2619 28th Ave. S.
When Nathan Karnitz was attending graduate school at Carlson School of Management, he submitted a business plan to start a distillery in Minneapolis. Once graduated, he got together with his wife Kristen and friend Chris, finding a small space in the Seward neighborhood to start a liquor distilling company in October 2014.
They named their new distillery ‘Lawless’, a nod to the neighborhood’s history. During Prohibition, the area had a number of ‘tippling houses,’ small illegal bars, some in private homes.
Small distilleries such as Lawless couldn’t have tasting rooms as until 2014, but when the law changed to allow onsite cocktail rooms, Lawless fortunes began to change. Their cocktail room, opened in the summer of 2016, was a hit, bringing in in fans of fancy cocktails using Lawless specialty liqueurs.
Lawless makes vodka, gin, rum and whiskey, but it’s their special flavored alcohols and their liqueurs that set them apart. “Our best seller is our juniper gin. My favorite is fernet, one of our liqueurs,” said Karnitz. (Fernet is an Italian bitter/sweet, an 80 proof digestive made at Lawless with 23 individual botanicals.)
The idea of a cocktail room, for Karnitz, was that people could experience their products socializing with others. “The cocktails come off tap and we can mix and match the taps.”
The small cocktail room was the real moneymaker for the distillery. But, the pandemic forced the company to streamline their cocktail bar. Their small tasting room had to move outside.until it got cold in October. “The crowds are down. Before the pandemic we had a staff of 18 to 20 people, but it’s pretty grim for the service industry right now,” said Karnitz.
“We can sell through liquor stores, but the cocktail bars are the way we make our money. Craft producers need them,” he said.
“Right now the economic downturn means people are buying cheaper produces and the craft products get overlooked. It’s a challenging time for small producers.”
While COVID has been difficult for Lawless, they were not hurt by the riots, although the Ivy Arts building next door caught fire.
“I got a phone call in the middle of the night. We had to work with the fire department to let them know that there were flammable liquids in the building. We spend all the next day moving the alcohol out of the building until things settled down. We got back in and started operating after a week or two.”
While the weather is good, the cocktail patio will stay open, but now and into the winter, Lawless plans to stay afloat by selling cocktail kits, ready for home consumption, as well as bottles of their specialty creations.
In addition to bottles of liquor and cocktail kits, at the beginning of the pandemic, the company started producing Lawless Hand Sanitizer. Karnitz donates to first responders and persons in need and includes a bottle with every cocktail kit.