When co-owners Simeon Rossi and Mark Schiller began raising money for Loon Liquor Co. in late 2012, they had a concept that they were confident would be successful. They wanted to create spirits from locally sourced, organic-certified ingredients, and they wanted to do it in their hometown of Northfield, Minnesota.
Having no distilling experience didn’t seem to be an issue. With Rossi’s biology education and Schiller’s business background, a slow and steady learning curve seems to have been built into their plan from day one. In 2014, Loon Liquor Co. released its first spirit, Loonshine Whiskey. By 2015, they’d opened a cocktail room and in the following years increased their lineup to include a gin, vodka, and a few liqueurs: coffee, cinnamon, blueberry, and elderflower.
Now, Loon Liquor Co. is in the midst of starting yet another new chapter as they quadruple their production capacity. The updates are necessary to keep up with demand. Their products have sold well—so well, in fact, that they’re almost four months behind their production schedule. The cocktail room, which is currently open Thursday–Saturday, will expand its hours to include Sundays beginning in early fall and was recently outfitted with new, locally made, upcycled furniture.
In addition to their original 100-gallon still, Loon Liquor Co. is adding a 250-gallon hybrid pot and column piece as well as a new brewing and fermenting system. They’ve already added 1,000 square feet to their original space for grain storage, a bottling line, and an office, which will come in handy as they are doubling their number of full-time employees from two to four, to help with production (specifically bottling) and marketing. Once the expansion is complete, Loon Liquor Company hopes to offer tours and broaden distribution, at first within Minnesota, and then in out-of-state markets.
Rossi and Schiller are funding all these expansions with small-business loans and a sizable grant from Minnesota’s Department of Agriculture born of the distillery’s support of local farming and environmental/conservation policy. Loon Liquor Co. reuses, recycles, composts, or re-sells as much as possible, including reclaiming and reusing process water and selling spent grain to a local dairy farm. Along with the increase in capacity, the refinement and efficiency of the new equipment and systems will make it even easier for them to meet the impressive environmental standards they’ve set for themselves.
The expansion is complete and the cocktail room will reopen on Saturday, July 21. In the next two months, Loon Liquor Co. hopes to have a new ginger liqueur on shelves, as well as their Lac Coeur coffee liqueur in 750-milliliter bottles (currently in the 375-milliliter bottles distilleries are legally allowed to sell onsite). They plan to have a rum available in the cocktail room later this summer and are in the process of producing an aged whiskey.
In 2014, Rossi and Schiller filled a 30-gallon cask with wheat and barley spirit, but that’s as far as their aged-spirits efforts have gone. As head distiller, Rossi says he was reluctant to put out a young, under-realized product, adding that the necessity of waiting for years for whiskey to mature would have, at the time, been a financial burden. Now that the business has matured, he says they’re ready to experiment more; expect whiskies with an unconventional mash bill, similar to that early barrel, in a few years’ time.
Looking farther down the road, Rossi and Schiller dream of creating a craft spirit destination in Northfield. They envision an organic farmstead distillery where the grains and botanicals are grown onsite, and visitors can experience the entire process from field to bottle. Recently, they’ve begun scouting locations—the first step to realizing this dream. Just like other craft distilleries in Minnesota, Loon Liquor Co. believes there is incredible potential in the state in terms of spirit production. When considering the variety of grain, local oak, and cooperages, and even the botanicals produced here, Rossi opines, “I can’t see any reason why Minnesota shouldn’t be producing world-class spirits in the coming years.”
Loon Liquor Co.’s expansion is a bold step for a distillery that has humbly but confidently taken its own path to success with its commitment to organic sustainability, unique spirits, and outside-the-metro location. Their vision and experimentation have paid off and they’ve become an appreciated part of Northfield’s food and drink scene, especially with St. Olaf College students, as they are the nearest bar to campus. Their success has also helped to increase awareness of Northfield’s three craft breweries and cidery. Last year, the five businesses joined together to put on the Craft Beverage Festival during Jesse James Days.
While it’s not always gone smoothly, Rossi reflects that, in regards to the company’s growth and success, he thinks they went at the right pace: “We’ve created the company we truly wanted at the beginning. We’ve proven our concept, now we’re ready to become a real distillery.”