MUSKEGON HEIGHTS — The partners behind Wonderland Distilling Co. want to position their spirits as a connection to the outdoors culture in West Michigan and a link to the water that surrounds it.
The startup distillery has already signed a lease and has started construction on production space in Muskegon Heights and expects to submit its federal licensing paperwork in the coming weeks, said Allen Serio, Wonderland’s chief marketing and sales officer.
The company’s name harkens back to versions of the “Water Wonderland” slogan on the classic Michigan vehicle license plates from the 1950s and ’60s.
“Wonderland really stuck with us,” Serio said. “This wonderland, the appreciation for the land around us and the agriculture and the seasons and the lakes, all of those things really resonate to each of the partners.”
Wonderland came together as a shared interest in the distilling industry for Serio, who created Muskegon’s Burning Foot Beer Festival, and Mark Gongalski, a partner in Muskegon-based Unruly Brewing Co. Over cocktails, the idea for the distillery took shape, with Gongalski also recruiting fellow Unruly partners Greg Van Woerkom and Zach Noling.
Unruly had just purchased an off-site manufacturing facility in Muskegon Heights when the neighboring property also became available, and the partners saw an opportunity to share equipment and knowledge between the two companies at adjacent locations.
“It was a natural fit right out of the box,” Serio said.
Last month, Wonderland completed a $700,000 capital raise involving four investors, according to a federal securities filing.
The company aims to start producing spirits by summer and is in the hiring phase for a distiller for the company, Serio said. Wonderland also is working with Muskegon-based NexGen Mechanical Solutions LLC to build its stills.
For now, Serio expects the Muskegon Heights location to focus on production to get spirits into distribution. The company could add a small tasting room at the production facility, but wants to focus on building its brand and eventually open a cocktail bar in downtown Muskegon.
“We want to be known for manufacturing. We want to be known for producing spirits and having it out in the marketplace … so that when we get to that tasting room or cocktail bar, people are very aware of the brand name,” Serio said.
As Wonderland puts the finishing touches on its plan, another distillery is planning to open in the Noble Building at 500 W. Western Ave., Suite 300 in downtown Muskegon.
West Michigan Rum Co. LLC, which currently has a licensed distillery in Norton Shores, has secured city approval for a downtown distillery tasting room, which the company is branding as Burl & Sprig.
According to Peter Johnson, a managing member of the distillery, the company plans to open a 1,200-square-foot cocktail bar offering small plates. The space, which Johnson targets for a late spring opening, sits immediately behind the taproom for Pigeon Hill Brewing Co.
The plan is to leverage the Norton Shores production facility to serve the downtown Muskegon bar and eventually get spirits into distribution, said Johnson, who describes the company as “a rum-centric distillery” that plans to produce its own spirits, as well as source and blend aged products from other producers.
The company also is in talks with global artists to feature their works on its labels.
“I think that speaks to how we approach distilling and blending and discovering as an artform, and we like that idea greatly,” Johnson said.