While Thursday night's libation of choice was beer, Friday ended up focused on spirits -- made right here in Milwaukee.
Our original plans canceled, Becky and I ended up checking out the Great Lakes Distillery tour with a group from FUEL Milwaukee. You may remember my raving about the Rehorst event earlier in the month, now I am completely sold. If I buy a bottle of vodka for my home use, it will only be Rehorst.
The tour hammered home not just their focus on quality and standards, but their commitment to sourcing local products for their creations. Ninety-five percent of money from a Rehorst brand purchase stays in the local economy.
I learned the reason they make a wheat vodka is because they can use Wisconsin-grown wheat. I learned that my favorite product, the Citrus & Honey Vodka is made with honey from Wisconsin Natural Acres in Chilton. The lemons are HAND-ZESTED, and while not grown in-state (for obvious reasons) are sourced via a locally-owned produce distributor.
I'm not a gin drinker, but they did sell me on the idea that "gin is just juniper-flavored vodka" and that non-gin drinkers like their product. I have to agree. The difference is they make theirs with ginseng (Wisconsin grown of course!) and sweet basil (sourced from The Spice House) instead of angelica root.
Apparently a very limited supply of their artisan series brandies -- Grappa (grapes grown in Wisconsin), Kirschwasser (distilled from Wisconsin wine) and the highly recommended Pear Eau-de-Vie (also distilled from Wisconsin wine) -- is available now. I'm anxious to sample. I'm also excited to try their absinthe rolling out soon.
Because of all sorts of antiquated post-prohibition laws and crazy distributor monopolies, they aren't allowed to sample at the distillery. Luckily the fabulous Iron Horse Hotel is across the street. We joined the group of about 40 people in The Library (it was great to snuggle up on the leather couches next to the fire place) for a taste test of the vodka, Citrus & Honey and the gin. My friend Kristen was there too and I got the scoop on upcoming Skylight shows (who wants to go to Pirates of Penzance with me this spring?).
Though we were craving fish fry, Becky and I decided not to brave the icy weather and just move on over to Branded to nosh. We each had the Billy Blue salad (Becks had salmon with hers) and split a HUGE bowl of House Chips. The chips are tastetastic and coated with Wisconsin Parmesan. We, of course, washed down our meal with Rehorst Citrus & Honey and tonic (after I established that tonic is not soda). Branded is a bit on the pricey side, but man, I have to say it's one of the coolest places in town. It completely succeeds at being swanky and unpretentious at the same time. I highly, highly recommend it. Hopefully one day I'll get to stay in a room there!
It's good to see places like Great Lakes Distillery and the Iron Horse putting Milwaukee on the map. Rumor has it that Sheryl Crow was hanging out at the Iron Horse this week, and then I ran into my friend Eric (in from California for the day to close on a house in Milwaukee) at the distillery. Okay, maybe not in the same category, but both can spread the word about what fantastic things are happening here.