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Pre-Prohibition America was a time of vast expanse in liquor artistry, and yet today much of that artistry is long forgotten. Prohibition came, and most people, for fear of being discovered and prosecuted, burned or destroyed much of the information on liquor, thus creating the gap in knowledge that we have on the subject today. […]

Pre-Prohibition America was a time of vast expanse in liquor artistry, and yet today much of that artistry is long forgotten. Prohibition came, and most people, for fear of being discovered and prosecuted, burned or destroyed much of the information on liquor, thus creating the gap in knowledge that we have on the subject today.

Distil (722 N. Milwaukee St.) is poised to bring it back. Part of the SURG Restaurant Group, Distil is new in town, having just opened in late September. Mixing pre-Prohibition cocktails, and serving a slew of bourbon and rye whiskies, wine, cheese and aged meat, it’s unlike most other bar.

The uniqueness of Distil starts with the menu, a thick, wood-covered book that the bartender explained as fairytale like, which is accurate in all manner of the phrase. Never have I seen a menu with a Table of Contents (truly a magical thing). And if you can find your way through all that literature, cheese and aged meats are waiting. Cheese flights, according to the bartender, are the popular choice, served with a notepad and pencil, so a person can pinpoint exactly why they like a cheese and then order it again next time. And hopefully Distil will change people’s minds about aged meats, in my opinion one of the greatest (and most underappreciated) types of meat.

The atmosphere of Distil is simple, which lends itself well to the artisan style of drinks they serve. The walls are bare brick, interspersed with elegant wood paneling. High-backed leather booths, mimicked by high-backed leather chairs at the bar, are both unadorned and calm. This under toned décor of Distil brings the focal point to their drinks. The wine and whiskey section of the menu is staggering, on top of which they mix some recipe cocktails lost in Prohibition, with both old and new spins. And despite being predominately wine and whiskey, the beer selection isn’t too shabby (it is Milwaukee, after all).

It’s expensive though. A bar would have to be, serving such a wide variety of liquors. But if, like many people I suspect will do, you come here to have a drink before eating out, you might just end up spending more at Distil than you will on your meal. I ordered a very low-shelf reserve bourbon, neat, and it cost $10. And it was poured with a jigger! For those who don’t know what a jigger is, it’s the silver, shot-looking hour glass that measures how much liquor they put in a drink. This, in my opinion, is the single greatest fault a bar can commit. It illustrates to the patron that they are only money, and the bar doesn’t want to risk pouring even a single drop more than they paid for, which makes the establishment look cheap and the bartender inexperienced. The cardinal rule of good bar is that stiff drinks bring repeat customers (even when the prices are higher).

That aside, Distil is still worth it. Any bar that attempts the almost insurmountable task of revitalizing long forgotten cocktails and putting aged meat and flights of cheese on the menu is a bar worth trying. And the best part is you don’t have to call up your local bootlegger or steal away to any speakeasy. 

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