August 11, 2023

Dampfwerk Distilling (Season 5 Episode 26)

On this episode of Makers of Minnesota, Stephanie talks with Ralf and Mary Loeffelholz, the founders of Dampfwerk Distilling Ralf and Mary share the unique story of how they found their niche-producing high-quality spirits, fruit brandies, and liqueurs.


They also talk about the importance of having a strong team with diverse skills and how this has contributed to the success of their product. Additionally, they discuss the development of their cocktail lounge and the unique menu featuring collaborations with local personalities. Ralf and Mary highlight the importance of storytelling, packaging, and having a strong network in the industry. Tune in to hear about their journey and learn more about Dampfwerk Distilling


Stephanie [00:00:12]:

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the makers of Minnesota podcast, where we talk to cool people doing cool things. I’m here with Ralph and Mary Luffaholtz, and they are part of the family that owns Dump Work. Distilling and I have met your daughter Bridget. She’s been on our radio show The Weekly Dish before. I’ve not met Christian, and it’s fun to meet the two of you for the first time. Welcome to the program.

Mary Loeffelholz [00:00:40]:

Well, thank you, Stephanie. Thank you for having us. We’re excited.

Stephanie [00:00:43]:

Okay. We’ve talked to a lot of Distillers, but you right out of the gate. Identify yourself as a German owned distillery, and that has different connotations for the way that you produce your products and the way you present them. Can you talk a little bit about your heritage and why that was important to you?

Ralf Loeffelholz [00:01:10]:

Well, I suppose that’s my question. Right, so you hear from the accent. I’m German born, raised, and educated in Germany. I came over here a long, long time ago. One of my first impression, I was actually pre craft brewing, so I’m dating myself. Right. So at that time, I was really sad because there was no pop up beer, at least for German, and the only thing on the shelves were gigameister. Luckily, the craft brewing industry took off, and we have awesome beers, so it was really great, but still only gigameister. So that was kind of, for me, the notion to say, okay, you know what? There are so many different spirits, not only in Germany, but the surrounding areas, which we kind of I don’t want to say forgotten spirits, but they didn’t make it over here. And I always wondered why. And I still have different theories, but with my background in chemical engineering and having worked for the food and beverage industry, primarily brewing industry, I’m like, if I can’t pull it off, then no one can pull it off. That’s an exaggeration, of course. So finally, I think I got to the point where I said, you know what? I would like to try? My dear wife motivated me saying, okay, create a business plan and check it out if you can pull it off.

Mary Loeffelholz [00:02:33]:

And make me a good gin.

Ralf Loeffelholz [00:02:38]:

So that’s kind of like the history of how I got started.

Stephanie [00:02:43]:

So gin is your spirit, Mary, and you have a very delicious barrel aged gin. But that probably wasn’t the first one you started with.

Mary Loeffelholz [00:02:53]:

No. And the first one that Ralph started with, initially, he wanted to make fruit brandies. I mean, that is truly his passion. And we’re grounded in really being driven by wanting to be known as one of the best fruit brandy producers, not just in Minnesota, but in the country. But if we’re going to own a distillery, we need something a little bit more for me. So he started off, he made me this beautiful, beautiful London dry gin, which is very earthy. We’re a craft distillery, so things evolve, but very kind of mushroomy. And it was just the life. I’m like, okay, you know what? If nothing else, I’ve got this great product, and you go make your brandies.

Stephanie [00:03:46]:

I think the first product I had from you was a pear brandy.

Ralf Loeffelholz [00:03:51]:

Oh, wow. Awesome. Thank you. What did you think about it?

Stephanie [00:03:55]:

I loved it, and I am not a big brandy person, but I realized it was because I hadn’t probably ever really had a good one.

Ralf Loeffelholz [00:04:04]:

Yeah, well, we’re now on the fourth generation, and I have to say, it’s like with every craft distillery, we learn as we go, every single time, you realize what you could have improved on and the next time you implement it. So we have just released earlier this year, our last generation of pear brandy, which is phenomenal, much better than the first ones. And we have our supply chain lined up for this coming season, and I’m working on that tracking part, getting the product in. So very excited.

Stephanie [00:04:39]:

I was surprised when I had your peppermint schnopps. I don’t know why I was surprised, but it was extremely delicious and also tasted different than other peppermint schnops that I had had.

Mary Loeffelholz [00:04:54]:

It was the story behind this.

Stephanie [00:04:58]:

Okay, I want to hear it. Because I’d had, like, crappy peppermint schnopps in hot chocolate on a ski hill, and someone gave it to me as a gift, and I was like, oh, okay, well, this is fine. And then now I’m just drinking it straight up on the rocks.

