Monday, May 2, 2011

Locavorism: Wisconsin Distilleries


In Milwaukee, WI it is easy to know of and find local sources for food and beverages. We of course have local dairies and cheese makers as the Dairy State. And Milwaukee is once again regaining its title of Brew City not because of the macro breweries but because of the many micro- and craft- brewers. You can even get local soda from Sprecher Brewery and Black Bear Soda. But did you know we have a growing craft distillery movement as well producing award-winning gins, vodkas, and whiskeys?

In Milwaukee bars you hopefully have started to see products by Great Lakes Distillery - mainly Rehorst Vodka and Gin.  Both are rated Excellent by Beverage Experts and received awards at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. I have seen their bottles more and more in local bars and restaurants - even specialty drinks on menus focused on Great Lakes spirits. Great Lakes also started a bottle reuse program to reduce landfill from their products. One really interesting note is that they are making Absinthe, which once thought to be a dangerous drink and banned it has been cleared of that bad reputation:


Absinthe was banned from the United States in 1912. It was believed that absinthe, because of it's inclusion of grande wormwood was causing inappropriate and sometimes violent behavior in drinkers. It was believed this was caused by thujone, a compound found in grande wormwood. Thujone is not considered safe for consumption. Unfortunately it took until 2007 before testing determined that thujone does not carry over to the final spirit throught the distillation process.

Finally, The Iron Horse Hotel is partnering with Great Lakes to make a whiskey of their own to replace Jim Beam in their bar after the whiskey giant released a commercial showing Wisconsin-native Willem Defoe in two ‘parallel’ lives, one of fame after choosing a bus to New York City and the other slightly less glamorous, a life led after choosing Milwaukee.

Outside of Milwaukee, we have at least three other distilleries in Wisconsin. Madison has YaharaBay Distillers, western Wisconsin has 45th Parallel Spirits, and Door County has Death's Door Spirits. Death's Door is getting quite a bit of press, I love their packaging design, and I have had their gin which is pretty amazing. In addition to being local, Death's Door uses local, organic ingredients, for example the gin uses juniper berries that grow wild on Washington Island with coriander and fennel sourced from within the state, their vodka and whiskey use organic Washington Island wheat and organic malted barley from Chilton, Wisconsin.

Sure, these are all considered top shelf, pricier spirits (although 45th parallel is releasing a more economical vodka called MIDWEST Vodka), but then you should know my philosophy of consumption for the gentleman by now: consume better and consume less. I would rather have 2 great tasting beers for the same price of 4-5 bland beers, the same thing goes here. I would be satisfied by one amazing local spirit drink than 2-3 house-brand drinks such as in a gin and tonic.

So next time you are out at a bar or picking up supplies for home, think about supporting a local distillery. And go beyond local to fully green with Great Lakes bottle reuse program and Death's Door's organic ingredients.