Learn about a new Northfield business, Loon Liquors, in this interview with Mark Schiller, a co-founder of the local distillery.
Tell us about how your business was started. How did you get involved in the industry?
It all started 5 years ago with my business partner (Simeon). He made a big patch of homemade kahlua, and we had a big White Russian party. There is a big difference between store-bought cocktails vs. family-made ones. You can compare homemade liqueur to a cookie that is super well rounded, and you can taste all the ingredients. Simeon’s liqueur was too good to pass up.
I went to the state and asked about the costs and requirements to do turn Simeon’s recipes into a business. The cost was huge….$30k/year. But, there was a clause in the upcoming Surly Bill, which lowered the fee for microdistilleries (producing under 20,000 gallons/year) to $1,100.
Simeon has an amazing palate. He knows organic chemistry, and he has a science background. He looked into the chemistry piece of our business, and I looked into the business side of it.
We settled on Loonshine by doing a little market research. We found out about popular moonshines, and we did a twist on it. Our Loonshine uses some oak, is filtered through charcoal, and uses wheat and barley. We launched Metropoligin a few months ago when we opened our cocktail room.
Where do you see your business going in the future?
We recently won the “light whiskey” silver medal in the Washington Cup Spirits Competition, which was really cool. The biggest goal right now is expanding our product line. We are interested in creating more products, expanding our cocktail line (to include winter cocktails), and possibly creating a barrel program so we can start aging some stuff.
Why is your business located in Northfield? What about Northfield benefits your business?
When we were looking for places to start up, we came back to Northfield because we are both Northfield High School grads. We are so glad we chose to stay in Northfield. It’s an awesome town. Also, being here means we’re the first (legal) distillery in Southern Minnesota. The Northfield community has been absolutely supportive. There was unanimous support for our cocktail room from city council.
A fun fact: The guy that passed prohibition went to college at St. Olaf College right here in Northfield. So, we’re set up a quarter mile from where the guy who passed prohibition went to college, which is pretty fun for us.
Being in Northfield also means we are closer to the farmers. Most of our grain is from right around the area (the rest from other midwest farmers). We send the remainder of the grain that we don’t use back to the farmers so they can feed their cattle and pigs. Our goal is to be waste free: everything that comes in our door gets sold, composted, or recycled.
Tell us about the space your business is located in. Is there anything you do to use the space that feels unique to your business?
We’re located in an industrial park — it’s really like a business incubator. We’re able to be in a spot that’s industrial–which is more economical for us right off the bat–but we still get to be close to Northfield. It’s also a certified organic space, which works well with our goal of zero waste.
What advice do you have for other business owners looking for a space?
Personally, I look at the landlord. You have to ask: are they good people all around? I went on my first non-parental fishing trip with our landlord’s son back in high school, so we have a long history. He put a lot of faith in us right off the bat — he gave us the lease before we had the permit (because you need the space to get the permit). The same thing happened with the bank. A lot of local people who were able to put a lot of faith in us.
Visiting Loon Liquors
The cocktail room is now open! Hours are: Thursdays and Fridays 4pm-Midnight // Saturday 2pm-Midnight.
In addition to their regular drinks, you can find house-made ginger ale to match the whiskey as well as house-made tonic to match the gin.