The Graduate Brings Big Flavors

by Paul Whyte

It looks like I’m back for another exciting quest for cocktails again this week. New staff writer Felicity Bosk will probably be doing this column more often than me, but I’ll try to keep looking for interesting contributions in the spirits realm for you to maybe try out when I get the chance.
I found myself finally going to a place that has been around in Duluth for quite a long time. Grandma’s in Canal Park! I’ve been living in the area my whole life and I wouldn’t doubt that I was a toddler the first time I dined at this establishment. There’s still the same taxidermies and random antiques adorning the main dining area from decades ago, and there’s also a person who has been a part of this operation since the early days that I was fortunate enough to meet on a deadline night. 

Featured Bartender: Erik Nelson. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I’m not the biggest fan of Canal Park, especially in the summer, but Erik Nelson has been holding down this edge of town for over 30 years. Between being a server and bartender at Grandma’s, Nelson is also the owner of J. Skylark, a toy store in the Dewitt-Seitz Marketplace just a block away. I wouldn’t doubt the first time I stepped foot in there I was also extremely young.

Interests & Activities: Erik seems to enjoy just getting away from the hustle and bustle and likes time outdoors with friends with perhaps a campfire when he gets the chance. 

Favorite Music: Erik enjoys music that spans from Talking Heads and Steely Dan all the way to Tune Yards and local acts like Superior Siren. His overall music taste is beyond many I’ve met doing this column. 

Featured Cocktail: The Graduate. When picking out a cocktail, Nelson kept it close with Vikre’s Spruce Gin. The Vikre distillery is across the street from Grandma’s. I love this gin, but it has a very distinct fresh but piney flavor that gin lovers might seek, and gin haters will likely shy away from. “You have to bring some big flavors to the table, otherwise they’ll be washed away,” said Nelson on the creation of this drink. Next to get added into the mix is Aperol, a liqueur that is a bitter with aromatic notes of citrus, rhubarb and kind of spicy. This is toned down with some margarita mix out of the gun, a couple limes squeezed in and a splash of cranberry. Nelson created this drink for a bar manager, Jess Robinson. Those who know a little about classic movies and Simon and Garfunkel should be able to get the reference. The drink was created in the early spring to help new college graduates celebrate, but it should be fitting for anyone wanting something smooth and citrus tasting, but also a little complex.  

How is it?: I’ll say this drink wrangles the out there flavors of the spruce gin and bitter but sweet notes of the Aperol pretty well. It ends up having refreshing citrus overtones that put the other “big flavors” in their place. A person who might not normally be into gin could find that this goes down very easily.