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18 Top Cocktails in Milwaukee

The very best drinks in town, as chosen by our discerning (hiccup) edit staff. Bottoms up!

MOSCOW MULE

Great Lakes Distillery Tasting Room
Made with MKE ingredients, GLD’s Rehorst vodka and Top Note ginger beer, freshened up with lime juice and garnished with a slice of lime. The copper mug keeps it cold. (TT)

MARGARITA

Cloud Red
The tequila-based staple is enhanced by fresh-squeezed limes and the Spanish Licor 43 Cuarenta y Tres, for a smooth, sweet finish. (TT)

THE VESPER MARTINI

Mason Street Grill
I like a good basic martini, and this is the closest Mason Street’s bar menu comes to one. The Vesper has both Bombay Sapphire gin and vodka, along with lillet blanc, a French cousin to vermouth. (TT)

Counterclockwise from left to right: Great Lakes’ Distillery Tasting Room’s Moscow Mule, Vermuteria 600’s Negroni, Boone & Crockett’s Sazerac, Bryant’s The Kismet, Story Hill BKC’s Jalapeño Paloma, Jazz Estate Old Fashioned, Goodkind’s Light as a Feather. Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki/PLATE

NEGRONI

Vermutería 600
This offbeat take substitutes tequila for gin, and Suze, a bitter French apertif, for Campari. Smooth and flavorful, it prompts me to throw caution to the wind and say, “I’ll have another.” (CN)

TANQUERAY AND TONIC

Tre Rivali
You know the old rock song, “Wild Thing”? Three-chord perfection. Similarly, this drink is three-ingredient perfection: Tanqueray plus Fever-Tree tonic served over big cubes of slowly melting ice. It makes my heart sing. (CN)

GENTLEMAN CALLER

Bacchus
They describe it as a deconstructed old fashioned, but I think of it as a reconstructed new fashioned. Bourbon-based, with dashes of orange curaçao, maraschino liqueur and Amaro di Angostura. Ask for it by name, as it is no longer on the menu. (CN)

LIGHT AS A FEATHER

Goodkind
A light, smooth little number in a wispy shade of lavender, Fruity Plymouth Sloe Gin, spruce/mint syrup and lillet blanc keep this elegant concoction on the sweet side; lime pernod and herby St. George Terroir gin create a subtly spicy effect. (AC)

NEW YORK SOUR

Supper in the Shorecrest Hotel
What happens when a whiskey sour fools around with red wine. Tart lemon and spicy-sour Old Forester bourbon softened by simple syrup and fruity red wine, “floating” at the top. Mix it up with the straw to fully distribute the wine. (AC)

VERMOUTH COCKTAIL

Vermutería 600
Showcasing house-made vermouth, this whimsical, fizzy drink adds housemade orange bitters and San Pellegrino Limonata and serves it in a vintage kid’s thermos with a Red Vine licorice straw. (AC)

SAZERAC

Boone & Crockett
Spicy rye whiskey, Peychaud’s bitters, turbinado sugar and lemon peel meet bittersweet absinthe. A N’Awlins favorite. (RS)

JAZZ ESTATE OLD FASHIONED

Jazz Estate
The tasty tipple of Woodford Reserve bourbon, Averna amaro, Angostura bitters and orange zest finishes on a strong note of Hawthorne Coffee. Smooth, baby. (RS)

KILL JOY

Foundation
Two “high-flavor, high-strength” rums balance with falernum, lime bitters and a dash of “danger” to create this smooth offering to the Tiki gods. (RS)

THE KISMET

Bryant’s
Bryant Sharpe created the Kismet, a flaming Southern Comfort cocktail cut with lemon juice and specialty syrups, one fateful day in the early 1940s – a landmark day, we say. (LA)

COSMOPOLITAN

Elsa’s
Not too sweet or tart, Elsa’s beloved Cosmo – made with citrus-infused vodka, Cointreau, cranberry juice and a house-made citrus sour mix – goes down easy. (LA)

THE KINGSWAY

The Phoenix
Anyone with a penchant for smooth, slightly floral cocktails will be royally impressed by the Kingsway, a cognac concoction elevated by the addition of Campari, orange bitters, honey and lemon – served on the rocks with a slice of orange and cherry. (LA)

