The 45th Parallel Distillery Story
Our premium products arrive from a small, family-owned distillery in the Western Wisconsin town of New Richmond, situated about 50 minutes east of downtown Minneapolis. Using a hands on approach, every drop in every bottle of 45th Parallel Vodka is entirely produced and bottled within our facility.
Our grain is of the highest quality. A local farmer, graced with a most superb reputation of skill, consistency and honesty, supplies our grain. Taking much personal care in our process, we patiently ferment our mash and slowly distill in small batches to avoid unwanted flavors. We filter carefully in an effort to retain the positive elements. Too much filtering removes the good with the bad leaving a vacant spirit without body and flavor.
Our method embraces the natural flavors extracted from the grains; an expression of the land. Our vodka proudly has no additives. The result is a sweeter aroma and a clean and balanced taste; an artisan alternative to other mass produced varieties.
A marker on the side of old Highway 51 in Wisconsin, north of Wausau, south of Merrill, informs passersby they are at the 45th Parallel (half-way between the equator and the North Pole).
This latitude is immediately shared with Minneapolis-St. Paul, then South Dakota’s plains, Yellowstone National Park, Idaho and Oregon. To the east marks Door County Wisconsin, Michigan, northern Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
On the other side of the world markers are perhaps visible in France’s famous Burgundy and Bordeaux wine regions, Italy’s Piedmont Region, the Balkans, China, Russia, and northernmost Japan.
Our facility is located within a few miles of the 45th parallel.
It is our family’s belief in hard work, commitment to strict standards of excellence, and determined focus that we will produce our 45th Parallel Vodka of unparalleled quality.
The 45th Parallel Process
Have you ever wondered what it takes to make premium vodka that is TRULY handcrafted?
We take our time to provide the best vodka possible. The process is slow and every aspect of the production process is controlled by us.
We are few in number.
Paul Werni is the founder and owner of 45th Parallel Spirits, LLC, but a process this intensive can’t be done alone. Scroll down to meet the team members.
Paul Werni is originally from Milwaukee, grew-up in the small north central Wisconsin town of Merrill. It is near there that Paul first saw the roadside sign for the 45th parallel. Paul followed his oldest sister to Minneapolis to go to school. There he met his wife, Tina. They settled in Northeast Minneapolis and started a family. In the city he started a landscape construction business with a close friend. Ten years later after helping build a successful business, Paul personally decided to move on. Relatively secure, he figured he could stay home up to a few years, while he decided what to do next and spend more time with his kids. Three months later the idea for 45th Parallel came to be. Paul wanted to create world class vodka with a manageable staff and facility in the Midwest where the grain is grown.
Paul read anything he could find on distillation, rereading some things many times. He attended a couple of workshops in the New Hampshire and traveled to Germany and Austria to tour and gain more knowledge about small distilleries. He learned with the help of Christian Carl’s Alexander Plank and Nicholas Haase. They answered more questions than they probably thought could be asked. Admittedly, Paul is more self-taught than formally trained in distillation methods. He found with time and study creating high-quality premium vodka is reasonably achievable. The only thing in his way was fear. Starting a distillery is expensive, relatively rare and risky. With his wife and family approving of the gamble he set out to build 45th Parallel Spirits, LLC.
Scott Davis and Paul met over 20 years ago loading trucks at UPS and became college roommates. Presently they live blocks from one another easily in reach of a cribbage board. Over breakfast at Brownies Café in Northeast Minneapolis he first learned of Paul’s desire to start-up a distillery. Scott followed 45th Parallel’s progress with the anticipation of some day joining it. Scott brings to 45th Parallel a passion for the spirits and food industry and another creative mind. He has worked both the front and back of the house in such establishments as Chez Foley, Table of Contents, Joe’s Garage, The Loring Pasta Bar and more recently as one of co-owners of Auriga Restaurant. He has also spent three and a half years selling wine for World Class Wines, a local distributor out of Eden Prairie, Minnesota. After helping his wife Erin open Toast Wine Bar & Café in the North Loop Warehouse District, Scott felt it was time to add his skills to the distillery.
