Ralf Loeffelholz wasn’t convinced his distillery needed a cocktail room.
As an exacting artisan of booze, Loeffelholz had made a crusade of getting people to drink Dampfwerk’s fruit brandies and herbal liqueurs straight. “I am not a mixologist,” Loeffelholz plainly told the Growler in a recent profile. The very essence of his St. Louis Park distillery is that the liquid in the bottle stands on its own.
It was a puzzling announcement, then, when Dampfwerk went public with plans to add a “cocktail lounge” abutting the production space.
It’s not that Loeffelholz has had some dramatic change of heart. Rather, at its core Dampfwerk is a family business, and the co-owner and distiller was ultimately swayed by his daughter Bridgit’s insistence they build an at-home showroom for the spirits he’d worked so hard to craft.
“We were getting fed up with the notion that we were the best-kept secret,” she says. “We were getting good repeat purchases in the liquor store, but the biggest thing for us was the fact that people were taken aback that we didn’t have a cocktail room.”
The lounge’s grand opening is November 20, but curious drinkers can get a taste during the soft open, which starts November 6 (Wednesday and Thursday 5 to 11 p.m., Friday 5 p.m. to 12 a.m., Saturday 2 p.m. to 12 a.m., and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.).
The use of the word “lounge” is deliberate. Unlike Norseman, Tattersall, or Twin Spirits, Dampfwerk aimed for intimacy. The counters and walls are all slate black, punctuated by copper details meant to evoke the copper of the still. The bar holds 73 people, all of whom will be drawn together in clusters under the low light.
“Everyone else has a cocktail room; we want to be more loungey,” Bridgit says. “What do you do when you’re lounging around? You’re sipping something—something typically neat or more boozy—and you’re cozy, you’re comfortable.”
The menu reflects the environment around it. You won’t find mojitos or lemon drops here. The pear martini is a symbol of their dedication to perfecting the spirit-forward cocktail. Made with Dampfwerk’s pear brandy, Number 12 Cider, celery juice, and orange bitters, garnished with a vanilla-spritzed dehydrated pear, the drink is an exquisite sipper—the kind that makes you stop in your tracks and contemplate the layers poured in front of you.
Dampfwerk’s cocktail lounge will also specialize in 50-50 cocktails—half-size drinks that typically include only two to three ingredients. Bridgit’s thinking is that smaller, lower-gravity cocktails will let people sample more of the distillery’s products in one sitting. It also showcases what a little creativity can add to an already exotic spirit. A sterling example of this is the Pfeffersack 50-50, which takes their herbaceous German liqueur and bolsters it with rose water, honey, and cardamom. It’s floated with a turmeric-dusted dried rose, which gradually enhances the flavor as you drink.
“50-50s really work with us because they fit within our ethos of showcasing the spirit,” Bridgit says. “We’re trying to stay true to brand. This is an extension.”
Some drinks, like Dampfwerk’s gold medal grape brandy, just don’t work with cocktails, and so Bridgit (and, surely, Ralf) is encouraging drinkers to take their libations neat—even if that might be challenging for the average American cocktail fan.
What separates a cocktail room from a bar is the reverence for booze, and there’s no one in Minnesota who’s putting more care and attention into spirits than Dampfwerk. In this, guests can expect no dilution once the cocktail lounge opens its doors.
Dampfwerk Cocktail Lounge
6311 Cambridge St., St. Louis Park