JALAPEÑO PALOMA

Story Hill BKC
Squeezing all those grapefruits and blood oranges to blend with a flawless jalapeño tequila is worth the effort. A pretty and pink drink on tap, with a short-lived mild, warming spice. A rosemary sprig and lime wedge hover on the glass’ lip, just waiting to be dunked. (BK)

ULTIMA LUCHA DOS

Tin Widow
Along with Ancho Reyes and Stolen Smoked Rum, a trace of Madagascar vanilla adds richness to the tart lemon, with a dash of peppery bitters at the end. Exit the bar cloaked (wink) in the smell of Grandpa’s smoking jacket. (BK)

STORY HILL BLOODY (VEGGIE INFUSED)

Story Hill BKC
A chorus of vinegar and spices slides through your straw past a crown of meat and cheese. Chase it down with the complimentary High Life shorty. (BK)

MEET THE JUDGES

Tom Tolan, Managing Editor

Carole Nicksin, Editor-in-Chief

Ann Christenson, Dining Critic/Senior Editor

Rachel Stinebring, Senior Designer

Lindsey Anderson, Culture Editor

Brock Kaplan, Graphic Designer

Photos by Tyler Yomanitas


KEEPING COCKTAILS CLASSY

Shirley Mae and Ron, with a Tiki bowl for two. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris

You can always spot a first-time visitor to At Random (2501 S. Delaware St.; 414-481-8030). Their eyes widen. Their jaw may drop a bit before their lips arch into a grin as they scan the room, with its snug leatherette booths, wood paneling and large arrangement of Christmas-style branches and beads, all bathed in a warm red glow, which not only soothes frayed nerves but also whispers a promise of something sensuous. Welcome to the Shangri-La of 1960s cocktail lounges. Shut the door tight, and don’t let 2017 in.

“The younger kids have no idea when they walk through the door what they’re walking into. They really don’t,” says Ron Zeller, 86, who opened the Bay View establishment in 1964.

“They say to me, ‘Ohhhh, I’ve never seen a place like this in my whole life.’ They love it!” adds his wife and co-proprietor, Shirley Mae, 83.

A self-described people person, Shirley Mae works the front of the room, while Ron serves as chief mixologist. He developed the recipes for all the drinks on the menu, including the alcohol-infused ice cream concoctions the lounge is known for. Those were meant as an option for the ladies. 

“The girls would come in with their boyfriends and they wouldn’t know what to order. I always felt bad for them and I said, ‘We have to find something for the women,’” he says.

In keeping with the old-school aesthetic, patrons of At Random are expected to adhere to a certain level of decorum. “If people get out of hand, I say, ‘Sorry, you’re in the wrong place,'” says Ron. “At Random is a cocktail lounge. It’s not a neighborhood bar. People don’t understand the difference.” He shrugs; his place, his rules. “I tell it the way it is,” he says. “I love doing this.” – Carole Nicksin


No Mixing Required

It used to be just beer was on tap. Then came wine. Now cocktails can be kegged, too. Many Milwaukee bars are following this trend, allowing them to craft large batches and then just press a lever. It guarantees consistent quality.

Story Hill BKC keeps its Bourbon sweet tea (featuring tamarind) on tap, as well as the so-called Oldest Fashioned.

At Vermutería 600, inside Hotel Madrid, kegged sangria is a popular choice, along with housemade vermouth.

The newish Phoenix Cocktail Club pours its G & Swish, featuring gin and house-made tonic, in large volumes.

Company Brewing in Riverwest offers four cocktails on tap, including a delicious Tiki-inspired rum drink.


Hangover Cures

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

The best way to prevent the pounding in your head after a night of drinking? Drink less. Researchers have found those who never reach 0.10 percent blood alcohol are far less likely to get a hangover than those who get drunker than that. Tripper Duval, a mixologist who consults with bars and restaurants for Badger Liquor Co., suggests drinking water between alcoholic drinks as a way to keep the blood alcohol down.

But if you do end up hurting the morning after? Duval suggests drinks with electrolytes, such as Gatorade; he personally favors Pedialyte, an electrolyte drink meant for kids (look for it in the baby aisle at Walgreens). Duval also likes a bowl of ramen. “It’s like recovery broth,” he says. Then there’s the old standby: ibuprofin, which is better than aspirin (can upset the stomach) or acetaminophen, which goes straight to the liver.

Sleeping until you feel better may work best of all.


