Story by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Micah J. Zimmerman

Meet Chef Judd Eskildsen of Downtown Fargo’s Proof Artisan Distillers. Just beyond his kitchen, you’ll find an array of nationally-awarded vodka, gin and whiskey; proudly-produced from North Dakota agricultural products, and distilled daily. Those who visit Proof – The Tasting Room, would be remiss to overlook his spirited pairings. With a wide range of seasonal flavors, gracing fresh seafood, beef, pork and chicken, Eskildsen knows how to spin native ingredients with extraordinary flavors. This is a hands-on, foodie experience with spiked seasonings, distilled from scratch – only a few feet from the kitchen.

Pairing Cookies + Cocktails
Asking this master of meat to bake a holiday treat may have seemed like a stretch, but we promise, you’ll love his bacon, chocolate and peanut butter cup cookies. If that’s not enough, he served up one of his specialty entrees and taught us how to concoct a tasty Tipsy Mocha. This is one holiday menu that will bring the Christmas cheer, one perfectly-aged barrel at a time.

From the Chef: Judd Eskildsen
“I absolutely love cookies, but they have to be soft. Since I was asked to share a family cookie recipe or one of my favorites, I mixed it up a bit. I love chocolate chip cookies, but there are a million recipes for them. I also really love my Grandma Arlos’ molasses cookies, but I’m a chef, so I went ahead and created an over the top, one of a kind cookie – because it’s not every day that you get your picture taken for a magazine!”

Chocolate, Bacon & Peanut Butter Cup Cookies
1 – lb. bacon (chopped) – cooked until done, but not extra crispy
2 – c. flour
3⁄4 – c. cocoa powder
1⁄2 – tsp. baking soda
1⁄2 – c. softened butter
1 – c. brown sugar
1⁄4 – c. white sugar
3 – eggs
1 – tsp vanilla
14 oz. package mini peanut butter cups
1⁄2 – c. semisweet chocolate chips

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder and baking soda.
-Add butter, brown sugar and white sugar to a stand mixer, and mix with wire whip.
-Add eggs and vanilla to mixer and mix until smooth.
-Slowly add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl, and mix until a dough is formed.
-Switch to the paddle attachment, and slowly add peanut butter cups and bacon.
– Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes -Scoop dough and place on a greased cookie sheet, using a 1.25 oz scoop (#40).
Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack immediately.
Note: Cookies will not appear to be fully done, but they will continue cooking during the cool-down.
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The Tipsy Mocha1⁄2 oz. 2 Docks Vodka
1⁄2 oz. 2 Docks Cream Liqueur
1 oz. 2 Docks Coffee Liqueur
6 oz. hot Cocoa or Warm Chocolate Milk

Add all ingredients to a coffee mug, top with whipped cream and garnish as needed. I used crushed, chocolate mint-covered pretzels from Costco.

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The Tasting Room Menu
Eskildsen’s seasonally-changing menu is an eclectic mix of comfort food, elevated bar food and fine dining. His emphasis features fan favorites; from smoked and braised briskets to Southwest, steaks, sliders, authentic Italian pasta sauces and artisan burgers. Throw in his Chicken Wings Confit from the Shareables menu, ask him to pair it with the perfect cocktail, and you’ll likely knock out every possible craving.Chef Judd Eskildsen creates a bi-weekly Chef’s Feature dish that gives him the opportunity to get creative. A recent Chef’s Feature, the Manhattan Filet with Langostino Lobster, Vermouth Sauce, Aged Gouda Potato Rosti with Sautéed Asparagus, was paired with The Chef’s Shifter.“I like the idea of ‘elevated bar food’ when it comes to appetizers,” said Eskildsen. “We all love a great dish like the Steak with Langostino Lobster and Vermouth Sauce, but who doesn’t like chicken wings? You really can’t beat a damn good sandwich either, and if you don’t like tacos, we probably shouldn’t be friends anymore. I’m usually very humble about my food, but I have a hard time believing that there is a better chicken wing than mine. There may be better sauces out there, but not a better wing. I haven’t found a decent way to dip a wing, so that led to the creation of Buffalo & Bleu…why not mix it in right away, and skip the dipping part?”

