Stop by the new Dampfwerk Distillery in St. Louis Park and your tour will involve quite a few introductions. First, there’s Ralf Loeffelholz, who left a decades-long career in product management to follow a passion project years in the making. He officially launched Dampfwerk in 2016, combining his chemistry and engineering expertise with a hankering for the old-fashioned spirits and the culture he grew up around in Bremen, Germany. (Find a few classic drink recipes below!)
Then there’s his wife, Mary, a Minnesota native and Delta Airlines executive who brings a winsome personality, marketing know-how and a penchant for great gin to the mix. There are their kids, Edina High School alumni and dual citizens Brigit and Christian, as well as daughter and German resident Lena, the company’s resident millennials, who have been involved from day one. There is even a four-legged team member, a longhaired Weimaraner and official “distillery dog,” Olli.
Look up, and two huge, cartoonish line drawings—of women in old-school dresses—keep watch over the main distilling space. “Tilli” has an apple for a head, and she stands next to another woman under a bunch of grapes. “That’s her younger, impetuous sister, Ivy,” says Mary, with a laugh. They’re mascots, of sorts—watching over the day-to-day operations and making a stylish mark on the signature labels on the handmade Mexican bottles. The cast of characters—and the ideals they represent—all have their thumbprint firmly placed on this family-run micro-distillery.
With six spirits available already, and more on the way, the new company is decidedly multicultural, with one foot in yesterday and one in modern culture. A tattered, 200-year-old recipe book is as core to the distilling process as stainless steel surfaces and obsessive cleanliness and innovation. There’s a commitment to old-fashioned methods of distilling, but with an eye on appealing to the next generation of American customers.
The team has also capitalized on their Edina connections, while also keeping apprised of life in Germany, where the Loeffelholzes often travel to visit family. Wentz Engineering oversaw installation of the fire suppression system and helped retrofit the industrial space for distilling and alcohol storage. There were frequent runs to Jerry’s Hardware for supplies, and Edina-based photographer Ryan Dyer has been key in marketing the new line of products.
For Ralf, a goal of the business was to solve a dilemma: Stateside, he simply couldn’t find quality spirits like they have in Europe. “Think about a Texan who moves to Maine—that was kind of like me, getting used to American culinary and drinking customs here,” says Ralf. “Back in the day, farmers had the ability to make fruit liqueurs from their homegrown fruits, so everyone did.” In the Black Forest area, “there were 120 houses and 60 stills. Spirits are really part of the culinary cuisine. [In Germany], there’s always time for schnapps,” says Ralf. “And fruit brandies are big in the south of Germany—the closer you get to Austria, the more common they are.”
So one of the first spirits to be released by Dampfwerk was an apple brandy. The first batch was made with 70,000 pounds of Minnesota-grown Haralson apples—which have a bittersweet flavor.
It rested in stainless steel for months after first aging in flavorful French oak barrels. “American [barrels] tend to overpower apples,” explains Ralf. “It gives a mellower, woody dimension.” Last fall, the team also released a softer, barreled apple brandy—using the same base as the first version—and a grape brandy featuring local frontenac gris grapes and barreled in cabernet sauvignon French oak barrels.
First and foremost, Dampfwerk is creating old-fashioned spirits from high-quality, mostly local ingredients. The goal is to keep things simple and buck the assumption more options are always better. “What we’re trying to do is bring the classics back,” Ralf says. “Not reinvent them, but get those classic flavors right.”
The London-style dry gin, another of Dampfwerk’s debut spirits, is made from a classic juniper botanical blend. “Our gin is so bold, you don’t have to be afraid to cover it up with your tonic,” says Ralf. “Yeah, it’s woodsy. Very Land of 10,000 Lakes,” Mary says.
A regional Helgolander bitter features Gentian alpine root flavors mellowed out with berries, herbs and citrus notes. There’s just water and sweetener added to the alcohol, making for an excellent sipper all by itself but old fashioned-worthy, too. “It has a flavor profile like an earthquake—up and down, and then boom!” says Ralf.
Upcoming releases include a whiskey—Christian’s pet project that will bring traditional distilling techniques stateside.
Visit their website to schedule a tour (by appointment only), view upcoming events and new releases or find a retailer
DANPFWERK WET BAR RECIPES
Grab a bottle of Dampfwerk’s spirits—available at Edina Liquor locations and across the Twin Cities—and stock up on a few other ingredients to get top-shelf flavors, right at home. The Dampfwerk team shared their renditions of four classic cocktails using their barreled apple brandy as a base. With distinct personalities, but a nod to the past—in true Dampfwerk style—these sippers aren’t short on flavor, and there’s something here to please any craft cocktail connoisseur.
- 1 oz. Dampfwerk barreled apple brandy
- 1 oz. half-and-half
- 1 oz. white crème de cacao.
Shake all ingredients and strain into a chilled glass; sprinkle nutmeg on top for an extra touch. This rich drink practically begs to be enjoyed next to a roaring fire.
- 2 ½ oz. Dampfwerk barreled apple brandy
- 1 oz. lemon juice
- 1 oz. Cointreau
Pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice, shake until well mixed and strain into a cocktail glass. This one’s a colorful, flavorful stunner.
- ½ oz. dry vermouth
- 3 oz. Dampfwerk barreled apple brandy
- ½ oz. sweet vermouth
Mix all with ice in a mixing glass, and then strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with a slice of apple.
- 2 oz. Dampfwerk barreled apple brandy
- ¾ oz. Dampfwerk Helgolander herbal liqueur
- ¼ oz. simple syrup
- ¾ oz. lemon juice
- 3 oz. soda water
Serve in a highball glass, over ice and give it all a stir with a cinnamon stick to bring this traditionally summer drink nicely into winter. Or add whole star anise to garnish.