Heather Manley is the Founder and CEO of Crooked Water Spirits. Her journey in the distilling industry began with a surprising dill-infused aquavit, which promoted her to change the course of her life.

BW: What was the ‘aha’ moment that made you realize you wanted to start a distillery?

HM: I had a gorgeous dill aquavit from Gamel Ode. It was so incredibly fresh and bright, it forced you to stop and pause. That distillery used 50 pounds of dill per batch and it helped me understand the difference between micro and macro distilling. I compare it to the difference of having a strawberry out of your garden versus out of the store, it’s a night and day difference. I didn’t know that existed within the spirits world and from that moment I went home and start to think about what I could bring to market that didn’t exist.

BW: What product in your portfolio are you most proud of and why? 

HM: Old Hell Roaring Double Barreled is a gorgeous bourbon that spends 2+ years in a custom second cask that we created with a local cooperage that takes multi hours to create and no one else in the world has it. It has a very distinctive profile that is sophisticated and approachable.
My ready-to-pour a Negroni and Boulevardier took years of R&D, creating my own bitter orange liqueur and partnering with a well-known winery to make a custom vermouth that could rival our Italian counterparts.

Our Sundog gin is a New American style that is citrusy and bright, like summer in your mouth – and our number one seller.

BW: How would you describe Minnesota bourbon to people who might find it an odd concept?

HM: I’m not sure why Bourbon and Minnesota is an odd concept! We actually have a beautiful ideal environment for aging whiskey/bourbon. Though our state is relatively new to the distillery movement in the last 5-10 years, it’s catching up quickly. With hot humid summers and deep cold winters, the barrels flex dramatically which in turn brings more character to the whiskey/bourbon. Paired with a city that is incredibly entrepreneurial and creative, I find this to be only the beginning of Minnesota’s whiskey/bourbon boom and accolades

BW: What advice do you have for women who want to start distilleries?

HM: I would say absolutely! Understand distribution is the hardest aspect. If you’re not going to have a tasting room, you’ll need to understand the ramp-up and investment required. Network and find those ‘level 10” players that can accelerate the velocity of your brand in the marketplace. I’ve always been in support of the Lean Startup methodology to ensure you have a vision and product your community wants to buy into, which can justify future investments with confidence.

BW: Tell us about your perfect whiskey weekend in Minneapolis.

HM: My perfect whiskey weekend would be inviting my favorite whiskey friends over and diving into our home bar. It escalates quickly! If I was going to leave the house, I would head to Parlour for a burger and some sort of delightful whiskey cocktail of the day. I would then stop at the Hewing rooftop for sunset, duck fat fries, and their always solid Old Fashioned. Finally, I would nightcap at Merlins Rest Pub for the ultimate whisky selection…and maybe a scotch egg. If I was heading back home to the west suburbs, I’d stop at the Whiskey Speakeasy inside the Tequila Butcher in Chanhassen.

Photos Courtesy of Crooked Water Spirits


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