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Spirits of Wisconsin

The growth of local distilleries

Sep. 29, 2011
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Wisconsin distilleries, a relatively new trend, focus on small-batch, specialty spirits and liqueurs. These craft distillers stretch their creative chops to make exceptional products without rushing production. This means patrons may occasionally wait for a particular batch to be bottled. Later, however, when sampling from a hand-numbered bottle, they'll likely find it was worth the wait.

Most of the state's distilleries are located in Milwaukee and Madison, so stop in for a sample and chat up the staff. You may be surprised how much tastier craft spirits are when compared to offerings from widely distributed “big-name” distilleries.

Death's Door Spirits


Only wheat grown on Washington Island is used for Death's Door Spirits' award-winning gin, vodka and white whisky. The distillery, which has received national attention for its spirits, distributes throughout the state and around the country. Interesting to note, 1% of Death's Door Spirits' annual revenue is donated to Great Lakes causes. Their small-batch distilling process takes place at Yahara Bay Distillery. There are no set times or places for tours or tastings.

Great Lakes Distillery


As the first distillery in Wisconsin since Prohibition, the distillers at Great Lakes worked from a blank slate to redefine the state's spirit image. Nothing is mass-produced here; it's all handcrafted distilling, using Old World methods. Products include the award-winning Rehorst vodka, gin and citrus & honey vodka, as well as whiskey, maple rum and absinthe. Great Lakes Distillery also has several limited-run seasonal spirits and artisan brandies. The tasting room is open noon-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Free tours are offered every day except Sunday, but at varying times, so it is best to check the website or call before visiting.

Old Sugar Distillery


Though it opened just a year ago, Old Sugar Distillery has already put out an impressive range of spirits. Highlights include a new, very smooth Queen Jennie Sorghum Whiskey and remarkably tasty Americanaki Ouzo. The Cane and Abe Freshwater Rum and Old Sugar Factory Honey Liqueur are other mainstays. Original cocktails are served in an open area of the distillery that has been set up as a small bar. It is open 4-10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, noon-10 p.m. Saturday. Tours and tastings are available.

Yahara Bay Distillery


Premier Madison distiller Yahara Bay strives to use Wisconsin-grown products to produce its spirits and liqueurs. This means using Honeycrisp apples from the Kickapoo Valley for its premium vodka and apple brandy, Door County cherries for its Kirschwasser, and Wisconsin-harvested cranberries, sorghum, herbs and spices for other products. It is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Yahara Bay Public House is open for tastings and a cash bar 5-10 p.m. on Thursdays, starting Oct. 6. Tours are available by appointment.


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