of agave to extinction.  By farming agave you help protect endangered wild agave species and by focusing on small batches you can maintain sustainable farming practices, like ensuring the agave gets to full maturation before harvesting. Every mezcal that Erstwhile releases is small batch and limited edition, ensuring the highest quality mezcal and best treatment of the agave plants.  Everyone wins when you give producers autonomy and don’t treat mezcal as a commodity.  Lidia Hernández shared with us that their family farm is “promoting the cultivation of wild agave varietals on our land, so they do not become extinct”.  And Vanessa García Santiago shared that her family farm uses organic compost made from bagazo (agave fiber leftover from the distillation process).  Erstwhile will continue to add more small family farms to their community as they continue to grow.*

Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water

Mixers | Everyone’s favorite mixer has big sustainability goals!  Fever-tree started by making all their packaging recyclable, and infinitely so.  Then they ensured their ingredients came from biodiverse sources, and planted London’s First Tiny Forest with plans to fund other urban tree planting projects.  They’ve been studying their supply chain and carbon footprint to create changes and offset their impact.  Not to mention their commitment to eliminating malaria around the globe.*



I would like to give a BIG thank you to a few people who helped make this blog happen!  Taylor Stein – our rep from The Wine Company, Yuan Ji – cofounder of Erstwhile, Sarah Warde – Sales Manager at Valentine Distillery, and Anika Hager – Coordinator at Native Sustainability.  I hope this blog post gave you some ideas about how your next cocktail might just help you be a little more eco-conscious in your everyday life!  Cheers!



*There is a significant carbon footprint in shipping products overseas however I did want to feature these companies doing what they can to offset their environmental impact, because we can’t always eat or drink locally.

**I would also like to note that organic does not necessarily equal sustainable, so don’t let greenwashed marketing fool you!  Make sure you do your homework before purchasing if this is something you truly care about.