The Art of Intuiting COCKTAILS

By Kristine Hansen

Pink Squirrel. Photo by Dan Bishop/Bryant’s

At Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, the 80-plus-year-old institution on South Ninth Street, patrons are not handed a menu to peruse. “We have a list of questions we ask people. We have a conversation and decide together what they would like,” says owner John Dye, who reports a 98 percent success rate. The hardest people to decode are the “sweets people” who think they like sweet undertones with their booze but later find out they don’t.

For the staff’s reference, hundreds of drink recipes are stored in an old Rolodex organized by decade and extending back to the 1930s. These include the Pink Squirrel, which Bryant’s claim to have invented.

“Sometimes we want to develop a drink that fits a modern taste,” says Dye. But not just any drink makes the cut. Since Dye took over 10 years ago, just 100 new concoctions have been added.

Recent newbies are Cherry Benjamin, which joined the list about eight years ago, with a cherry-ginger flavor profile; Flamingo, a grapefruit hurricane-style drink; and Graveyard Whiskey, unsurprisingly popular around Halloween, says Dye.


TOP 5 BARTENDERS

DANIEL BERES

Hotel MadridMovidaYokohama
Beres went from mixmaster at Movida to beverage director for all the parent company establishments. The Spanish edge to Movida’s cocktails is matched by Madrid’s swaggery concoctions that border on over-the-top (the blue “Honolulu” comes with edible “sand”).

SAM BERMAN

Tin Widow
703 S. Second St.
Owner of this dark, classy escape from life’s dark moments presides over a bar known for its impressive list of gins (300, at last count), which he uses to great efficacy in cocktails.

JEFF KINDER

The Jazz Estate
2423 N. Murray Ave.
The Kansas City native tended at Bryant’s (the Estate’s sister) before becoming the East Side music club’s manager and helping develop the drink menu, with standouts like the Grasshopper Redux and coffee-infused Jazz Estate Old Fashioned.

GEN LONGORIA

Kimpton Journeyman Hotel
310 E. Chicago St.
The hotel’s lead bartender – former bev director at SURG’s Distil – brings culinary arts skills to cocktail crafting, which means not only are her drinks complex and clever, they enhance the rich, Mediterranean menu. 

Photo by Adam Ryan Morris

KATIE ROSE

Goodkind
2457 S. Wentworth Ave.
Story goes that Rose was a regular at Burnhearts bar, her potential noticed by co-owner Jess Seidel, who asked her – had to convince her, really – to tend bar. Rose became Burnhearts manager before opening Goodkind with her partners. There she’s honed her talent for layering flavors, sometimes unexpectedly.


TOP DIVE BARS

CONWAY’S SMOKIN’ BAR & GRILL

2127 W. Wells St.
The barroom is cavernous, the bar is oval and no-frills. Best thing, though: The BBQ place in the attached storefront offers great brisket and other smoked meats.

JIMMY B’S TRAIL’S END

7216 W. Lincoln Ave.
You won’t go broke here. Have a dollar Pabst tapper, and play pool under a suspended model stock car. Want to watch NASCAR? The schedule is on the wall.

MY OFFICE

763 N. Milwaukee St.
In a Downtown increasingly hoity-toity, a welcome dive. Sit in the narrow barroom, talk old movies with owner Brian Peterson, and then call home and tell them you’ve been delayed at … you get the idea.

THE NEWPORT

939 E. Conway St.
A walk-around bar dominates Franky’s Newport Lounge. And that’s exactly where you’ll want to be. Belly up and trade stories with Frank or munch on his Packers game-day spread. This Bay View institution can make you feel like you’ve been a lifelong regular in just one afternoon.

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THE SQUIRREL CAGE

2402 N. Dousman St.
Don’t let a locked door deter you: Once inside, owner Patricia Ulik will make you feel welcome. No draft beer (just bottles and cans), cash only, a small pool table, friendly patrons and a big display of squirrels, stuffed and sculpted. It’s the most unique dive in Riverwest, a neighborhood full of low-cost joints.


