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Inside Elusive, Dashfire’s soon-to-open botanical cocktail room - Pioneer Press

by Jared Kaufman - jkaufman@pioneerpress.com

October 13, 2022


After almost 10 years quietly producing high-quality bitters and

ready-to-drink canned cocktails that are sold across the

country, Dashfire is growing.


The company, which began in St. Paul, recently moved from

Minnetonka to the Thorp Building in Northeast Minneapolis,

where they share a wall with Tattersall. Now, they plan to open

a cocktail bar before the end of the year.


“It’s a little bit of a Wonka situation,” Dashfire founder Lee

Egbert said. “‘They’ve been doing stuff behind closed doors, but

now they’re going to open those doors to the customers’ — so

it’s kind of fun.”


The massive new production facility — but especially the

cocktail room, which will be called Elusive — has the feel of a

whimsical, energetic lab. The Dashfire production team makes

certain spirits with local botanicals they forage. An on-staff

botanist grows fresh plants under specialized lights. A table

along one edge of the bar space is covered with labeled bottles,

scales, plastic pipettes, and scrawled-on scraps of paper.

Through a window, a label was visible on a massive box: “LAB

STUFF.”


From the furniture to the walls, Elusive has a mid-century modern

look that Egbert said is an intentional nod to the country’s aesthetic when

NASA scientists, working furiously in their own labs, sent astronauts to

the moon.


This is a place to nerd out if you want to — and, just as easily, enjoy a

cocktail made completely in-house. Egbert said that, once final approvals

come in, Elusive will be open Wednesdays through Saturdays, with

Sundays reserved for events and behind-the-scenes classes.


As part of a distillery, the Elusive bar team has to approach

mixology in a similar experimental way, said Jeff Rogers, who

said his official title is “bar manager, but I kind of say that I’m

‘the Jeff around here.’” Rogers is building the cocktail program

with Tyler Kleinow and Robb Jones of Meteor Bar: Combined,

Egbert estimated, the trio has nearly 70 years’ experience.


Still, in a distillery setting, they’re forced to approach cocktails

in a new way. When a traditional cocktail bar wants to serve a

negroni, for example, bartenders would reach for Campari and

their sweet vermouth of choice to blend with gin. As a distillery,

Rogers said, Dashfire can only serve spirits they produce, so

classic bottles are off-limits.


In a way, Rogers said, this only makes their job more exciting.

By starting on the botanical level, the team can reverseengineer

cocktails to nail the exact aromatics and flavors

they’re seeking, rather than relying on the hope that they’ll

stumble across a missing puzzle piece to finish a drink.


“[A drink] might have the components of a negroni, but we’re

not trying to make a negroni,” Rogers said. “We’re trying to

make our own thing with our own flavors, based on the

botanicals that we’re using. Kind of breaking the mold.”


A deep understanding of plants and aromatics can also help

cocktails highlight local crops and tell stronger, more grounded

stories. A beverage could showcase an entire plant — with not

just coriander bitters, for example, but also a cilantro stalk

spirit and an herbaceous cilantro leaf liqueur.


“We’re trying to go with super unbelievable flavors, presented

in a real artistic way,” Rogers said. “Instead of just saying, ‘This

is a bottle of gin; it has 30 things in it,’ we’re going to be able to

talk about, what are those 30 things and why did we choose

them. That’s what I’m really intrigued by.”


And if the distillery is a lab and the bartenders are mad

scientists, everyone who takes a seat is a test subject in

Elusive’s experimentation. Some flavors might get weird,

Rogers said, but he and Egbert strive to keep things accessible

and create a safe, welcoming place to try something new.


“You come in and you’re in great hands, but it’s also a way to

experiment,” Egbert said. “If people want to dig deeper and

really go into the weeds with us, they’ll be able to do that.”


And it seems the experiments are off to a strong start. One jar on the lab

table contained an in-progress infusion of prickly ash, a shrubby

citrus related to Szechuan pepper. Egbert opened it, and the smell was

both complex and sinus-clearing. A citrus-flower liqueur that

incorporates some of the prickly ash infusion had a sweetness that Egbert

described as intentionally “cartoony” in its citric pop. A chicory liqueur tasted deep and raisin-y, like a toasty Pedro Ximénez sherry.


With botanicals at the forefront, seasonality becomes less

about nebulous autumnal flavors, for example, and more

about what plants are in season in Minnesota right now.

Distillers can coax out different flavors by infusing botanicals in

water versus alcohol, and temperature and ethanol content

matter, too. A bartender wants more prickly ash in a cocktail

than the citrus-flower liqueur recipe? They can simply pour

some in.


“So many dials to turn,” Egbert said.


Dashfire Bitters / Elusive: not yet open to the public; 1620

N.E. Central Ave., Minneapolis

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