Knowlton House Distillery is making award-winning spirits out of cheese by-products

When you first walk into Knowlton House Distillery south of Mosinee, the blend of operation and function become abundantly clear. 

The distillery, opened last Labor Day Weekend, features brand new distilling equipment, a blend of copper and steel that provides a steampunk aesthetic to the decor. Combined with tasteful design choices by Paper City Studio owner Logan Erickson, the place immediately feels welcoming and cool. 

But that’s just the decor of the place. At its heart is a devotion to the science of fermenting. Owner Heather Mullins knows that part well, with a master’s degree in fermented science. 

What makes Knowlton House Distillery unique is that its spirits use the milk sugar by-product from cheese-making from the Mullins Cheese operations. That requires a special yeast to convert that milk sugar into alcohol to create the various spirits served at Knowlton House. 

The result: A creamier style of spirits that is already winning awards. 

Mullins says she was introduced to the concept in graduate studies in the UK, where a similar cheese-making operation was also producing the unique type of alcohol. It’s not very common, and Knowlton House is one of maybe a dozen making alcohol this way, she says. 

‘ Mullins spent a couple of years experimenting with various yeast strains before coming up with one she liked, and since then she and her husband Luke started the distillery. 

All that equipment not only looks cool, but it serves a function. The vodka process employs 40 plates that distill the spirit into the highest quality. The stacks, which can be seen through the glass from the tap room, are tall and impressive looking.

The name itself goes back to a Knowlton House tavern built in 1849 in Knowlton, Mullins says. The funny story is that the name of the bar, which was a popular stopping point for loggers and others, became synonymous with the area. So when they named it a town, they named it after the bar. 

The spirits are actually named under a different branding: TenHead. That’s a nod to the founder of what eventually became Mullins Cheese, who sold his 10 head of cattle to escape the potato famine in Ireland to come to the U.S. He started a dairy farm that eventually grew into a cheesemaking operation. 

Today Knowlton House Distillery is not only a place to enjoy a cocktail, it features a pet-friendly patio for outdoor drinking and a full menu. That latter part was important, Mullins says, because if they’re going to serve alcohol they see it as important to provide dining to mitigate the drink’s impacts to a degree.

That menu features fare ranging from the Knowlton Burger, to an arugula and beet salad, to a bourbon-glazed pork chop. 

How’s it been going? Pretty good, Knowlton House staff say. Both the TenHead vodka and gin won gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. And the vodka won double gold and the gin won platinum at the SIP awards. 

Knowlton House Distillery is located at 204575 Highway DB, Knowlton. Bottle shop & tastings available 11 am-5 pm daily. Cocktail bar & dining open 4-9 pm Thursday, 11 am-9 pm Friday and Saturday, 11 am-5 pm Sunday.