Tyson Schnitker’s eyes brighten when he boasts about heat-feats: the warnings he’s heard and ignored, the waivers he’s signed and forgotten, the seeds and sauces that have made his head sweat.
“I really enjoy the rush that you get,” said Schnitker, the head distiller at Brooklyn Park’s Skaalvenn Distillery. “Once you get over the fact that your mouth is on fire, and ‘This hurts’, and ‘Oh, my life is ruined’ … but it feels so good, and it tastes so good, but you need to stop, so you give yourself a minute but then you take another spoonful.”
Now, Schnitker is putting his co-first loves together in one bottle. Meet Skaalvenn Habanero Rum.
The spirit is inspired by the fiery goods he and his wife, Mary, have enjoyed on their travels; but Schnitker also tipped a cap to the North Loop’s Bar La Grassa, where a spicy margarita really turned on the bulb.
“[I thought] This needs to be something that can be sold,” he said. “I went home and starting making drinks.”
Easy, right? Just throw some peppers into the bottle and wait a few days, right? Not quite.
Schnitker said the infusion process “isn’t rocket science, but it’s a pain in the rear.” Habanero peppers alone, he added, left something to be desired in the mouthfeel. For that, he brought Thai chili peppers into the mix. The result: a consistent, clean heat that isn’t toxic or “stupid hot.” In the “shitty daiquiri” (his words) he whipped up during a tasting session, the rum shone without overwhelming.
It makes no mistake about its identity when served by itself. From the first sniff on in, if spirits are “Running Man” villains, this one is definitely …
Yeah, about that. Fireball.
Schnitker took care when designing this rum, avoiding the addition of sugar and letting the peppers do their work unimpeded. This, he says, should do a good job quashing any comparisons to the gimmicky whiskeys and flavored vodkas that dork up liquor store aisles.
Skaalvenn has been on shelves for less than 18 months, but positioned itself quickly among local spirits as a big bang for a small buck with core products (vodka and uninfused rum) costing $19.99 or less at most locations. The ensuing success, said Schnitker, allowed him the window to take a risk.
“If it fails, I don’t care,” he says. “I’m just making what I want to drink.”
You can expect bottles of Habanero Rum to pop up on shelves sometime in October.
Find more information about Skaalvenn Distillery at skaalvenn.com.