years ago, Guy Rehorst took a big chance when he opened up Great Lakes
Distillery, the first distillery to open in the state of Wisconsin
since Prohibition. His experiment was a great success, and now there
are more than 50 distilleries across the state.
Just within the
past year, there’s been a mini-explosion of distilleries right here
in Milwaukee. In fact, two distilleries opened in Walker’s Point,
just blocks away from Great Lakes, and two other contract distilleries
just opened as well.
Standard Craft Distillery
became the second distillery to open within the city limits when
founders Evan Hughes, Brandt Foster and Pat McQuillan opened their
doors last fall. "The community support has been out of this
world," Hughes says.
Standard, in the parlance of the industry, is a "grain to
glass" distillery, which means they source everything as locally
as possible. Most ingredients are sourced from within 125 miles of the
city, and they’re talking with a local farmer about supplying all
the grain for their spirits.
also has a craft beer license — a license that allows it to not only
make cocktails with its products, but also sell craft beer, which
works well with the Milwaukee Brewing Co. as its next-door neighbor.
unusual is that the distillery’s tasting room takes precedence, and
the distillery operations take up as little space as possible. In
fact, when it’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, head distiller Brian
"Blaze" Blazel and head bartender and distiller Edgar Perez
move all the tables out and the forklifts and palettes move in.
Right now, the
distillery makes a white whiskey with oats (instead of the standard
wheat), a vodka made from rye, making it more like a Polish vodka, and
a gin with more floral botanicals than most.
Central Standard will release its first young one-year whiskey, which
has been aged in honeycombed barrels to give it an older taste. But
the goal has been to age and produce good whiskey, so expect some aged
releases in years to come. 613 S. 2nd St., thecentralstandard.com.
worked for the CIA both before and after 9/11 as part of the team that
was hunting Bin Laden. He then returned to his home state to get a law
degree from UW-Madison and found a job working in the Milwaukee
district attorney’s office. Sammons also worked as a private
practice attorney and realized he was not happy, nor were many of the
people he worked with. After he and his wife, Laura Singleton, had
their daughter, Scarlet, he realized he wanted to be able to spend
more time with them.
A passion for
spirits and tinkering with things made him happy. The two combined led
to his decision to open the aptly named Twisted Path. "It was
something I was really interested in, and I saw there was a niche I
could fill and that it was something I’d be good at," Sammons
scenes, during by-appointment tours, Sammons explains some of the
differences between Twisted Path and other distilleries. One of the
biggest differences is that Sammons builds most of his own equipment,
and in fact, he’s working to patent his electric-jacketed heating
system to distil the grain into spirits.
extends to his cozy tasting room, where he built and welded the chairs
and lights. When Twisted Path opened in December of last year, it
became the first certified organic distillery in the area. He makes
two vodkas — an 80 and 100 proof. The higher proof is for bartenders
who want the vodka to get less diluted in cocktails. He also makes a
white and dark rum. Instead of using cheap, bottom of the barrel
molasses, he uses really good ingredients and distils them very
slowly. His dark rum is aged in new oak and used rye whiskey barrels.
This summer, he
will release his first gin, and he is working with Ira Koplowitz and
Nick Kosevich of Bittercube, which just opened its headquarters
upstairs from Twisted Path, to develop a spiced rum.
Right now, tours
and tastings are by appointment only, but by this summer, he will
likely have regular tasting room hours on the weekends. 2018 S. 1st
For the past 10
years, Doug Mackenzie was the distiller at Great Lakes Distillery. He
was the first employee hired by Guy Rehorst, and he loved coming up
with their creative and distinctive line of spirits.
tenure, several other distilleries tried to lure him away, but he
never wanted to leave. Then, his friend, Jason Neu, who used to be the
mixologist for Great Lakes, encouraged Mackenzie to join him in
starting their own distillery.
"It was now
or never," says Mackenzie, who with Neu joined forces with Roger
Scommegna, founder of realtor.com and Three Thieves Winery, to form
Black Fawn. "A black fawn exists, but it’s almost a mythical
creature," Mackenzie says. "It’s like an albino fawn, but
starting with a brick and mortar distillery, they saw a void in the
premium bottled cocktail market, so they’re starting with Soul
Boxer, a bottled brandy old-fashioned that should make its debut on
the market this spring. Soul Boxer is barrel-aged for a month, and it’s
made using a recipe they’ve perfected over the years. Mackenzie and
Neu are making and bottling Soul Boxer at Yahara Bay Distillery in
Later this year,
they’ll bottle a whiskey old-fashioned and maybe a Manhattan and a
Pimm’s Cup. Eventually, they want to distil their own line of
spirits and open a distillery in Milwaukee. Since both Neu and
Mackenzie have esteemed reputations, Soul Boxer has already been
mentioned in The New York Times. "Many other distillers start out
in other industries, but all we know is spirits, and we’re starting
the ground running," Mackenzie says. blackfawndistilling.com
Orlenko was 14 years old, he started making old-fashioneds for his
father and then worked as a bartender when he was in college. But he
went into sales and marketing, and he eventually became the vice
president for two different electronic firms. Eighteen months ago, he
decided to follow his dream of owning his own business.
opening his own distillery, he decided that he’d first become a
contract distillery and build a base for his product. His product?
Bottled Wisconsin old-fashioneds. Orlenko has the four standard
versions — brandy sweet, brandy sour, whiskey sweet and whiskey
sour, which were released in November, and the recipes are his own,
In January, his
line of seven flavored egg crème liqueurs (butterscotch, vanilla,
chocolate, mint, almond, butter and peanut butter) were released, and
their recipe is based on a friend’s German grandmother’s homemade
vodka, cream, egg and vanilla liqueur. Because most of the ingredients
in the crème liqueurs are from Wisconsin, he gets to put a
"something special from Wisconsin" sticker on the bottles.
ready-to-drink beverages like Mike’s Hard Lemonade and even
margarita-flavored drinks are actually malt liquor, not real
cocktails. "We use premium ingredients like real sugar and
natural flavors, and we actually do muddle them — but we muddle them
in a big, 1,000-gallon tank," Orlenko says. This summer, his two
most popular old-fashioneds, brandy sweet and whiskey sour, will be
available in cans, and they likely will be available at many golf
courses in the state, as well as other venues that don’t allow
Wisconsin, his beverages are available in Nebraska and parts of
Illinois, and Orlenko has plans to expand his distribution. But what
he’d really like to do is bottle his old-fashioneds and crème
liqueurs in Grafton, where he is based. His next step is to build a
bottling plant and tasting room. In the meantime, he’s having a lot
of fun selling his cocktails, which come in colorful bottles.
liqueurs are particularly amusing, with tongue-in-cheek names like
Buzzed Beaver Butterscotch and Naughty Dog Peanut Butter that are
illustrated with funny cartoon-like characters. "I’m having the
time of my life," Orlenko says, picking up Wilbur, his rescue
chihuahua-terrier mix, who bears a striking resemblance to the Naughty
Dog on the label. phillysbeverages.com