Ralf Loeffelholz [00:05:16]:

Yeah. So the story behind it, if you know Shatuzva, the French liqueur, bennet benic dicton kind of liqueur, one of the best liqueurs, I think in the world. I’ve been working on it for six years straight. And one day, one of my last prototypes I presented to the family, not actually explaining what I’m giving them. And my dear daughter says, oh, it’s like a peppermint schnapps. And I had to admit it was very peppermint forward. So I’m like, nah, I’m not throwing it away. I’m making it a peppermint schnapps. So this is the most complex, most expensive peppermint schnapps you can make.

Mary Loeffelholz [00:05:59]:

It’s so good.

Stephanie [00:06:01]:

That would explain why, because I just was sort of like, oh, peppermint Schnaps, whatever. But no, it’s very complex, but also just lovely and refreshing and obviously minty, but not as cloyingly sweet as some that you would normally have, so well, good. I guess my palates may be better than I thought, because I noticed right away that it was like, oh, this is sipping Schnopps. This is amazing.

Ralf Loeffelholz [00:06:30]:

Thank you.

Mary Loeffelholz [00:06:31]:

Yeah, it is terrific. I mean, obviously, drinking it neat, we keep in the lounge here. We keep it in the freezer so you can have it frozen. But it’s fantastic in cocktails. An espresso martini is dynamite. Dynamite.

Stephanie [00:06:49]:

Yeah. Okay, well, that’s got my name all over it. You guys started a cocktail room. How long have you had your cocktail room? Now three and a half years gosh. Has it been that long? Wow.

Mary Loeffelholz [00:07:01]:

Yeah. November of 2019. Great timing is when we opened, and then we’ve had multiple opportunities to reopen over.

Ralf Loeffelholz [00:07:11]:

We got good at it.

Mary Loeffelholz [00:07:13]:

Oh, my goodness.

Stephanie [00:07:15]:

And you are in an industrial type space. So tell me about your location, why you picked the space that you did.

Ralf Loeffelholz [00:07:23]:

Yeah, so initially, when I started this business idea, I envisioned to have just a pure production site, so the least expensive production site I could find close to the home, because you’ll be spending a lot of time in the distillery and falling back. And falling back. So this is just eight minutes away from home, a very good landlord, very attractive lease. And I was not thinking about a cocktail lounge. I’m not a mixologist, so I drink things neat. The most complex mixed drinks I make for myself have three components, and they contain ice. I mean, I count ice. That means it’s a gin and tonic, it’s a Jack and Coke. So well, it’s simplistic and what we realized very quickly. So, first my son joined, then my daughter joined, and my daughter had the knack of taking awesome cocktail pictures and making awesome cocktails. And she really can run a cocktail lounge. I couldn’t. So that’s where Bridget came in. And then we really kind of mary and Bridget worked on this cocktail lounge, saying, okay, well, we are not in the perfect location.

Mary Loeffelholz [00:08:37]:

So we had a fantastic architect, snow crylic, and a great GC, which is mixed. And we developed this lounge space, which is really a brand builder for us because we don’t have spirits that you look and like, oh, I know exactly what that is. Right. So they need to have a story around it. And this is a playground for the team to really showcase our spirits in ways that you wouldn’t expect. Yeah, it absolutely is a destination. So, yes, we are in a very light industrial area. We always say, tell everyone, oh, where are you? You know where Bunnies is, and everybody knows where Bunnies is, and Methodist. And we’re just back a little bit further.

Stephanie [00:09:31]:

You’re like my neighborhood tap or you’re my neighborhood distillery? Potentially over in Golden Valley.

Mary Loeffelholz [00:09:38]:

Very much neighborhood. We embarked on this project of building this out, and again, it really fits the aesthetic of our brand. And I think it was Dara Musk Grumdoll who described walking, and it was like going through this wormhole. And we love the reaction that we get when people walk into this space like, wow, I had no idea this was here. We need to make sure that more people know that we’re here, but it is truly a destination. We love what this does for our guests.

Stephanie [00:10:19]:

So at this point, you have whiskey, you have gin, you have all these specialty liqueurs. That some that I’ve never even heard of until I’ve discovered them through you. Is that kind of your sweet spot?

Ralf Loeffelholz [00:10:37]:

I think so. That’s part of our core competence, where the narrative ends. We will never make a rum or tequila, and we don’t make bourbons because there are awesome bourbon makers in Minnesota and around the nation, and we want to stick a little bit to our narrative, something which kind of reflects what we drink ourselves and who we are. And sometimes it’s a stretch, but we have to stay. I mean, you cannot be good at everything. At least I can’t.