With his passion for food, especially baking, Scott found the process of fermenting grain and distilling as a very similar experience, as well as a challenge. “It always amazes me that with only a few ingredients you can create a consistent, high quality product.” The challenge then, and excitement, was to create world class vodka using only local corn, a little luck and the determination and hard work of his long time friend Paul. His inspiration to help create a high quality product like 45th Parallel is only equaled by his desire to beat Paul in cribbage.
Paul Werni (Sr) (November 23,1941 – August 16, 2011) was a retired phone man with an interesting story. Being of German heritage and born in Serbia at the beginning of WWII, he lost his father and home to the war. After the war Paul Sr. with his mother, brother and one sister came to this country on a boat with few belongings. They settled in Milwaukee where they worked hard, assimilated, sacrificed and provided opportunity for their kids. Unless asked, he rarely spoke of his past. He was always focused on the present and the future. Paul Sr. presently, was lending his “golden” time to his son and the distillery. When the distillery was in production, he would drive three hours each way every week to help out. He arrived on Sunday, so Paul can have a day at home. He usually stayed a few days helping work the ferments and distilling equipment. Carol his wife of almost 50 years accepted his time away.
Shafer Hartman – was born and raised on the west side of the St. Croix River Valley in Lindstrom, MN a few miles from Shafer, MN. His father (a humorous man) named him after the town of Shafer. While in college he took a job working for Paul on his landscape crew through a friend. Five construction seasons and a knee injury later he left the stone and brick behind. Working as a bartender in Minneapolis, he drew pictures of houses on cocktail napkins. Then, in 2004 he began construction on his first home in NE Minneapolis. This pursuit began years of battling the volatile construction and real estate industry in Minneapolis and later in Minot, ND. Away from MN in Minot, Shafer experienced a version of the “wild west”. He soon grew weary of the long and windy days of Minot construction and returned to Minneapolis for good in late 2012. He then began a spec house the next spring.
Later that summer Shafer received a voicemail from Paul. “He sounded serious and asked me to call him immediately. I was worried something had gone wrong”. On the contrary, Paul wanted and needed Shafer to come back to work with him at 45th Parallel as the sales manager. “My reply was to remind him of my complete lack of experience, and then to say yes!” Shafer quickly learned about the spirits industry and 45th Parallel’s production process. He believed knowing the process before entering the market will lead to success. “My job is to go out in the market and get people excited about our products. Participating on every level of production and having exceptional spirits to sell makes it a lot easier.” Although Shafer finds himself selling in new markets every month, when he is back working at the distillery, he loves: “Hauling the mash out to the cattle farm several times a week in the old 1980, 1 ton Chevy. This is the same truck I drove for Paul in the landscape business 15 years ago. “
The Farm – Our grain source is important to us, because we do all the fermenting and distilling ourselves, we do not contract anything out. We do not buy neutral grain spirits. As small distillery we are fairly unique in that regard. Every drop of vodka we put in our bottles is fully created by us for you from the grain grown by our local farmer.
When 45th Parallel first started distilling we got the grain from the local Blue Ribbon Mill. It was a small mill with good people, but we needed a finer ground corn than they could provide. Next we tried the larger Domain Mill. Domain was accommodating too, but it is more suited for feed than grist for a distillery. We needed a consistent grain source. The owner of Domain recommended a farmer by the name of Arlen Strate. Dick Gillis of Blue Ribbon said, “Arlen has the most consistent crops and he is honest, he won’t try to slip anything by you.” The local John Deer dealer agreed. That being said, Paul called Arlen and asked if he would be interested in supplying our grain. Arlen said, no. A week later Paul, asked him again. Changing his tone Arlen agreed to supply the corn and grind it if Paul was willing to pick it up. Since then 45th Parallel Spirits is using corn from Arlen Strate’s Rusmar Farm. The name Rusmar derives from his father Russell and mother Margaret. Rusmar is purposely a manageable five hundred acre family farm. A local said, Strate’s fields look like lawns. Arlen said his farm is not too big so he doesn’t have to worry about employees. Arlen works his farm with his son John. Coincidentally, Arlen’s farm is smack-dab located on the 45th parallel.