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There are a lot of great breweries in the Twin Cities, where I live, but more exciting to me — as someone who enjoys a good beer but really prefers a cocktail — is the growing distillery scene. One new outfit is Norseman Distillery, which specializes in very classic, simple spirits and cocktails with just a slight twist.

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Among their more unique products is a leathered aquavit — or rather, was a leathered aquavit until our state government interfered (emphasis added):

The state of Minnesota has scolded Norseman Distillery, a Minneapolis maker of specialty spirits, for using nonfood grade leather in its Leathered Aquavit product and is advising consumers not to drink it.

No illnesses have been reported related to the product, which bears a label alerting consumers to its ingredients. The state’s Agriculture Department issued the consumer notice Thursday afternoon. Norseman’s owner and master distiller, Scott Ervin, was caught off-guard when the department sent him an e-mail shortly thereafter, demanding the firm immediately stop production.

“We’ve spent the last eight months going through due diligence, getting approvals at the federal and state level,” Ervin said, including the product’s formula and labeling. “We then took those certifications to the state — Department of Public Safety’s Alcohol (and Gambling Enforcement) division — and were given permission to sell it here in Minnesota.” […]

The state agency plans to empty the warehouse of Norseman’s distributor on Friday, he said.

So this distillery has jumped through all the regulatory hoops to create this product, and they’ve already been selling it. It’s apparently one of the most popular Norseman spirits. Then, after the aquavit debuted, the state decided to arbitrarily shut it down.

But the parts of this story which I find most frustrating are the two lines in bold: Not only has the leather not made anyone sick, but it’s clearly labeled on the bottle so drinkers concerned about illness can easily avoid it. (It’s also right in the name. I mean, come on.)

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And perhaps equally appalling is the state’s so-called solution to this so-called problem, which appears to be outright waste of good liquor. It’s also a blow to Norseman’s reputation, as this crackdown may suggest to customers who only hear half the story that the distillery is serving unsafe products — though, again, literally no one has become ill.

Unfortunately, this sort of onerous liquor regulation is more the rule than the exception. In fact, Norseman’s status as the first distillery in Minneapolis since Prohibition nearly a century ago is indicative of just how obnoxious the regulatory environment for alcohol is in America to this day.

Bonnie Kristian is a columnist at Rare, weekend editor at The Week, and a fellow at Defense Priorities. You can find more of her work at or follow her on Twitter @bonniekristian
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