Photos by Aaron Davidson
Where else but in Northeast Minneapolis would a cocktail room and a taproom end up, by chance, as neighbors. This weekend Wander North Distillery will open as Minneapolis’ third cocktail room (after Du Nord and Tattersall, respectively). It’s neighbor? NorthGate Brewing.
With Wander North’s menu of vodka- and gin-based drinks and NorthGate’s tap list ranging from a sweet stout on nitro to a “tongue burner of a double IPA,” there’s just one question on everyone’s mind: Will the two North-named businesses be collaborating?
The short answer: Yes.
It was pure coincidence that Wander North and NorthGate ended up together in the same non-descript commercial building just off of Highway 280 and Broadway Avenue. “We had spent a long time trying to find the right spot, a place we could call home and grow in,” explains Tuck Carruthers, head brewer at NorthGate, which moved to the space to expand their brewery and open a taproom in 2014. “We were well into negotiations before I found out Wander North had signed a lease.”
After a moment of panic, thinking the law wouldn’t allow both businesses to operate on the same footprint, Carruthers called Brian Winter, the owner and distiller of Wander North, and together they set the record straight with the City of Minneapolis. As long as they’re separate businesses, they discovered, there was no conflict and their build-outs could commence. Now that the cocktails and pints are pouring, the two like-minded businesses are putting their heads and resources together to grow within their individual worlds of beer and spirits.
One aspect of their collaboration is sharing equipment, such as barrels and sanitizers. The other, more fun element is the potential to reach and satisfy even more customers. “We’re excited to have [Wander North] open because it does nothing but help both businesses,” Carruthers says. For instance, if a group winds up at NorthGate but certain members of the party don’t like beer, they can head down to the cocktail room. Vice versa if someone doesn’t care for the hard stuff.
“When we have onsite events, it’s a no brainer that we would both be doing specials,” Carruthers says. “We also plan on doing co-events with each other. Even the names, Wander North and NorthGate, just works really well for both of us.”
With a food truck to be parked midway between the brewery and the distillery, Carruthers and Winter say they expect the “.05K” walk from business to business to be a regular part of the customer experience. “We’re going to be the first ones in the state to have a taproom and a cocktail onsite,” Carruthers says. (First, but not only: 11 Wells and Flat Earth will soon have a similar setup in St. Paul, in the former Hamm’s Brewery complex, and Bent Brewstillery is looking into its legal options in Roseville to operate both a joint taproom and cocktail room.)
Even though Wander North’s cocktail room is just opening, the brewery–distillery partnership was already in place. Wander North is using the wort from NorthGate’s Get Together IPA—including the hops—as distiller’s wash to make a whiskey. Winter says he’s curious to see how the whiskey will age with the inclusion of the hops—which is uncommon in distilling. “I think it would be really interesting to have that beer and whiskey and taste them side by side and see if any of these notes carry through,” Winter says.
Carruthers adds that he hopes to bring the partnership full-circle and use that same whiskey barrel, post-aging, to make a new batch of Get Together. It’s an experiment at present, limited to a single barrel, but Winter likes what he’s tasted thus far. “In the final product there’s a little grassier smell to it,” he says. “It’s definitely very floral.” If the whiskey experiment works, production will ramp up to make the spirit a more regular offering at Wander North.
These links bring the neighbors even closer together and open the door to other perks, like helping each other move large equipment, keeping one another company, bouncing ideas around, and venting about the challenges unique to their industry. And when extra hands are needed, there’s always someone a few steps away. “One time, as I was draining a barrel of Frontier Applejack brandy, the barrel fell and got lodged,” Winters says. He called Tuck and NorthGate assistant brewer Alan Erbach over to help him lift it out.
Although Wander North has been distributing since August 2014, Winter says having a cocktail room will help his brand grow. Thanks to the new liquor law in Minnesota, Wander North can sell 375ml bottles on-site. Plus, Winter says that his small-batch runs, such as the collaboration whiskey, will serve as additional key marketing points. “It’s those really small batches, the very unique products, that are going to get people excited,” he says. “I think I make a solid vodka, but nobody has ever gone into the liquor store and said, ‘They need one more vodka in here.’”
With the Wander North cocktail room open and NorthGate next door, it’s likely there will be plenty more to get people excited about in the near future.
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