Wander North's Cocktail Room is a private hideaway with strong drinks

Owner Brian Winter, left, serves up a mean gin and tonic at the Wander North cocktail room.

Owner Brian Winter, left, serves up a mean gin and tonic at the Wander North cocktail room.

Wander North Distillery isn’t hard to find, but you do have to know where to look. The distillery, which was founded in 2013, and its cocktail room, which opened six weeks ago, are tucked away in a nondescript industrial strip of northeast Minneapolis, just a few blocks off Broadway. The first clue that you’re in the right place is the food truck in the parking lot. Then you'll notice a signboard inviting you to come on in for a drink. Follow those orders.

Once inside the cocktail room, you’ll forget you’re in an office park and instead feel like you discovered someone’s private hideaway. Owner Brian Winter has transformed a generic room into a sparse but welcoming space, with a vaguely Up North kind of vibe. There are some fish mounted on the wall, and some pictures of the great outdoors. There is a large communal table if you’re up for making new friends, as well as smaller tables and a few seats at the beautiful wood bar that looks like it's been there forever.

But it’s really the drinks, not the atmosphere, that you’re here for. The distillery currently produces Outpost Vodka, Waypoint Gin, and Winter’s Corn Whiskey. Winter has a “grain to glass” ethos and uses locally sourced ingredients to craft his spirits. He currently works with Fluegel Elevator in Rosemount for his raw materials. The vodka is 80 proof, and provides a neutral background while maintaining its own personality. The gin is army strength, 100 proof. It’s made with a corn base, the traditional juniper berries, and six other botanicals. The whiskey, as they say, will put hair on your chest.

Winter and his bartenders serve up a standard list of drink classics like a gin and tonic and a dirty martini, which highlight the distillery’s spirits. There’s also a rotating list of specialty cocktails, like a refreshing coffee and vodka drink that is a riff on a White Russian and a jalapeno-infused vodka martini, that get a little fancier. Because liquor laws require that any alcohol served in a cocktail room be made on site, the specialty drinks really show off the bartenders’ creativity, since they are working with a limited arsenal. And with prices ranging from $6 to $9, these cocktails are a bargain.

Winter, who served 22 years in the army between active duty and the National Guard, originally thought about opening a brewery. But the craft beer movement was just gaining steam and there were three craft breweries in the Twin Cities. He thought the market was already saturated, so he turned to the hard stuff, since at the time there were no craft distilleries. Now that market is filling up as well. With plans for other spirits, including an apple jack that he’s working on in conjunction with Sociable Cider Werks, Winter is staking his claim in the small-batch distillery landscape.

Speaking of craft beer, Northgate Brewing is just a few doors down in the same building as Wander North, so you can make an evening of drinking local. The rotating cast of food trucks lets you eat local, too. The cocktail room is open Wednesday through Saturday, with happy hour Wednesday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. 

The cocktail room isn't fancy, but it is fun.

The cocktail room isn't fancy, but it is fun.

Wander North Distillery

771 Harding St. NE, Minneapolis