Traditionalist success lends to Minnesota spirits reputation

Published 7:28 pm Monday, March 11, 2024

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Justin Osborne, co-founder of The Traditionalist line of spirits, always had confidence that they would win an award for what they were distilling — he just didn’t think it would come so quickly.

And it almost went unknown in kind of a funny story of distiller David Wray not completely buying into the notice they were given by the American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA).

“We get an email at the beginning of February that’s dripping with ‘hey, we think your presence would be greatly appreciated here,’” Osborne said. “‘Your efforts have not gone unnoticed. (David) thought it was spam.”

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Still, it was welcome news for the young distillery, which is under the umbrella of Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery just east of Grand Meadow. The news was that The Traditionalist Classic Straight Bourbon was one of 16 bourbons to win a gold medal at the ACSA’s 10th annual Judging of Craft Spirits, held in the beginning of February and announced at the end of the month.

“We were hoping to get gold at some point,” Osborne said. “It was surprising and exciting to get this one so early because some of the other gold medal winners were seven years, 10 years.”

The Traditionalist has just over a four-year history having started in 2019. Its gold medal bourbon, which had a three-year age statement, was a blend of partial small-format barrels, double barrels and regular barrels, and was joined by The Traditionalist High Rye in gaining recognition.

“We started this in August of 2019, four and a half years ago,” Osborne said. “We are only as good as the decisions we made four years ago. One, we thought we had something good and it is actually good, and the other thing that’s really exciting is that High Rye got a silver. It was the only silver bourbon from the state of Minnesota.”

Osborne said that’s notable because The Traditionalist is now contributing to a host of bourbons and whiskies coming out of Minnesota that are putting the state on the map of quality produced spirits.

What Four Daughters is able to produce in The Traditionalist isn’t separated that much by what distilleries in Kentucky or elsewhere are providing.

“I 100% agree, because what do you need to make bourbon? You have to have good corn. We got that,” Osborne said. “You have to have good oak. We’ve got that. You’ve got to have good water. We’ve got great water. We’ve got the same stuff. Our wells are drilled into the limestone.”

“You’ve got to have changing seasons. We’ve got that,” he continued. “Then you have to have the knowledge. We have everything. There is no reason we can’t make world class bourbon right here.”

The medals help add foundation to that idea.

“My mind instantly goes to, can we do a clean sweep in the future?” Osborne said. “I think the High Rye and Wheat Rye are going to be just as good soon.”

Wray, who has been with Four Daughters since The Traditionalists’ beginning and distilling for seven years in total, said that winning the gold and silver medals establishes a process that is doing things the right way.

“It’s nice to get validation every now and again from your peers and know we’re doing something good,” he said. “It’s enjoyable for me starting at the bottom and watching it grow and proofing things as you go to make everything better.”

The Classic, which is an oated bourbon with heavy baking spice notes and savory characteristics, is one of five spirits in The Traditionalist rotation that is contributing to not only a spirited experience at Four Daughters, but something that everybody can relate to.

“We’ve always been about education and we’ve really tried not to be uppity,” Osborne said. “We try to make it approachable for someone’s tasting notes. You can easily taste the difference between each one.”

Fairly recently, the process has moved from aging in small format barrels to large form, a process that can be stressful, but necessary for long-form, sustainable distilling.

Being able to do that has reaffirmed the idea that The Traditionalist is on the right track.

“It’s a big game that you don’t shovel coal, but money into constantly to keep this thing moving along down the road,” Osborne said. “Should we keep shoveling more into it? Something like this happens and it’s like, yes. We did it right. We’re making the right decisions.”

And the state and region is starting to take notice. After spreading throughout the southern portions of Minnesota, Four Daughters has been picked up for distribution in the northern half of Minnesota and is waiting on word for increased distribution in Wisconsin. 

“It helps to win gold medals while they are making these decisions,” Osborn said with a grin.