Neither Scott Kaldenberg nor Brandon Thornton had ever operated an eating or drinking emporium before, but when the idea of birthing a new distillery cropped up, they figured it made perfect sense.
“Well, we’re professional drinkers,” Kaldenberg said, setting off a round of laughs between him and his new partner. “We needed to reduce our costs and so we thought our own distillery would be the best approach.”
That motivation — perhaps part joke, part serious — along with a background in home brewing led the pair of former consulting executives to take a wild detour.
Their brainchild, Flying Dutchman Spirits — they, along with third partner Jim Kaldenberg (Scott’s uncle), all happen to be private pilots and of Dutch heritage — took another step forward in becoming a reality when the Eden Prairie City Council approved agreements related to a $50,000 Hennepin County grant for the distillery earlier this month.
Both Thornton and the younger Kaldenberg traveled extensively for work throughout their careers, and while Kaldenberg joked that he now hates airlines, the creative genius for their new endeavor came from those prior lives and discovery of obscure spirits overseas.
“We have a pretty diverse set of breweries and different kinds of beer represented in the U.S. now,” Thornton said. “But we’re really missing a lot of the world’s spirits. You can talk about pálinka or cachaça and some of these spirits that, by and large, people in the United States have never even heard of. We really wanted to bring these different flavors to market and tell the story of the different cultures that developed those.”
If your first reaction is “pa-what?” know that Flying Dutchman is starting their liquor lineup with some offerings better known around these parts, but with subtle twists. Early ideas include a gin with Mediterranean influences (think rosemary, thyme, basil and olives), a tequila-style spirit (they’re calling it Frontera Norte), a Caribbean-style sugar-cane rum (unlike popular molasses varietals) and a vodka.
“We’re leaning more toward an Eastern European style,” Kaldenberg said. “More of a viscous, oily mouthfeel rather than the thin, light corn vodka you see a lot.”
The trio hope to christen their new spot at Shady Oak Road and Flying Cloud Drive between December and February, subject to acquiring state and city licenses. They plan to offer both food truck access and a simple snacks menu.
Soon after their clear-spirit opening, the team hopes to dive into brown spirits via rapid-aging technology. By that point, Kaldenberg and Thornton hope to have established a market for a little more experimentation in the form of that pálinka (a fruit brandy native to Hungary and Austria) and cachaça (a Brazilian-style rum), for starters.
“It might be a tough sell to get somebody to say ‘Ah, I’m walking into a liquor store. I’ve never had a pálinka before. I don’t know what it is. I should try it,’ ” Kaldenberg said. “We thought by starting with a different twist on some common products we could get people to kind of open their minds a little bit and then trust us enough to make a good quality product that by extension of our brand they’ll be willing to try [the more creative spirits].”