When University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh history professor Karl Loewenstein approached Sketchworks Architecture to design a building for his fledgling distillery back in 2019, the firm visited several sites with Loewenstein before settling on a midcentury-style building in the southeastern industrial area of town.
With a few Madison-area distillery projects under its belt, including Dancing Goat Distillery’s original location and expansion, State Line Distillery and J. Henry & Sons, Sketchworks had the necessary experience in distillery design, which requires a blend of hospitality and production capabilities.
“Distilleries ultimately need to be functional in design, efficient in layout and production to minimize required staff, and provide sufficient storage and prep space. They are, after all, a working factory for the production of spirits. Safety [in a distillery] is the No. 1 concern, without question,” explains Brad Koning, partner and director of project development. “Not only is a distillery a production facility, it also needs to have a hospitality aspect to host customers and groups for gatherings, meetings, company outings and more.”
The distillery, which officially opened last November, was named after the Lake Winnebago system’s popular sturgeon fishing and spearing tradition. But it’s not just a name — various aspects of the Oshkosh area are thoughtfully incorporated into the building’s design, which has a midcentury feel. The building was stripped down to expose the unique roof structure and supporting center beams, and character was added via design elements by Sketchworks.
Stained concrete flooring represents the ice-covered area lakes — and is durable. The reclaimed wood ceiling treatment in the building’s corridor loosely mirrors a wood dock and serves as wayfinding between rooms. Wall graphics and repurposed décor reflect a fishing theme. And the tasting room’s bar siding is wrapped in aluminum — and was an ice shanty in a former life. Koning says the wear and tear on the aluminum provide additional character to bar area.
Guests are able to view the distilling operations from the tasting room via a window, “giving transparency to the production of the spirits,” notes Koning. Guests can sample and purchase vodka, rum, infused spirits and more.
As the only distillery in Oshkosh, Sturgeon Spirits is a welcome addition to the area, and allows guests to taste and celebrate the traditions of Wisconsin.
“The design combines to form a cohesive design that relates to the building, Oshkosh and the institution of sturgeon fishing — and its spirit,” says Koning.