Everything fell into place when Jesse Held and Jeff Erkkila, proprietors of the Minneapolis cocktail mixer and ginger beer company Earl Giles, decided they needed a permanent space of their own to grow their business. They found the Kurt Building, an old auction house for heavy machinery in a happening part of northeast Minneapolis near restaurants and breweries. The building had room for them to upgrade their equipment and expand their syrup and ginger beer production facilities.
More than enough room. The building was 16,000 square feet.
"It was this gigantic space," Held said. "We were like, what are we going to do with all this space? That's when we started kicking around dirt. 'Hey, what if we open a distillery?'"
Three years almost to the day after they first toured the place, Held and Erkkila went public with the news: They're launching Earl Giles Distillery later this year at 1325 Quincy St. NE.
The distillery and production center will also be home to a 165-seat cocktail lounge with a 50-foot bar, a mezzanine for private events, and a kitchen with a 10-foot wood-fire oven for pizzas and other roasted bites. An indoor herb garden will provide garnishes for cocktails as well as botanicals for spirits like gin. And a gift shop will sell barware and Earl Giles products.
"We're trying to pinch ourselves. This is really happening for us right now," Held said by phone Monday, giddy over the news. "Jeff and I are looking at each other going, How did we get here?"
The bones of the building are being updated now, with the buildout for the distillery (designed by Shea) still to come. Held expects an opening in the fall.
Earl Giles Distillery will join a busy block. Able Brewery & Seedhouse and Animales Barbeque are on one end; Centro, Popol Vuh and Indeed Brewing are on the other. Tattersall Distilling is practically around the corner.
"I'm so excited to be a part of that block, next to some of our really good friends," Held said. "They took the plunge to do their own thing, and now we're doing our own thing with them."
Held and Erkkila's roots among restaurants and other beverage-makers run deep. As Jester Concepts' beverage director, Held crafted some of the Twin Cities' most revered cocktail menus at places like Parlour and Constantine. From the kitchen, Erkkila helped ensure those cocktails came out perfect every time by batching cocktail mixers and syrups. Friends in the industry wanted to partake in their elixirs, too. So, they launched Earl Giles Bottling Co. in 2015. Held left Jester Concepts last spring.
The new space gives Earl Giles the opportunity to add spirits to their menu: vodka, gin, rum to start; eventually whiskey, brandy, and a full line of liqueurs.
"Everything that we have to put into a cocktail, we have to produce," Held explained. "With all the syrups and nonalcoholic mixers we do currently, it's going to be kind of a one-stop shop when it comes to what people are going to eat and drink from us."
After years of toiling behind bars and in kitchens, Held and Erkkila are embarking on this next phase in their careers with a heap of gratitude for mentors and friends who gave them chances in the business, and for other microdistillers who paved the way, Held said.
"We are lifelong industry career people, just grinding it out over the last 25 plus years, working stupid odd hours and sacrificing holidays and vacations," he said. "This was something that we sacrificed most if not all of our adult lives to try to get to. This opportunity is one of those life-changing, career-defining moments for us."