Stephanie [00:11:12]:

I feel like you’re getting pretty close, though. I mean, things that you didn’t think would be good, you’re now tinkering along, and they’re getting I mean, a barrel aged gin is not something that’s easy to do, and it’s fantastic.

Ralf Loeffelholz [00:11:27]:

Thank you. That’s one of the products I’m very proud of, and actually, again, happened by accident. Longer story, but we always say this is all planned and well tested out in many things, in craft distilling or in any kind of a business. You find that your failures work out quite nicely.

Stephanie [00:11:47]:

Yeah, you’re lucky in that way. Now, you guys are what I would consider a premium product. Is it harder to market a premium product, or is it just different?

Mary Loeffelholz [00:12:00]:

I would say it’s both, and that’s one of the reasons why we went the route of our packaging. Our packaging is very unique. Ralph keeps telling me that if I put another rabbit on a label, that I’m done. But it’s part of the way that we really want people to aid notice us. We have this packed. We’ll provide you a gorgeous package. What you put into it needs to be high quality, and to drive that repeat it is premium. It definitely requires a story, but at the same time, I think that’s what our buyers that’s what a lot of people like, right? I mean, there’s there’s always a place for, you know, a hand, you know, a handled vodka and and whatnot. There’s always that place. There’s a lot of room to really be something special, and that’s really what we’re trying to do. And quite frankly, what our niche is.

Stephanie [00:13:10]:

You’re a darling of a lot of the mixologists in town. They’re very fond of your products and use them a lot. How do you reach new people? I mean, you’re doing this craft spirit in a way that is elevated, but is also in a way that you’re making things that people don’t even know what they are. So how does that continue to move you forward, and how do you keep getting the word out?

Ralf Loeffelholz [00:13:40]:

It’s a slow process, and Mary will jump in here in a bit, but I think it’s a combination of the different characters and skills and personalities. I can speak to the product. My daughter knows how to run it, what to do with it. I couldn’t. So the combination works well, so I would never be able to explain how to make an old fashioned or Manhattan. Richard brings it to the next level, and that builds a reputation on premise, off premise, that gives the idea, okay, this is how it’s being made, and this is what I can do with it.

Mary Loeffelholz [00:14:21]:

Yeah. Again, Bridget deserves a lot of credit and props. I mean, she’s really built a network, a strong network. There’s a lot of back and forth. Our latest menu that she launched for Spring Summer is this track menu. So there’s there’s nine, you know, so called tracks on the the menu. So she collaborated with Yevang, she collaborated with Kamal from Stepchild, our architect Marcos, and worked with them on their personality, their cocktail choice. And so it’s featured on our menu along with what is the song that they envision. It’s very intentional. We’re not going to be out there mass producing. I would also say our distributor, the Wine Co, has really done a terrific job as well as a partner in this space. And it’s a little bit smaller, but they’re part of the story, part of the narrative as well. So I think it’s a couple of different prongs there that we’re trying to go after. And I appreciate you saying that. We’re darling. I can’t wait to tell Bridget that.

Stephanie [00:15:58]:

Oh, yeah. I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with Bridget, and I think that’s why I know about your products, and I’m willing to always give them a try because I always know it’s going to be good. It may not even be, like, my flavor profile, but I know when I get it that it’s going to be an elevated spirit and the best possible iteration of that that I could have, and particularly in the local craft cocktail space, because we’re getting pretty good now. But there was a period of time where it was taking a while for these products to get elevated, and I always knew I could trust yours. And it’s also, like, the greatest gift item. I give it as a gift all the time because the packages thank you. I look forward to coming and seeing you guys this fall when I’m a little less gardening and a little home around the roost longer. But I just want to thank you for being my guest today. It’s been fun to talk with you. It’s Dump work distilling, and you can check out their distillery behind Bunnies and by Methodist in St. Louis Park, I guess, is officially how that would be classified and check out their products. I was in Ely this weekend where I have a cabin, and they were directing me to some of your products. So you’ve got all over the state.

Mary Loeffelholz [00:17:12]:


Ralf Loeffelholz [00:17:13]:


Mary Loeffelholz [00:17:13]:

Thank you, Stephanie. We greatly appreciate you taking the time and having us.

Stephanie [00:17:17]:

Yeah, it’s fun to talk with you guys. We’ll see you soon.

Mary Loeffelholz [00:17:20]:

Okay, take care. Bye.