It seems to be a common theme that people who grew up here and move away are often drawn to return with a transplanted spouse in tow. That’s what happened to local Forge and Foundry Distillery owners Andrew Mosiman and Christie Wanderer of Stillwater. Mosiman is a Stillwater native who joined the U.S. Navy and was stationed in San Diego, Calif. While living there, he met Wanderer of Los Angeles. The couple married and Mosiman convinced Wanderer to move to his hometown. But we can’t yet say “the rest is history,” because they are still making some history with the recent opening of their downtown distillery.
Spirit of Stillwater: Forge and Foundry owners asked local artist Jared Tuttle to create this impressive mural.
Like many entrepreneurs, the path to their profession is not a linear one. Wanderer is a creative director for a medical device manufacturer and Mosiman has been a stay-at-home dad since the couple’s twin boys were born 12 years ago. But, once their boys started school, Mosiman found himself wanting something more to do. “I contacted Target,” says Mosiman, “and they were great.” He enjoyed the flexible work offered on evenings and weekends but says he had an itch to make something. In college and in the Navy, Mosiman recalls taking kegs of Milwaukee’s Best Light beer and distilling it down to make powerful alcohol for the guys in college and on ships.
“It’s kind of like being a chemist, or the professor on Gilligan’s Island,” jokes Mosiman. But all joking aside, he did seriously begin to ponder starting a distillery.
The couple decided to pursue the idea by taking business classes and enlisting the help of a mentor who reviewed their business plans and finances. Then, they traveled to Seattle, Wash. to take a couple of additional courses. “The tax breaks and use of local grains encouraged [the growth of] local distilleries [in Seattle],” says Mosiman, adding “We learned to distill there, how to navigate federal paperwork and what to look for when buying a building.” Afterward, the couple locked in some financing and began their hunt for a Stillwater location.
Mosiman says, “We wanted to employ people here and make something here, and have it say, ‘made in Stillwater.’” But distilling requires certain specifications like high ceilings to accommodate equipment and preferably cement floors with drains, something many available historic Stillwater buildings lacked. But their search led them to what they believe to be the perfect location on Main St., complete with the requisite high ceilings and concrete floors. Even better, the building has a second level with flooring solid enough to accommodate the distillery’s aging booze barrels, not to mention an upper level deck area with spectacular views of the St. Croix River.
The space was secured in December of 2019 and the couple spent Christmas break with their kids demolishing everything inside what was once Northern Vineyards Winery. If you’ve been in the space before, you’d hardly recognize it now. An entire wall has been removed along with a drop ceiling. A hammer drill was used to remove floor tiles. A bar, tasting room and distillery area were installed, along with an additional bathroom for added capacity. Everything was repainted and a super cool mural was added by local artist Jared Tuttle.
The Science of Spirits: Distilling begets clear liquors first, so intital offerings include rum, vodka and gin.
Naming the business was another hurdle the couple managed to overcome with a solid landing. Their initial thought was to incorporate Wanderer’s last name. But that likely would have caused some brand confusion with a Minneapolis distillery. “We’d rather collaborate than be competitors,” says Wanderer. They also wanted to establish a brand that is local but not so local that it inhibits any potential nationwide growth. Stillwater’s lumberjack history wasn’t as meaningful to them personally, but further archival investigation turned up a historic local company called Twin Cities Forge and Foundry, a business that made ammunition and metal products used during the World Wars, sort of a match for Mosiman’s military background. Wanderer says, “that company seemed to represent a rebirth of Stillwater … providing jobs … that resonated with us.”
An “FF” sub-logo on their bottles is meant to represent friends and family. “We want this to be a place for people to hang out with family and friends, and make new friends,” says Wanderer. The business has hired four employees, whom the couple views as an extension of their family. They opened their doors on August 7th months after their desired opening date, delayed due to COVID-19, which they are vigilant to monitor and help prevent through limiting capacity and requiring face masks whenever patrons aren’t drinking.
Mosiman notes that distilling begets clear liquors first. So, their initial offerings will be rum (molasses based), vodka (wheat based) and gin. Whiskey needs to be barreled for 2-4 years, so any whiskey cocktails offered on site will be outsourced while Forge and Foundry ages its own. What’s cool is patrons can sample the distillery’s whiskey during the aging process to see what it tastes like along the way.
Along with its own creative cocktail menu, Forge and Foundry offers locally sourced sodas from Northern Soda in Arden Hills, housemade cola, ginger beer, shrubs, and draft kombucha from Bootlegger Brewing in Apple Valley. “We’re also partnering with the co-op next door for charcuterie platters and bleu cheese stuffed olives,” says Wanderer.
So, drop in. Say “hello.” And order a creative cocktail. The holiday season will likely bring new cocktail menu options at Forge and Foundry but classics like rum daiquiris, vodka mules and rum and colas are tasty standbys for any purists. And be sure to take a bottle home for mixing up your own drink recipes this season. Your Forge and Foundry bottles will be great conversation starters that will hopefully encourage more local support for this budding business. Cheers!