Local Favorites in the Tasting Room

BBQ Beef Burnt Ends – Hickory smoked brisket with crispy onion and honey mustard aioli
Chicken Wings Confit – BBQ, Buffalo & Bleu, or Sambal Chili
Tacos – Braised beef, Mojo pork, Salsa verde chicken, BBQ pork

“I’m very confident in my BBQ abilities because of the amount of time I’ve spent working on them. Any time you see my name and BBQ, I highly urge you to be a part of it.”
Chef Judd (Justin) Eskildsen, Proof Artisan Distillers
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Chef’s Shifter

1⁄2 oz. Glen Fargo American Malt Whiskey 1⁄2 oz Minions Old Tom Gin
1⁄2 oz. Sweet Vermouth
1⁄4 oz. Grand Marnier
1⁄4 oz. Maraschino Liqueur

Stir over ice for 30 seconds and strain into a rocks glass with a large ice cube and an orange peel garnish._______________________________________

Crooked Stocking Stuffers

Gift the host, stuff the stocking or brighten up your holiday party with Proof’s newest spirit, Crooked Furrow Bourbon Whiskey. Swing by their downtown distillery and create your own two or three-pack gift box with their hand-crafted collection including: 2DOCKS Vodka, 2DOCKS FirebyProof Cinnamon Whiskey, 2DOCKS Coffee and 2DOCKS Cream Liqueur, MINIONS Gin, MINIONS BARRELED RESERVE Gin, MINIONS OLD TOM Gin, MINIONS Vän Skap Aquavit, Glen Fargo – American Malt Whiskey or CROOKED FURROW Bourbon, and Harvest Blend-Blended Bourbon. You can also find their products at nearly 600 liquor stores, bars and restaurants throughout North Dakota and Minnesota.

Proof’s new Crooked Furrow Bourbon Whiskey was distilled and barreled three years ago. It has finally reached the age they’d been patiently waiting for. “The one thing about whiskey is, whiskey is not good until it is good, and there’s really no in between,” said Joel Kath, Proof’s founder and distiller. “Our initial limited release will expand to bar and liquor store shelves by January. However, we are not releasing all of the barrels at three-years; otherwise, we would never get any six, 10 or 15-year-old whiskey.”

One Batch at a Time

Kath takes pride in using locally sourced ingredients; North Dakota-grown corn and barley as well as oak barrels from Minnesota. “Our whiskey production is “one batch, one barrel” – and we patiently monitor it until it’s ready,” said Kath. “We’ve won over 20 national awards across our entire line of spirits and just made the cover of the premier trade journal for North America Distillers. One of four selected this year, out of 1,800 craft distilleries – right here in Fargo. We are all about the passion of the spirit; crafting quality spirits from local products. You can find our products at your favorite bar, restaurant and liquor store.”

Interested in a tour of the distillery? Kath suggests stopping in during happy hour on Wednesdays and Thursdays or calling ahead to schedule a group tour. If you’re interested in attending a seminar or special pairing dinner, follow them on social media for upcoming dates.

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Meet the Chef: Judd (Justin) Eskildsen
Eskildsen was born and raised in Moorhead, Minn., and has been the Executive Chef at Proof Artisan Distillers since 2015. Although he has no formal training, he started young in his mom’s kitchen and has worked in restaurants since he was 15-years-old. Once having plans to go to culinary school, he instead took on an eight-year career as a welder. With nights and weekend off, Eskildsen used his spare time to pursue his long-time passion, eventually purchasing a smoker which dove him deeper into the art of BBQ.Realizing he needed to pursue his true passion further, Eskildsen headed back to the kitchen, working in some of the best restaurants in Fargo-Moorhead. In the summer of 2015, he was asked to create a cocktail party-style dinner featuring Proof’s products. His debut, as a chef who could master pairings, would become the catalyst for a new career in the kitchen of Proof’s Fargo distillery. Many would agree that Eskildsen’s culinary career has been aged to perfection.

For more information, contact:
Proof Artisan Distillers, LLC
Judd Eskildsen, Executive Chef

315 North 5th Street #100, Fargo

218.979.1010
Judd@proofdistillers.com