For years, Andy McLain didn’t know what to do with his “British experience.” Though he was born in the United States, McLain spent many of his early years abroad—first in England, his parents’ home country, and then in Belgium. Even after returning to the States, he visited family in the U.K. once or twice each year.
“Spending a lot of time with my cousins in England, I was thrown into the whole pub scene at an early age,” McLain says. “My dad was always a big proponent of, ‘If we’re going to drink, we’re going to drink proper stuff.’”
These visits as a teen are what first sparked the idea for Royal Foundry Craft Spirits—although McLain didn’t pursue the idea until the end of 2015. That’s when his wife, Nikki McLain, challenged him to bring to life the Brit-centric distillery and tasting room he envisioned.
Located next door to La Doña Cervecería in the Harrison neighborhood of Minneapolis, Royal Foundry serves handmade spirits and carefully sourced spirits neat and served in custom cocktails and mixed drinks. From the drinks to the decor, every facet of the distillery pays homage to the pub lifestyle that McLain experienced in his youth.
As chief distiller, McLain remains the creative force behind Royal Foundry, but Royal Foundry’s other founders—Nikki McLain, chief marketing officer, and Kelly Everhart, chief operating officer—previously worked together in the corporate world and are putting those skills to use in managing the business side of the distillery. The team also includes general manager Monika Hanson, assistant distiller Marlon Hanson, and several mixologists.
Royal Foundry currently offers a menu of 16 cocktails ranging in flavor profiles from The Pollinator, made with vodka, lavender honey syrup, and lemon juice, to The Scrambler, featuring whiskey, rum, and spiced syrup. All shrubs, syrups, and bitters are handcrafted in-house.
The setup for making spirits includes a 600-gallon mash tun that can feed into either two 650-gallon metal fermentors or two 600-gallon wood washbacks, which are commonly used to ferment Scotch whisky. A pot still or column still distills the spirits, and after that, anything that needs to age will be stored in bourbon barrels in the rick room.
Although Royal Foundry serves a variety of spirits, its gin is currently the only house-made option available at the distillery. “I put together some blended rums and a blended whiskey, and then we also have a contract vodka that we’ve proofed down, filtered, and done the finishings on,” McLain says. “With the bar program and the fun stuff they’re making, we wanted to offer those experiences right away.”
McLain expects to finish his first batch of rum sometime in April, but it will be quite sometime before any single-malt whiskey is available—at least three-and-a-half years. While McLain would like to offer it sooner, he knows from his training with distillers in Colorado, upstate New York, and Scotland that it’s best not to try to cheat time.
Like with the spirits, McLain chose each design detail for the cocktail room carefully, with an eye on combining traditional and contemporary styles. Drawing on his 20 years building houses, he did much of the build-out of elements himself. Stark white walls are broken up with a giant Union Jack, a tiled wall behind the bar that mimics the London Underground, and Royal Foundry’s angular crown logo.
“In our main logo, there’s this 53 below the crown. That’s a shout-out to [the fact that] most bourbon barrels are 53 gallons and also the queen was crowned in ’53,” he says.
There are three lanes where patrons can play the classic pub game nine-pin skittles, a precursor to bowling. McLain built the bar out of bourbon barrel staves that he nested together and planed down to a smooth surface. “Makers Mark, Four Roses, and Jim Beam staves are in there, so you can see the nice char lines and some nice whiskey lines,” he says.
Royal Foundry intends to bottle its gin, rum, and single-malt whiskey as they are available. McLain also looks forward to making limited-release alcohols to bottle and pour in the tasting room, in addition to the house spirits.
Producing gin, rum, and whiskey with a high level of meticulousness takes time, but the goal isn’t to be fast. It’s to ensure that the way McLain felt with his dad and family at an English pub comes through in every sip of Royal Foundry spirits. “I want to again make sure when I introduce it, that it’s something special,” he says.
Distiller: Andy McLain
Spirits: House-made gin, along with vodka and a blended whiskey and rum to be made in-house at a later date
Address: 241 Fremont Ave. N., Minneapolis, MN 55405
Grand Opening: March 7–10, 2019