At Wonderland Distilling Co., nothing is off-limits. Tucked in Muskegon’s Lakeside neighborhood, Wonderland’s new craft cocktail bar pours up passion, innovation and creativity, and invites you to reconnect with the great outdoors.
Allen Serio and Mark Gongalski, CMO and CEO, respectively, met years ago while bonding over the craft beer industry at Unruly Brewing Company. In late 2018, the Muskegon natives founded the company and started building Wonderland’s manufacturing plant, which is located in the Muskegon Heights neighborhood.
“We really loved the craft industry,” Serio said. “We loved the family feel that was around it, and that’s one of the reasons I really wanted to dive right into the industry. Craft distilling was kind of that next frontier that we both had a passion to go after.”
Construction delays and the COVID-19 pandemic pushed back the cocktail bar’s original opening date, however; there was an unexpected silver lining.
“We had a really interesting tear in the company as soon as the pandemic hit,” Serio said. “We were constructing the cocktail bar and it came down to the executive order that we had to cease construction. So, on one side of the business, we had to halt all operations. But, on the manufacturing side, where we had a separate building, it went into overdrive.
“The federal government asked us to immediately start making hand sanitizer and literally overnight we were making more hand sanitizer than we could get out to essential workers and companies that still had to stay open. So, on one side, we’re working overtime, and on the other side, dead in the water. It’s been a very interesting year for us.”
The distillery’s name is a nod to Michigan’s vintage license plates from the ‘60s with the slogan, “Water-Winter Wonderland.”
“It’s really the story of celebrating the land that’s around you and the agriculture that’s around you and appreciating the outdoors again,” Serio said. “You can find appreciation for being outside and going out and living life again. And that’s where ‘Wonderland’ really comes from for us.”
The distillery honors Michigan’s natural wonders and rich agriculture by locally sourcing ingredients as much as possible, including locally grown rye and wheat, and Michigan apples for its in-house apple liqueur.
“We have unbelievable agriculture here,” Serio said. “Grains, corn, wheat, rye — Michigan is a really great state to get your ingredients from and we like to celebrate that.”
The cocktail bar opened in mid-October and brought on Josiah Gentry as general manager, formerly from The Winchester and Eastern Kille Distillery in Grand Rapids.
“We gave him all of the tools to be creative, to innovate, and just create an unbelievable cocktail menu,” Serio said. “All of the people behind the bar are passionate about not only making a really great cocktail, but also going all the way down to the ingredient level. We are a scratch bar — we’re making our own bitters, amaros, you name it. We’re making it all in-house.”
Must-haves on the cocktail menu include Sweater Weather, made with vodka, apple liqueur, lemon, brown sugar simple syrup, bitters and bubbles; and the Brown Butter Old Fashioned, which has brown sugar, brown butter-washed whiskey and cinnamon bitters. The menu rotates, currently offering over a dozen handcrafted cocktails, mocktails and canned cocktails.
A fun and unique twist, Wonderland has a canning machine next to its bar.
“Not only are the draft cocktails able to be canned, but any cocktail that we make that’s stirred — not shaken — we can put in a can for you,” Serio said. “So, if you’re taking a trip somewhere or heading out to a party, you can get a great craft cocktail in a can, and all you’ve got to do is put ice in a glass, pour it over, and you’re all set.”
And of course, you can’t forget about the food. The cocktail bar serves up mouthwatering bar bites that are perfect for sharing.
“Our steak focaccia and bao buns are flying off the shelf — we can barely keep them in,” Serio said. “Our approach to how the food menu comes together is the same way we do the cocktail menu. There’s some really talented, passionate people in the kitchen. And we’re working together as a team to invent and let them be creative.
“There’s nothing more prideful, for us, than to see our team come together and take a great level of detail into what they’re doing and actually see those items make it to the menu.”
On the inside of the cocktail bar, Serio and Gongalski’s love for the outdoors can be seen and felt everywhere. From the warm, comfortable leather on the chairs to the broken-down whiskey barrels and shiplap, every piece in the space was meticulously curated.
“We want you to reconnect with the outdoors by what you see in here,” Serio said. “We do a lot of little things that all have a story behind them. Everything that’s here has a purpose and it has something we can talk to you about because of it.
“I love that we’ve been able to create an event where people — even for a brief period of time — can come and enjoy themselves. I think we all need a little enjoyment right now.”