ODE TO THE DIVE BAR

Pondering the eternal appeal of the local watering hole

By CJ Hribal

I used to love going to what we now often call “dive bars.” With my father when I was a boy, we’d go to a bar called the Dugout, where men (and the occasional woman) were often drinking at noon on a Saturday, nursing a beer or throwing back boilermakers. These were working people mostly – factory hands, farmers, truck drivers. But also salesmen like my father, the occasional teacher or small business owner, and on some Friday evenings even our parish priest, who’d come just to have a beer with his flock – the egalitarianism of the thirsty. My father would put $20 on the bar, banter with the men around him, and when his cash was down to a couple singles and change, we’d leave, my father weaving slightly.

As an adult, I came to realize that regulars in the cool dark of a bar are entirely themselves, and by that I don’t necessarily mean their best selves. This is what attracts us to these joints – the feeling that we’re on the edge of something illicit or disreputable.

The word’s origin helps explain that – the establishments they initially referred to were literally beneath us. The first printed use of the term, according to Oxford English Dictionary, occurred in the New York Herald in 1871: “One of the gayly decorated dives where young ladies … dispense refreshments to thirsty souls.” The term, the OED speculates, was due to the establishments being below street level, either in a cellar or basement (not unusual in New York), so the patrons could “dive” in without being observed. Reputable people didn’t go to such places (a “dive” could be a brothel, an opium den, or a tavern), only they did, so people skated over that unpleasantness by using a word that made clear the distance between where they went and who they thought they were.

And this is an essential problem when we talk about “dive bars” today: We’re usually talking about these places at tourists. We visit them once or twice, but they aren’t “our bar” in the way our favorite watering hole is – you know, our corner bar, our neighborhood bar. We love the dives for their authenticity and their slightly down-at-the-heels grimy atmosphere, we like the price of the booze and the colorful clientele, but we’re traveling on a visa of privilege.

We call these places “dives,” which carries with it a whiff of the pejorative. It’s our little walk on the wild side.

But the places we describe are neighborhood bars. They are corner bars. They’re just not our neighborhood, not our corner. As with too many things now, we divide ourselves by class, and employ a language that divides us. So the “dive” caters to a clientele that might be a little further down the economic food chain. So what? They offer the same thing we want in our “regular” bar – warmth, camaraderie, good drink.

So maybe it’s time to retire the term “dive bar,” and just call them what they are: a good bar, period. And thank our stars Milwaukee has so many great ones.


BAR ETIQUETTE

Tripper Duval is a consultant to bars and restaurants, and also president of the local chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild. He coaches bartenders, but here are his tips for us bar patrons.

Getting the bartender’s attention: “Waving money around and shouting doesn’t work like it used to.” Make eye contact with the tenders and then try to be patient. “Remember that you’re not the only person in the bar. Stay calm, be cool.”

Ordering your beverage: Know what you want before the barkeep gets to you. “If you want a martini, know how you like that martini.”

Don’t ask for freebies such as free drinks or more generous pours. If you’re a regular, you’ll get your share of those. “If you want to turn a bar into your neighborhood bar, be kind, be courteous, tip well and make friends.”

Tipping: As in restaurants, 20 percent is good, though with a shot or a beer, a dollar tip is acceptable.

Final advice: “If you want good service, you have to be a good patron. It works both ways.”


Pay it Forward

Photo by Kevin Sparrow

The “Buy a Drink 4 a Friend” Board at Cloud Red (4488 N. Oakland Ave.) lets you purchase a drink for an absent pal. “Sometimes we all need a little something to help us be ‘present’ and grateful for the ‘now,” says co-owner Rebecca Goldberger, by way of explanation. 


The Evolution of a Gay Bar

THIS IS IT! will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2018, tucked into a 1915 building on the corner of Jefferson and Wells streets. But the tavern’s “coming out” was just five years ago, when a rainbow flag was hoisted out front. Co-owner George Schneider on then and now.

How has the climate for a gay bar changed since the 1960s?
Years ago, a lot of the gay bars would frown upon [customers] that were not gay [though this was not the case at This Is It!].

Was it covert in the beginning?
It definitely was. Legally, the bar had a front door and a window, small enough just to see through. Most people used the back door so they wouldn’t be seen. That all changed in the ’70s.

Do gays still seek out gay bars?
I think so. I see 21- and 22-year-olds come in here. Barney is our oldest customer at 94. It’s an education. This is part of our history. That older generation fought so hard for equality.

What’s the secret to staying in business for 50 years?
The fact that our place has always been a meeting spot, not just for the LGBTQ community, but the straight community, too. 


