Francis, Northeast Minneapolis’s newest vegan restaurant, serves a great burger. A few, in fact: an Impossible patty stacked with fried seitan bacon, a garlicky black bean burger, even a Juicy Lucy stuffed with vegan cheese. But it’s not only Francis’s delectably greasy meat-free burgers that make it stand out in the Twin Cities vegan scene — it’s the restaurant’s bar program.
Helmed by Lindsey Johnston, Garrett Born, and Brendan Viele, Francis built a full bar when it opened in the former Sen Yai Sen Lek space in January. Wanting to push the vegan options beyond the food menu, the team consulted with Nick Kosevich and Mike Byrne of local distillery Earl Giles to create the Twin Cities’ only full vegan bar program, entirely free of animal-derived dyes, additives, and fining agents.
Kosevich, who has been active in the Twin Cities bar scene since the early 2000s, and is currently an owner at Mr. Paul’s Supper Club in Edina, says he often worries diners may not even be aware that their favorite cocktails or wines aren’t vegan. Animal products appear in cocktails in far subtler forms than ice cream in a grasshopper or honey stirred into a gold rush. “Chitosan is the evil villain of ingredients when it comes to vegan products,” says Kosevich. “It’s made from shrimp shells and oyster shells. It’s a fining agent. It’s used in liqueurs and winemaking, traditionally to filter. It grabs sediment and drops it to the bottom of the barrel or of the tank, and allows you to pull off that sediment for a more crisp, clear product.”
Then there are the dyes. Take the Negroni, which relies on aperitivos for its signature bitter finish and reddish hue. Many aperitivos contain carmine dye, which is extracted from cochineal insects, tiny red bugs that live on cacti and have been used to make pigment for centuries. Campari is carmine-free, but according to the vegan alcohol directory Barnivore, it’s clarified using small amounts of gelatin. (Gelatin is typically made by cooking animal bones and tissues, a process that extracts their collagen.)
For wines, the issue usually lies in the filtration process. Animal products like egg whites and casein (the protein that gives milk its white color) are sometimes used to reduce tannins in wine, and isinglass, a substance made from dried fish bladders, is used to clarify some white wines. For beer and cider, Francis co-owner Lindsey Johnston wrote in an email, common culprits are lactose, a sweetening agent, and honey, which increases alcohol content during the fermentation process.
Francis’s bar menu, carefully fine-tuned by Kosevich, Byrne, and the Francis team, has none of the above. A few highlights are an entirely vegan Negroni, a frosty rootbeer cocktail topped with whorls of tonka bean foam, and a Mezcal-based Ultima Palabra made with an egg white foam alternative. “For years bartenders and mixologists have been utilizing aquafaba (canned chickpea liquid) for this, but it can have a pretty offputting aroma,” wrote Johnston. “Earl Giles introduced us to methylcellulose, which has a beautiful thickening effect without any of the undesirable smell.”
It was tricky to track down vegan wines, beers, and liqueurs — there’s no universal vegan certification regulated by the USDA or FDA. Sites like Barnivore, a directory of vegan and vegetarian liquors, wines, and beers, were a big help, says Kosevich. But they’re not comprehensive. “Especially once you get into European products, it can be really hard to find anybody that’s going to tell you what they’re doing,” says Kosevich. “If you’re talking about products that have been made for 100 years, odds are they’re being made in a very traditional way.”
Ultimately, the Francis and Earl Giles team tracked down many manufacturers individually. “One fun thing we found out was that Magners Cider produced in Ireland is not vegan, but that produced in the US is vegan friendly (despite what Barnivore says),” wrote Johnston. “The quality manager of the company sent us a “letter of guarantee” to keep on file. Things change and it’s a challenge to keep up with those changes, but it’s what we signed up for.”
They also found an invaluable resource in the form of the Twin Cities bar scene itself. Francis may be the Twin Cities’ only entirely vegan full bar, but many local distilleries are already using vegan processes. (Hark! Cafe previous served vegan drinks, but it’s now operating as a bakery and cafe; Reverie serves beer and wine.) To craft Francis’s Ultima Palabra, for example, Kosevich sourced a honey-free génépy from Norseman Distillery. Tattersall uses vegan fining agents, as does Earl Giles itself — two of the heirloom liqueurs are made with mushroom-derived chitosan.
Kosevich has worked on more than 70 projects during his 15 years in the industry. These days, he says, much of what he does is vegan. Even the creamy, New Orleans-style dessert drinks at Mr. Paul’s Supper Club are dairy-free. To him, it’s a matter of hospitality — of accommodating the greatest percentage of diners he can. “I’m also known to make a bacon fat-washed Old Fashioned from time to time,” says Kosevich. “But I do want to make sure that we’re being true to our programming and trying to cast the widest net with our beverages.”