MICHAEL SWANSON + CHERI REESE, OWNERS
Michael and Cheri returned home after 25 years and built Far North Spirits in 2013 on the family's 100-year-old farm. Michael is a fourth generation Minnesota farmer and the first in his family to marry farming with distilling.
They envisioned a portfolio of spirits focused on provenance: heritage and non-GMO grains, rich Red River Valley soil, pristine Lake Agassiz aquifer water, expertly-made Minnesota barrels, and their own Scandinavian heritage. They steadfastly believe in making the best spirits they possibly can.
Michael oversees all aspects of production from the seeds that are planted in the fields to the spirits that are put in the bottle. Cheri heads up sales, promotion and marketing.
Michael’s background includes research, technical service, sales and marketing in Denver and St. Paul. He holds an MBA from the University of St. Thomas and a BS in biology/chemistry from Concordia College, Moorhead. Cheri spent 20 years in public relations in Minneapolist-St.Paul prior to starting Far North Spirits. She holds a BA in English from Minnesota State University, Moorhead.
They spend every spare minute with their brood of critters –Weston, Millie, Ryely, Boo and Eeep.
BEN + COURTNEY PILKVIST
Ben and Courtney Pilkvist are our very own International-Duo. Courtney grew up on a farm just three miles west of the distillery. After moving to Europe for a few years, she brought home a full-blooded, native Swede. Courtney’s “real job” is working as a teller at a bank. She makes cocktails on the weekends to stay in touch with her creative side.
Ben was born and raised in the ‘Old Country’ and is our most recent hire in spirits production. His problem-solving attitude and Swedish flair make him a real asset in the distillery. He has a great eye for detail, which comes in handy during the workweek and is also expressed through one of his favorite hobbies: leather crafting.
You’ll find these two working together to bring finely crafted cocktails to life in the tasting room on Saturdays. (Pro tip: Ben makes a killer Old Fashioned.) If they’re not in the cocktail room, you can probably find them pouring beer at the local brewery or paddling around a lake on their stand-up paddle boards.
Courtney: Gin & ToniC
Hayley is behind the bar in Far North’s cocktail room on Saturdays whipping up excellent drinks, including a killer Mojito.
She grew up in Grand Forks and relocated to Hallock in 2015. Weekdays she’s an accountant for the Kittson County Highway Department and an extraordinary mom to four children all with the initials ELJ. Admittedly, she’s also obsessed with black pugs, especially her own Smudge and Nala.
Gerald + Shirley Carlson
Gerald and Shirley mix things up behind the bar at Far North on Saturdays. They share a storyline with Mike and Cheri in that they returned to Kennedy, where Shirley grew up, after careers in Minneapolis.
Gerald grew up in Big Falls, MN, a timber logging community. He holds a doctorate in psychology and was department head at Fairview Hospital’s mental health department for many years.
Shirley spent most of her career as director of administration for the YMCA of the USA. They are enthusiastic about food, wine, cocktails and travel. And, they agree that early retirement and the move back to Kittson County in 2009 has been their best decision ever.
Shirley: Basil Smash
Joan manages Far North's cocktail room and event space. She grew up in Hallock and returned to the area after graduating from college with a degree in Hospitality Management. She enjoys cooking, quilting and traveling, and visiting her grown kids Justin, Kaylee and Natalie.
She and her husband Terry live and farm west of Hallock with their dog Misty. She loves being part of a small town where everyone is friendly and cares about what happens in the community.
Favorite cocktail: naomi younggren redux
Aaron is Far North’s brand ambassador for Minneapolis-St. Paul. He interned with Far North in 2014 and brings his knowledge of production and distilling with him to every metro-area tasting.
He is passionate about craft spirits and experimenting with cocktails, often enlisting wife Meghan and friends to distinguish subtle flavor differences among his original cocktail creations. The furry trio of Dexter (black lab mix), T’Challa and Stasi (cats) keeps things humming on the home front.
You can find him on weekends pouring Far North Spirits and spinning a tale or two.