How to Tell You’ve Had Enough

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

1. Basics. If you find yourself slurring your words, getting clumsy or talking really loud.

2. Follow the Wisdom of the East. A Zen teacher used to fly down from Minneapolis to visit a group here in MKE. On one trip, he had a drink on the plane and offered this observation: “On the first glass, you drink the champagne. On the second, the champagne drinks you.”

3. When the bartender cuts you off . If that happens, says Tripper Duval, the bar consultant, don’t argue. “Just take the advice and drink the water.”

4. Carrying your own personal breathalyzer takes the guesswork out of knowing when  you’ve had too much. (Driving? In Wisconsin, keep your blood alcohol level under 0.08 percent.) BACtrack S80 Pro breathalyzer, $130; amazon.com.

5. Dysfunction. Sometimes, you have had not only too much alcohol for one night, but too much in your life. Alcoholics Anonymous offers the first of 12 steps in this case: When you admit you’re powerless over alcohol, and that your life has become unmanageable.


TOP 5 WINE SHOPS

BALZAC

1716 N. Arlington Pl.
This unfussy wine bar gets a lot of things right. Its extensive wine list is easy to navigate. Its cheese plate is a thing of beauty. Its nightly specials are among the best in the neighborhood. And on Sundays, select glass pours are half-off.

BIN ONE ELEVEN

111 E. Capitol Dr., Hartland
This wine store/tasting room hybrid encourages drinkers to try before they buy. The bar offers more than 30 wines by the glass, while the store stocks bottles from wineries around the world. It also hosts regular tastings and events for aspiring sommeliers. 

Photo by Jeff Marini

RUBY TAP

1341 N. Wauwatosa Ave., Tosa; 6000 W. Mequon Rd., Mequon
An early adopter of the automation trend (think rotary sushi), the Ruby Tap appeals to techies and DIY enthusiasts. Patrons select their wine from one of many well-mounted dispensers, press a button and watch it fill their glass.

THIEF WINE SHOP & BAR

Milwaukee Public Market, 400 N. Water St.; 4512 N. Oakland Ave.
Owner/certified sommelier Phil Bilodeau specializes in small, artisanal labels – with 30-plus wines by the glass and 750 bottles for sale. The bar staff excels at making the tasting process less esoteric and intimidating. Also good for oenophiles on a budget.

VINTAGE 38

5648 Broad St., Greendale
If a trip to French wine country is out of the question, consider a much shorter trek to Greendale. Vintage 38 has been luring wine-lovers to this sleepy MKE suburb with its low prices, laid-back lounge and popular wine club.


WINE GLASS 101

Before you buy the wine, take care to choose the best vessel for it.

The right glassware is as important to the wine experience as a fine vintage. But buying expensive doesn’t necessarily equate to getting better glassware, says Phil Bilodeau, owner of Thief Wine Shop & Bar. Look for a drinking vessel …

Made of thin glass or crystal. When it’s thick, “you can ‘taste’ the glass,” he says.

Big enough to aerate and swirl wine. A white wine glass (for a bubbly wine) lets it breathe and release flavor. Fluted glasses inhibit that.

That has a stem! Remember to hold the stem, keeping your hand from warming up the “bowl.” Save plastic stemless for outdoor use.


How to store leftover wine

Many people claim that Mason jars offer the most effective way to store wine remnants, because the ring and lid are designed to create an airtight seal. And since air is the enemy, be sure to fill the jar up to the brim. Then, place it in the fridge (reds too!) – the cool temperature will slow spoilage.


Classes

CHAMPAGNE: THE REAL DEAL

Ray’s Wine & Spirits
Dec. 5, 6:30 p.m.
Focuses on eight French Champagnes, including brut, blanc de blancs and rosé. Participants will learn the differences between the large, famous brands and small-grower producers. $40; 414-258-9821.

MORE THE MERRIER

Vintage 38
Dec. 5, 6:30 p.m.
The class, a sit-down format, focuses on six wines to serve at holiday meals. $30; 414-235-8850.

