North Dakota Grows: Tyler and Red Pine Distillery

We got the beet on a sweet new use for one of our favorite North Dakota-grown products: sugarbeets.  Red Pine Distillery invites grown-ups to “drink in the beauty of distilled nature” in the form of Sugarbeet Vodka, as well as two “rum-style” Spiced and White Sugarbeet products.  Having just celebrated Red Pine’s first anniversary, the fantastic Tyle Seim has kindly offered up his thoughts on what it takes to craft excellence:

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Tell us about your connection to North Dakota.

I was born in Grand Forks and have grown up in this area my whole life. In fact, the only time I’ve lived outside of the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks area was when I attended the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) briefly for one semester. I came right back here and ended up at the University of North Dakota (UND). I’ve stayed here for a few reasons: I enjoy living close to my family, I enjoy my job and the company I work for (American Crystal Sugar), and it’s just a great community to live in.

Tell us about Red Pine Distillery.

The idea for Red Pine started in 2009 when I started my college program at UMD and later finished at UND. I had a big dream of working for one of the big companies like Anheuser-Busch or Jack Daniels; however, I figured out pretty quickly that those were probably highly sought-after jobs that a fresh college grad was unlikely to get. So I continued on, still thinking about it but turning my sights elsewhere. I graduated in 2015, took a job with American Crystal, and a few months in I thought about it again and decided I didn’t have to go work for the big companies, I could do it myself. I started the planning August of 2015 and finally opened in February of 2018.

I decided on sugar beets because of the huge local importance they have. North Dakota and Minnesota are the top two sugar beet-growing states in the United States, and the Red River Valley region is the reason for that. The goal of a craft distillery, in my opinion, is to take from its local community and showcase it in its products – for us, that is sugarbeets. I get some sugarbeets from Thompson Brothers, and I also use a sugarbeet syrup from the area beet factories. Thompson Brothers also grows other crops, right now the main one is red wheat for the whiskey I’ve been working on.

The best part for me is getting to experiment and play around with different product ideas – different flavors, ways of making them, or things to make them from.  One of the biggest challenges has just been getting it out in front of people. I haven’t been able to put a much time or money into the advertising and marketing this type of business needs.

My favorite story is probably from the first time I did a tasting event here in Grand Forks at one of the Happy Harry’s stores, but it still happens from time to time when I do them. People see the bottle or a sign and their first response is “Sugar beets? You make this from sugar beets?”

You have a degree in chemical engineering; how has it helped develop Red Pine Distillery?

My chemical engineering degree has been a huge help. The curriculum for that degree includes chemical separation, and the most common method of doing that is distillation. Having that background knowledge helped in determining what equipment I did or didn’t want. The chemistry and biology courses I took also helped by having that knowledge of the process, different yeasts, fermentation conditions, etc., all having an impact on the final product.

What are you most proud of related to the Red Pine Distillery? 

I am most proud of the uniqueness of the products I make and/or am developing. Being able to make a good quality product from a pretty unique crop that has such a big role in my community.

Why is North Dakota quality important to you?

I think it’s important to showcase the great things we make here in North Dakota and how proud we are in what we produce. It’s important to me because the quality of what goes into my products comes out in the quality of the product. And those products reflect back on me and my business, as well as North Dakota as a whole.

What’s next?

I am looking to expand Red Pine into other states’ markets and start spreading quality products from North Dakota into other parts of the US.

[From Amanda: You can pick up Red Pine Sugarbeet Vodka, Spiced Sugarbeet, and White Sugarbeet at all Happy Harry’s locations in Grand Forks and Fargo, and most of the other liquor stores in Grand Forks, as well as Lakes Liquor, Liquor Locker, and County Bottle Shop in Devils Lake, Broadway Liquors in Minot, and 26th Street Liquors in Williston.  You can also tour the Distillery by signing up here.  Find out what’s next for Red Pine – Tyler’s working on gin, whiskey, and bourbon, as well as a pickle-flavored vodka – on Facebook and Twitter.]

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