This story is part of GoMN's 2017-18 Winter Guide.
The brewery tap room trend has saturated the Twin Cities and beyond, but the distillery cocktail room is catching up fast. Properly crafted cocktails and ambience are a given, but the unique spirits forming the building blocks of these drinks add unmistakable allure.
Like local produce and chef-driven restaurants, a prime cocktail can rank right up there with a serious plate of food, and the most passionate cocktail makers control the whole operation. Best of all, the pretense at these places is surprisingly low. Here are five of our favorites.
The gold standard: Tattersall Craft Spirits Distillery (Northeast, Minneapolis)
Tattersall makes a convincing case that distilleries and cocktail rooms are for all of us by filling the holes left by ordinary bars. Dan Oskey and his partner Jon Kreidler's distillery is filled with steampunk-inspired copper and brass Vendome equipment to make gin, vodka, and aquavit. They prove gin doesn’t have to be piney, and their flavored liqueurs allow them to make cocktails that span a vibrant spectrum of flavor. Their always-squeezed-onsite juices are another extra premium ingredient – once you arrive.
“It’s not obvious where we are,” Oskey says of the handsome cocktail room tucked behind a nondescript row of warehouses. “People are going to have to want to get here to be here. So we have to reward that with hospitality.” They do.
Along with regular food truck partnerships, they add new cocktails to the menu seasonally. A summertime favorite is the “Jungle Book” featuring Tattersall label rum, which is made with pure molasses. Fragrant banana bitters and sugarcane garnish complete a trip to Jamaica in a glass.
The speakeasy-est: Lawless Distilling Company (Seward, Minneapolis)
Lawless Distilling Company's cocktail room is a collaboration between Bittercube artisanal bitters and the Lawless label, which produces vodka and gin made with 100 percent Minnesota wheat.
The vibe screams speakeasy. It's a windowless room located in the industrial Seward neighborhood with a rough past during Prohibition. The fun and colorful drinks balance out the darkness.
Whimsy meets polish here. The “Hecho en Mexico” is a flight of candy-colored, vodka-based drinks in Mexican soda bottles. Or try “That Carrot Drink,” which arrives in a terra-cotta planter with edible dirt and baby carrots. For the Halloween season, check out the Negroni garnished with a knife-wielding fist carved out of an orange peel. Spooky.
The small-town star: Loon Liquor Company (Northfield)
Loon Liquor Company offers up up gin and whiskey from 100 percent organic 50/50 barley and wheat in Northfield's only distillery cocktail room, a mashup of big-city amenities and small-town charms. Down a dark, unassuming street and inside of a warehouse in an industrial park, Loon is a delightful, soft-lit space sandwiched in between white-bread office spaces.
Drinks range from old standards to creative new ones. The "Midcilantro Nights Dream," mashes up elderflower, lime, ginger, hot pepper, and cilantro with vodka in a chilly soup I'd be more than happy to swill all winter. Loon also whips up plenty of N/A sippers and stocks the room with board games so you're encouraged to bring the whole family
Owners Simeon Rossi and Mark Schiller hope to eventually grow their own grains and herbs so that the spirits will be fully organic to the area. In a show of their earnestness, they held a cocktail event with Sean Sherman, the Sioux Chef, in which all of the cocktail ingredients were foraged in their own back yard.
The chillest vibe: Twin Spirits Distillery (Northeast, Minneapolis)
Twin Spirits' Michelle Winchester offers up vodka, gin, moonshine, and rum concoctions in a cocktail room that feels a bit softer and more subtle than others. Her distilling equipment is tucked away, but still in view, in another portion of the Northeast “compound,” where the barn-like structure gives way to the welcoming drinking area and patio.
An incredible buy is a flight of all the spirits, which include five little snifters, including Mama's Moonshine, with a local honey base. Or, try their take on a Negroni, typically a put-hair-on-your-chest cocktail which takes on a sweeter personality with Twin Spirits gin. Aged whiskey will be available next year. Also, this space is a stone's throw from Chimbarazo, the longstanding Northeast Ecuadorian eatery.
Best of the 'burbs: Copperwing Distillery (St. Louis Park)
Nothing but pure Minnesota grain is mashed, fermented, and distilled at Copperwing Distillery. The result is unprocessed, leaving in more of the “full character” often missing from macro distilled products. One surprise is the full-bodied Vodskey, which is clear, but not distilled as long as vodka.
The cocktail room is close to where founders Chris Palmisano, Kyle Kettering, and Brian Idelkop reside in sleepy St. Louis Park. Before this venture, Palmisano says he didn’t have much knowledge of nightlife at all. “I’m just being honest,” he says. "I come from a pretty nerdy background." Appropriately, they recently threw a "Nerdiest Cocktail Challenge," complete with an after-dark screening of Revenge of the Nerds.
This story is part of GoMN's 2017-18 Winter Guide.