The first seeds of Brother Justus Whiskey Co. were sown twenty years ago, when founder Phil Steger was a student at a Benedictine university in the heart of Minnesota moonshine country. Old-timers told stories of a prolific underground whiskey industry during Prohibition. Some even told of active stills hidden in the Avon and Holdingford hills.
After college, the Benedictines hired Phil to help preserve endangered, centuries-old manuscripts belonging in some of the most dangerous places in the world. Writing manuscripts and making whiskey were both invented and perfected by monks. The first whiskey was distilled by Irish monks sometime in the 8th or 9th Century, who later brought the art to Scotland. The earliest written reference to whiskey is in a 14th Century manuscript. It records King James of Scotland’s order for whiskey from the monks of Lindares Abbey.
The vision for a new whiskey distillery in Minnesota was born when Phil made a pilgrimage to the monastery and hermitage of the well-known monk Thomas Merton. The monastery happened to be in Kentucky, about 30-miles from a world-famous bourbon distillery. Phil stopped by the distillery on his way back to Minnesota. The tour and introduction to whiskey making was a revelation. At the end of the tour, Phil looked over the distillery and barrelhouses and the grain-filled fields and wooded hills and dreamed of building such a place in Minnesota himself one day.
For the last three years we have been building this dream. Laboring out-of-sight in an underground distillery in Northeast Minneapolis, we have been selecting and testing varieties of single barley malt, perfecting our brewing and distilling techniques to produce the richest flavors and refine them into their purest, most delicious essences, and aging in barrels of various kinds and sizes to find the very best (Minnesota-grown and Minnesota-built).
After we started, Phil came across a book about Minnesota’s Prohibition history and read it cover-to-cover. In it, he came across a single sentence about a monk from the same Benedictine university where he went to college. The book told how that monk built whiskey stills and gave them away to the very same moonshining farmers Phil had heard the old-timers talking about. Those pure copper stills enabled the farmers to make the best whiskey in America, known across the nation (and across the ocean) as “Minnesota 13.” The monk’s name was Brother Justus.
Everything had come full circle. Our distillery found its name and inspiration.
Our sole aim now is to make great whiskey and do good in the tradition of Brother Justus, and to put Minnesota back in the center of the American whiskey map, where it belongs.