BIG SATURDAY WINE PARTY

Wine Cellar of Wisconsin
Dec. 9, 3-5:30 p.m.
Features numerous wines, along with free appetizers and sale pricing on the wines poured at this event. $10; 262-754-9463

HOLIDAY OLD FASHIONEDS AND CHOCOLATE PAIRINGS

Indulgence Chocolatiers
Dec. 11, 7 p.m.
Class is held at the Walker’s Point shop (211 S. Second St.). Informal structure where the expert explains the rationale for the pairings. $30; 414-223-0123

EXPLORING WINE: SPARKLING

The Ruby Tap Tosa
Dec. 14, 6-8 p.m.
Learn the methods for producing sparkling wines and taste five to six options from around the world. $25

CHAMPAGNE!

Thief Wine Shop & Bar
Dec. 19 and 20; Various seating times
Annual bubbly tasting event that showcases six Champagnes, old favorites to new finds. $25; info@thiefwine.com.


A SOMMELIER’S STORY

Photo by Adam Ryan Morris

This year Bartolotta Restaurants’ Katie Espinosa added an exceptionally bright feather to her cap. She earned the title of Level 3 Advanced Sommelier, an honor that places her in a very elite group. To reach that status, Espinosa – a Wauwatosa native who started her Bartolotta career in 2002 as a server at Lake Park Bistro – applied for the certification program created by the Court of Master Sommeliers.

She passed the test (which had three components, including a blind tasting of six wines) on the first try, all while overseeing operations at BacchusRistorante BartolottaPizzeria Piccola and the Bartolotta airport restaurants. For a city sometimes overlooked for its culinary achievements, it “puts us on the map,” she says. “There is the stigma of us being just a beer town. Restaurants are showing” there’s a lot more than good malted beverages here. A few insights:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Are you an adventurous eater or do you play it safe? Say so. It can help the server pinpoint a wine match.
  • Go fizzy. Espinosa’s personal tastes veer to bubbly (which is why Bacchus’ Champagne series dinners bring in the cream of vintners), and she also loves dry white wines like riesling, chablis and gruner veltliner.
  • Think regionally. If you drink the wines an area is known for, you’ll start to discern what makes them shine. For instance: Argentinian Malbec, Portuguese and South African reds, Loire Valley reds, Sangiovese from Tuscany and Umbria, Alsatian and Spanish whites. – Ann Christenson
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Surface Layer

Photo courtesy of Matt Tanaka Marketing

Beer shelves are crowded with options. Labels can be clean and inviting (see: Good City and Third Space in Milwaukee), retro, or frighteningly intricate, as in the case of Three Floyds’ labels, often inspired by the undead. Matt Tanaka, founder of a Chicago-based firm that specializes in marketing for breweries, knows the game well – Matt Tanaka Marketing guided Sheboygan’s 3 Sheeps Brewing through a rebranding earlier this year.

“Branding is the first interaction that a beer drinker has with a particular beer,” he says, “and it needs to grab their attention while also communicating what kind of character and flavors are in the bottle. That’s a tall order.”

Sprecher Brewery recently replaced its beer bottle packaging with illustrations and designs created in-house by Kecia Sprecher and designer Joe Till. The labels are like a comic book version of the beer-making process, starring founder Randy Sprecher. “We wanted a fresher look that conveyed key elements that are uniquely Sprecher,” explains Anne Sprecher, director of communications for the brewery.

According to Tanaka, digging into a brewery’s brand and “what makes them unique” has to come first. “It’s most effective when it’s purposeful and consistent from bottle to bottle,” he says.


BARREL AGED

One expert’s take on brewing better beer

By Dan Murphy

Kyle Vetter. Photo by Scott Starr/Rev Pop

Kyle Vetter didn’t take the easy route when he opened 1840 Brewing Company the summer of 2017. Nope, he set out to age nearly all of his beers in the 35 barrels that occupy his 2,000-square-foot production area in Bay View, a risky process that takes time and money. But it’s yielded some deliciously complex brews.

Explain your brewing process.
We take a batch of beer, and split it into different barrels. For the most part, we’re doing our fermentation in the barrel. What’s cool about that is … individual barrels, microcosms of fermentation, create slightly different flavors. We use our palettes to blend the beers from these individual parts back into one.

How did you decide to make barrel aging your focus?
When I was at Aspen Brewing Company [in Colorado] I helped build their barrel program up, and I really fell in love with the art of barrel aging. The barrel is an ingredient as well. It allows oxygen into the beer, which changes the flavor. The previous resident … a spirit of wine, adds flavor to the beer. 

