A Stearns County Monk Was Responsible for Hundreds of MN Moonshiners
There are currently 20 distilleries legally recognized and licensed in Minnesota -- a far cry from the 1,600 distilleries that used to exist before Prohibition.
According to the Minnesota Distillers Guild, there are currently just under two dozen legal distilleries around Minnesota. That number, however, is just a fraction of how many distillers used to exist in Minnesota -- legally or not -- before Prohibition. According to founder of Brother Justus Whiskey Company in Columbia Heights Ted Haller, there used to be over 1,600 "illegal, family-operated, independent" distillers in Minnesota. Most of them, he told Fox 9 in a 2020 interview, were concentrated in Stearns County.
Moonshine, according to Haller, is simply any illegal whiskey or whiskey made on a still that has not been licensed and permitted by the federal government. As history has it, one man in particular was responsible for many of Minnesota's illegal moonshine distilleries -- a Benedictine Monk named Brother Justus. Named after the Central Minnesota monk, Brother Justus Whiskey Company shares his story at its website:
Brother Justus was a Benedictine monk who lived in Central Minnesota during Prohibition and The Farm Depression of the 1920s. He encouraged local farmers to ignore the rule of the state and obey God’s instead. Because no earthly power could take away their right to make a living from their labor and the fruit of the land.
He taught them that, sure, moonshining was illegal, but by no means was it immoral. That good whiskey—honorably made—was a blessing. His copper stills, and commitment to teaching the craft, lifted families out of poverty and made Minnesota whiskey world-famous.
Of the 20 legal distilleries around Minnesota today, only one exists in Central Minnesota -- Panther Distillery in Osakis. Established in 2011, Panther Distilling hails itself as "Minnesota's Original Distillery," Minnesota's first legal whiskey distillery. Read more about Panther Distillery here. See a full list of Minnesota's legal distilleries here.