J. Carver Distillery to open in Waconia

Thanks to the arrival of J. Carver Distillery, the micro-distillery boom is coming to Waconia. And as reflected in its name, J. Carver Distillery promises to feature a distinct, local flavor in all aspects of its business.
“We want Waconia’s heritage and all the history of Carver County to be represented in each bottle of our spirits,” said Gina Holman, one of the founding partners of the distillery. “From the local grains to the actual names of the products and everything in between, we are excited to see the integration of every aspect come together to honor the past of this incredible community through every drop of our spirits.”
J. Carver Distillery will be housed in the former Valley Pontiac-GMC car dealership building located on the west side of Waconia. The approximately 17,000 square foot building is currently being renovated to accommodate the distillery, whose partners (Holman, Beth Aschinger, Bill Miller and Matt Miller) and investors (Tom Kullman, John Zupan and Gregg Groechel) are striving to fulfill the goal of producing vodka and/or gin this summer.
As explained by Bill Miller, who is also an investor in the business, the idea to create the distillery came to him about three years ago.
“At Thanksgiving, my brother Matt, who lived in New York and worked at a distillery, handed me a bottle of vodka that he made at the distillery he was working at and I really liked it,” Miller recalled. “Meanwhile, I had been thinking about coming up with a second career because my kids were growing older and getting ready to move off to college. He and I started talking about opening up a distillery in Minnesota.”
Unfortunately for the brothers, Minnesota did not allow distilleries at the time.
“Amazingly though, about six months later, the state changed that law to allow micro-distilleries again so the plan began,” said Miller, who noted that initially, they were going to locate in the city’s Pine Business Park but decided to go with the dealership building on Highway 5 when that opportunity later presented itself.
At the start, the distillery will employ five people, including Holman as the manager, Matt Miller as the lead distiller, Beth Aschinger as the administrator, and Dan Niesen as a distiller. Bill Miller said that depending on legislation, the hope is to expand to approximately 10 to 15 employees within a year or two.
Holman, a certified sommelier whose background includes about 20 years of experience as the Director of Liquor Operations for the city of Wayzata, said J. Carver Distillery will focus on unique, quality products and small batch production that puts an emphasis on the artisan craft distillation process. The business will be structured so it can make just about anything, including liquors of any color, type, input, and more.
As noted, the distillery will be deeply connected to the community, from the use of local ingredients to choosing product names that honor events, persons and places with a historical presence in Carver County.
“We’re going to carve out Carver County and Minnesota as our base and really integrate ourselves into the community,” said Miller, who noted their plan was always to locate in Waconia. “We want to be in Waconia. In all seriousness, the mayor and city administrator and the owner of the building … it has been really remarkable the level of support and encouragement we’ve received from local officials.”
Miller believes J. Carver Distillery will only add to the idea of Waconia being a destination for visitors.
“Distilleries are new. There are only a handful of distilleries in Minnesota now and we’ll be as big as any,” he said. “We’ll be a huge draw. We’re going to make it a huge draw.”
As the distillery moves forward, plans are to offer scheduled tours and while samples will be allowed on-site, current laws prevent J. Carver Distillery from being able to sell bottles of its products at the distillery itself. J. Carver Distillery will work with local restaurants and liquor stores to carry its products.
Holman said they are looking to hold an official launch event for the distillery sometime this summer, perhaps coinciding that with a golf tournament that they’re holding on Aug. 18 to benefit local non-profit groups.
For those who know Miller, they’ve probably noticed that Miller, who is normally clean shaven, has grown an impressive beard. Miller said he started growing it in early March and won’t shave it until the first drop of product is made at the distillery — looks like that day is coming soon.
To learn more about J. Carver Distillery, check out www.jcarverdistillery.com for information on products, tours, blogs, etc., or follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other social media sites.

Contact Todd Moen at todd.moen@ecm-inc.com

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