How difficult is it?
Time and capital are the things that we have to invest more in. It takes us three months to three years to make the beers we make.

How important is the patience?
Best practice is to never sample a barrel more than once a month. It’s difficult when you’ve got a beer doing its thing, and you want to know how it’s doing.

You’re open only one weekend each month, and your beers are available in limited releases. What has the response been to the schedule?
What’s great is the feedback has been awesome. Once people get here they understand how long it takes to make our beer. I’d love to be open every weekend, and we will be as soon as we can.


THE TOP BEER BARS

BENNO’S BAR & GRILL

7413 W. Greenfield Ave., West Allis 
The grandfather of Milwaukee’s craft beer scene, Benno’s opened at its current location in 1989 and was serving craft brews when Heineken was considered exotic.

BURNHEARTS

2599 S. Logan Ave.
An unpretentious corner bar beer lovers have been flocking to for a decade. Keep an eye on the tap list, where rarities from Amherst’s Central Waters show up regularly.

Photo courtesy of Cafe Hollander

CAFÉ HOLLANDER

2608 N. Downer Ave.
More than a decade after its opening, Hollander’s emphasis remains on quality Belgian imports, but the list of more than 100 bottles also includes a fair number of American crafts.

Photo by Rebecca Kames

CAMINO

434 S. Second St.
Camino has just 20 taps and two dozen bottles and cans, but the beersare well curated, with a wide variety of styles from worthy breweries.

CHAMPPS AMERICANA

1240 S. Moorland Rd., Brookfield
Whale hunters pay attention to the events calendar at Champps, a sports bar where rare and limited brews frequently hit the tap lines, and the beer list at the winter anniversary party has become the stuff of legend.

Photo by Nathaniel Davauer

DRAFT & VESSEL

4417 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood
There’s no place like it. The beer menu, cozy setting, ample reclaimed wood and friendly vibe will make you want to stay for hours.

PALM TAVERN

2989 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
This dark and unobtrusive Bay View spot has quietly gone about its business for nearly 15 years, serving a smattering of rare domestic and imported craft brews, tasty Belgians and more varieties of whiskey than you can count.

ROMANS’ PUB

3475 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
One of the city’s best beer experiences is bellying up to the bar, ordering an amazing brew and conversing with gregarious owner Mike Romans. Just don’t expect to be coddled.

STUBBY’S GASTROGRUB & BEER BAR

2060 N. Humboldt Blvd.
Owner Brad Todd secures a fair number of special brews, and that’s essential with 53 tap lines to keep flowing. Stubby’s also gets additional props for having a tasty slate of bar food to pair with those brews.

THE SUGAR MAPLE

441 E. Lincoln Ave.
It’s not hard to find something to like among the 60 American craft beers (including plenty from Wisconsin) on tap at The Sugar Maple, where the long, serpentine bar provides ample room to settle in and sample.


ALTAR TO ALCOHOL

Photo by Adam Ryan Morris

The theme of Jordan Burich’s bar might change depending on what project is keeping his mind of
mixed drinks occupied, but there’s always a spot for a framed photo of his grandparents. When the co-founder of the Sprezzatura popup dinner series and part-owner of to-come-in-2018 Vine Society bar/wine shop was a lad and visited his elders at Christmas, his grandfather asked everyone, kids included, “Can I make you a drink?” Burich got his kiddie cocktail, and as he grew, he learned from the old master the makings of a proper old fashioned. He owes his spirit love to the 87-year-old, who still bartends on occasion.

His current home setup – complete with Italian aperitifs, glassware and culinary reading material – reflects the negronis, the boulevardiers and wines from the grape-growing regions he highlights through Sprezzatura. Making and presenting complex drinks that seem effortless in his MO. Burich brings his copy of the techy imbibing book Liquid Intelligence to every tending job. His tips for building your home bar: 

  • Stock at least a bottle each of vodka, gin, whiskey, rum, brandy and secondaries such as vermouth.
  • Opt for heavier tumblers. “You don’t hold the drink, you hold the glass,” he says. You want something firm you can grip. 
  • Go DIY when possible. Make your own simple syrup for margaritas. Whip up a batch of bitters, or buy the top-notch local Bittercube line.
  • Take time to garnish. Burich uses a pasta cutter to make lemon-rind “noodles.” – Ann Christenson

Tune in to  WUWM’S (FM 89.7) “Lake Effect” Dec. 7 at 10 A.M. to hear more about the story.


