Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Great Lakes Distillery, Milwaukee

So, the hubs and I have been on a bit of a distillery bender lately.  I just find it so cool that there are so many people so passionate about making their own spirits!  And it's amazing to see the heart and soul that each distillery shows in their product, their atmosphere, even their employees.  Every distillery we've visited, I've walked away thinking, "Wouldn't it be amazing if everyone loved their job THAT much?".

In the midst of a quick 24 hours in Milwaukee, we took a quick lunch break from the museum we were exploring with the kids to head over to Great Lakes Distillery for a tour.  Kids are allowed to join you on the tour, free of charge.  Ours grabbed a quick kiddie cocktail (with house-made grenadine!) from the tasting room bar before we headed on the tour.  Adults are encouraged to grab a drink on the way too, but since we had just had our *actual* lunch and I knew the kids would leave me juggling their half-finished sodas, my hubby and I held out for the tasting part of the tour.

Great Lakes is serious about their craft.  It's small batch, with a lot of attention to detail put into each run that they do.  Their tour takes you into the lower level of the building, where you can see that all their production is basically done in one big room.  They've got their still, storage for ingredients, space for bottling and packaging, a storage cage for kegs to age, and a tasting bar area.

It was really interesting to hear our tour guide talk about their process, especially because we could compare and contrast it what we learned when we visited Koval Distillery.  Some things were similar, and some were quite different.  While Koval focuses on whiskeys, Great Lakes, while they do make whiskey, has a number of other spirits that they make, including vodkas and (the one I was most excited about) absinthe.

Honestly, I was so caught up in what the tour guide was telling us that between that and kid-management, I forgot to take photos during that part of the tour.  But if you visit their website, you can actually get a virtual look around the distillery!

I learned a lot of interesting tidbits on the tour, but for some reason, the ones about tax laws stood out in my head.  We were told that around a third of the price you pay for spirits is tax...can you believe that?  It's almost enough to drive me moonshinin'!  And the cage where they store the kegs plays a role in that, because the distillery doesn't get taxed on them until the moment they exit the cage, even if they are staying in that room.  That just fascinated me.  Maybe it's because I'm always extra money-aware on vacations, who knows.  The kids were very into learning about prohibition and the history part of the business.

I did, however, remember to whip out my camera briefly when we got to the tasting part of the tour.  And I got a couple of nice shots (pun not intended) before we started, well, taking shots.  I should note here that the bowls of pretzels set on the table as palate cleansers also make excellent kid-stuffers.

We were able to taste several of the distillery's offerings.  The Kinnickinnic Whiskey is a very interesting blended whiskey.  I'm still not a huge whiskey fan, but all these tastings are helping my whiskey palate develop, and I could taste the different layers in this one.  The Rehorst Vodka is one of the cleanest tasting vodkas I've ever tried.  Very smooth.

One of my favorites was the Rehorst Citrus Honey Vodka.  The scent is pure lemon...not a fakey lemondrop lemon or an industrial cleanser lemon, but like you're holding a cut lemon in your glass.  And the flavor was clean, slightly sweet, and completely delicious.  I can't tell you how badly I want to make a Cosmo with this one.  They use real lemons and Wisconsin honey, sourced from "artisan beekeepers", and again, the attention to detail shines through.

Roaring Dan's Rum is another product that sources locally, this time with Wisconsin maple syrup.  Like most rums, it's sweet, but Roaring Dan's is also very clean and fresh tasting.  It's also named after the Great Lakes' only pirate.  Dan Seavy, if you want to look up an interesting story from history.  The man was able to steal a ship by getting the entire crew and the captain drunk...I mean, you've got to give that some respect!

After trying the rum, we moved on to the Rehorst Gin.  I've been on a gin kick lately, and this one blew me away.  The tour guide and taste guru walked around a platter showing all 9 of the botanical that they use to make their gin, including local ginseng.  Fun fact: Wisconsin is one of the leading ginseng producers in the world.  In. The. World!  That was really surprising to me.  Anyhow, these botanicals make for a deliciously complex gin that reportedly has change the mind of many a gin-hater.  Luckily, not the hubs, who graciously slipped the majority of his tasting pour over to me because he knows how into gin I am, and he loves me.

The grande finale of our tasting flight was the Amerique 1912 Absinthe Verte.  Absinthe has always seemed magical to me, perhaps because of its legendary history, where myth and truth are blurred in a green haze.  The tour tasting bar had an absinthe fountain set up, elegantly pouring icy water into our absinthe to bring up dancing clouds of the green potion.  Absinthe is always heavy on the licorice-like anise flavor, but Great Lakes' version has depth and complexity beyond just tasting "licoricey".  I also learned (fun fact again!) that the green color of absinthe is due to chlorophyll...the same substance that gives green plants their color.  The distillery also produces a Rouge absinthe, which contains hibiscus, and has more of a floral flavor.  They didn't taste sample that on the tour, but after the tour I was able to get a taste pour from the upstairs tasting room bar, and it was delicious!

Great Lakes is a great distillery to visit and tour, and I highly recommend stopping by if you have the opportunity.  If you're not able to get there, you can still find Great Lakes' products at specialty beverage stores in several states around the U.S. from California to New York, Minnesota to Texas.

Cheers to local small batch distilleries!

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