NORTHFIELD, Minn. -- With jazz music playing in the background, a table of friends sip artisan cocktails made with spirits produced onsite.
"This is our Loonshine Whiskey," says Simeon Rossi, co-founder of Northfield's Loon Liquors. The business began producing its spirits in 2014 - all organic, and all local.
"We ended up working with a farmer in Faribault," Rossi explained. "He put in several acres of wheat and barley, which our first product, our whiskey, was made out of."
The waste produced from the distilling process then goes back to the farmer, who feeds it to his livestock. "Which allows him to be 100% organic on his farm," Rossi said. The all-local loop is complete as the meat from that organic farm is consumed at Northfield's St. Olaf and Carleton colleges.
Loon Liquors got its start after the Minnesota State Legislature passed what's known as the "Surly Bill" in 2011. It included a provision that lowered the permit cost for a distillery from around $30,000 to $1100 for Loon Liquors.
That's when distilleries began popping up statewide. Around that time Michelle Winchester began formulating her own dream of a business in Minneapolis.
"I was turning 50 years old, and my youngest of four boys was turning 13 and it seemed like I was about to get some time on my hand," said Winchester.
She put her time into developing Twin Spirits Distillery, the first one-woman owned distillery in Minnesota. It began producing this summer. Winchester will soon open up a cocktail room - a feature allowed in subsequent legislative sessions.
While the assist from St. Paul helped kickstart the craft distilling industry in Minnesota, it does have its restrictions. Those cocktail rooms can only sell drinks with spirits produced by the distiller, and customers are limited to how much alcohol they can buy onsite.
"A half bottle of your typical bottle, 375 mL compared to a 750 mL bottle you would buy in a liquor store- one per person per day," said Mark Schiller, who is Rossi's co-founding partner in Loon Liquors.
That means Minnesota distilleries still have to depend on distributors to get their product onto liquor store shelves for wider consumption. Both Loon Liquors and Twin Spirits products are available in major retailers throughout the state.
Each works to find their own niche in the market. Loon Liquors offers an award winning gin, Metropoligin, a vodka and an award-winning whiskey- Loonshine.
"A little bit of orchard fruit- apple, pear, I get off it," said Rossi, whose interest in making spirits began during his college years when he started perfecting a white russian recipe. The company is now working with Peace Coffee in Minneapolis to create a coffee liquor.
Winchester is working on her core group of products, gin, vodka, rum, whiskey and a moonshine she produces once a month on the full moon. Her M brand vodka came to market in July. "The vodka is made from sugar cane that gives it a sweet taste," Winchester said. "A lot of people drink the M vodka straight."
Twin Spirits has been featured on craft brewery tours, and Winchester envisions a time when distillery tours will be more common.
Loon Spirits' Mark Schiller says fans of craft spirits should cast a wide net to find a product that suits them best.
"Just like wines or beers, or whatnot, there are great ones, and there are not so great ones," Schiller said. "So I highly recommend -don't try just ours, try all the other distilleries in the state."
Winchester concurs. She describes the fledgling industry as a friendly space, where distillers help each other out, and where there is also room to grow. "I love the variety of what people are doing, so I think that we're going to see more of it.