PUNCH DRUNK LOVE

Nothing says traditional Christmas like a Tom & Jerry.
Where you can get a mug of this warm, creamy, boozy classic.

By Robert Simonson

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

My first taste of booze, so many years ago, was a Tom & Jerry. I’m sure I’m not alone in this childhood memory, particularly among folks who grew up in Wisconsin, as I did.

This thick, creamy and potent punch, which is typically composed of eggs, sugar, butter, spices, vanilla and spirit, usually brandy or rum, dates to the early 1800s. Back then, the drink, similar to eggnog but served warm, was so common that it inspired a side trade in Tom & Jerry punch bowl sets. But after Prohibition, the yuletide tipple took a dive in popularity – everywhere but in the chilly Midwest. Lucky for us, Milwaukee is one of the few cities where one can still find multiple taverns and restaurants that serve the beverage.

You can’t sleep on this one, however. Tom & Jerry season is notoriously short, typically spanning from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. So ready, get thirsty, go! Here are your targets:

Where: Von Trier
When: November 1 through closing date (for remodeling) in January.
What: The Tom & Jerry batter is made in house at this longtime German beer hall. Both rum and brandy are used in the mix.

Where: The Packing House
When:
The week of Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day.
What: This popular supper club has been ladling out Tom & Jerrys since it opened in 1974.

Where: The Phoenix Cocktail Club
When: December only.
What: The recipe includes a blend of rums and a dash of Kringle Cream, a liqueur from Death’s Door Spirits that tastes like the kringle pastries.

Where: Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge
When: December weekends. Call for the schedule.
What: Uses a housemade batter and, because of the need for space to execute the drink, serves its Tom & Jerrys in the bar’s upstairs space.


Need a holiday jumpstart? Head to the Kimpton Journeyman Hotel’s (310 E. Chicago St.) rooftop bar for the “Miracle at the Outsider” Christmas pop-up (Nov. 24-Dec. 24), offering seasonal boozy bevs such as the hot mulled wine Bad Santa, plus a soundtrack and décor befitting the holiday.


TOP 5 LIQUOR STORES

DISCOUNT LIQUOR

5031 W. Oklahoma Ave.; 919 W. Barstow Ave., Waukesha
Don’t let the word “discount” fool you. This sprawling storefront appeals as much to craft beer aficionados and wine connoisseurs as to people looking for an affordable bottle of the hard stuff. It’s earned a slew of accolades and regularly opens its doors to other local companies, such as Great Lakes Distillery, for sampling events (e.g., Dec. 22-23).

DOWNER AVENUE WINE & SPIRITS

2638 N. Downer Ave.
This East Side gem doesn’t stock as many bottles as others on this list, but its selection is ever-changing and expertly curated. Staff members are always ready with recs, too. And it boasts the city’s largest selection of Kosher wine.

OTTO’S WINE & SPIRITS

Multiple locations
The late Otto Kujus opened his first MKE-area liquor store in 1945. His legacy lives on in seven metro-area storefronts. All are employee-owned, and the staffers clearly take pride in their work. They take regular trips to vineyards and breweries around the world to maintain their expertise, and pass it on to customers.

RAY’S WINE & SPIRITS

8930 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa
This Wauwatosa stalwart, open since 1961, has aged as well as the wine it sells. Speaking of which, it boasts a selection 8,000 varieties, along with 2,000 spirits and 1,000 beers. It also hosts tap takeovers in its on-site bar, the Growler Gallery, and offers frequent shoppers a rewards program.

THREE CELLARS

7228 S. 27th St., Oak Creek; N72 W13400 Lund Lane, Menomonee Falls
This store earns high marks for its ambience and knowledgeable staff. On Saturdays, from 1-4 p.m., employees at both locations offer free tastings, expertly talking tipplers through their selections. It also started stocking beers from up-and-coming Wisco breweries – Tribute, Black Husky, Central Waters – before competitors. ◆


HAD TOO MUCH? Call a taxi.

NEVER drink and drive.

PLAY IT SAFE. Have a designated driver. 

HAS DRINKING BECOME A PROBLEM? Go to aa.org for help.


‘I’ll Drink to That’ appears in the December 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning November 27, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

Be the first to get every new issue. Subscribe.

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