When Royal Foundry Craft Spirits opens later this year, it will be the largest cocktail room in the Twin Cities by a wide margin. The British-inspired distillery wasn’t seeking to claim this distinction while shopping for locations, but the sheer volume of the still-empty space is hard to ignore. The 15,000 square feet will house the distillery and cooperage, a cocktail room with a prominent bar, a tasting room, and an event space.
Even before setting foot inside, we knew this newcomer to the west side of Minneapolis was different from other bars and cocktail rooms. An authentic cycle speedway — a 70-meter bicycle racetrack typical of the oval dirt tracks in the British Isles — invites bikers from the nearby Bassett Creek Trail. The speedway will flank the patio on the south side of the building.
Two businesses may not make a “district,” but Royal Foundry will be near Utepils Brewing Co., the German-forward taproom that has plans to add a riverside terrace this year. When Latino-inspired Doña Cervecería craft brewery opens next door to the distillery (no date announced), the Harrison neighborhood will certainly be on the spirits map.
Royal Foundry’s specialty is as surprising as it is clear: single malt whiskey (Royal Foundry has chosen to adopt the Scottish spelling, whisky). While production will be expanded to include other spirits of British origin or ties, single malt will always be the flagship. Single malt whiskey is distilled from pot stills, made exclusively with barley, and aged for at least three years in oak casks. Chief distiller and co-founder Andy McClain was inspired by his experience traveling abroad, predominately in England, as a teen. He recalls embracing pub culture and appreciating the recognition of imbibing as a part of everyday life. His father used to say, “don’t waste your time with the bad stuff,” and McLain has taken that to heart.
The majority of McLain’s distilling experience comes from his time training at multiple operations in Colorado and New York as well as the close attention he paid while touring the prolific distilleries of Islay, Scotland. He plans to adopt the distillery tour model he found in Scotland, where visitors get a behind-the-curtain treatment.
To that end, while casual visitors can enjoy the cocktail room, a distinct tasting room will be available as a more informative and intimate gathering space. There is a potential for tours and education, too, and McLain anticipates educating clientele about the history of his products, especially since there are no taprooms in the area specializing in whiskey.
The cocktail room will, of course, have other spirits, but the majority of ingredients will be tied to the crown in some way. For instance, Royal Foundry will serve at least one rum as a reference to the Royal Navy’s trade relationship with the West Indies and the historic rum rations for soldiers. When asked what visitors can expect from the rum, though, McLain firmly holds his cards.
What we do know is that the beverage director, Marlon Hanson, comes with significant cocktail experience including time at 6 Smith in Wayzata. Hanson will also act as assistant distiller, which will help to integrate the flavor profiles of the spirits themselves with the finished cocktails, as he will play a part in both areas. McClain designed the interior space, drawing again on inspiration from the architecture of several overseas locales including the London Undergound; the wall behind the bar will be concave and tiled, structured according to one of McClain’s favorite Underground stops.
True to its vision, Royal Foundry will employ a European approach to distilling, which varies from American methods in a few ways. First, European washes (the beerlike liquids that enter the still) have no grain in them when distilled. Second, the U.K. method involves wood washbacks for the fermenting process. Using a brewery analogy, washbacks (typically made of evergreen wood) are the fermentation tanks in which the yeast acts upon the barley-derived sugars and produces alcohol. Though most distillers agree that the wood doesn’t directly influence flavor in the way that the wood of the barrels does, it influences the microorganisms during fermentation in several ways, creating consistent fermentation characteristics from batch to batch.
Co-founders Kelly Everhart, the president, and Nikki McLain, the chief marketing officer, round out the management team of three. The two women have corporate experience that includes law and event planning. Royal Foundry Craft Spirits is ambitiously aiming for a “May-ish” opening, just in time for The World Cup, and an Indiegogo campaign is live now. On the other hand, Andy McLain is not in a rush to see his product arrive on liquor store shelves and instead will focus on quality control: grain quality, mash perfection, and overall consistency from batch to batch. Royal Foundry will offer rum in 375 milliliter bottles for off-sale purchase — the cocktail room to-go equivalent of a taproom’s growler, according to law.
Royal Foundry Craft Spirits, 241 Fremont Ave N, Minneapolis, MN 55405