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Craft Cocktails in Milwaukee

Bars that make their own liqueurs

Mar. 14, 2013
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The Hamilton
With their multi-ingredient makeup and recent popular resurgence, cocktails fit the bill for drinkers looking for something unique. Over the past few years, the craft cocktail movement has slowly been carving out a niche here in town. Visitors from other places may be surprised to see how sophisticated Milwaukee’s taste is becoming.

Part of what makes a good craft cocktail is handmade liqueurs, syrups and tinctures. According to Bryant’s John Dye, his old-school lounge establishment makes some of their own liqueurs and syrups, while others are specially made for them by a company they have worked with since the 1940s.

The Hamilton, a relative newcomer to the bar scene, strives to make 100% handmade cocktails. Head bartender, Ryan Casey, knows a lot about the process involved. “It’s really all about fresh ingredients,” he states. “It’s actually a lot like cooking. Everything tastes better when it’s fresh.” It also takes a certain amount of time and commitment.

Making bitters is probably the most challenging because it requires an actual distillery. Casey has “dabbled” in making bitters. Most local bartenders who want access to fresh bitters get them from Bittercube, a Milwaukee outfit. They don’t use extracts, only fresh ingredients, like citrus, vanilla and spices. Because of the increased demand for handcrafted bitters, Bittercube’s distilling process now takes place at Yahara Bay Distillers in Madison, allowing for bigger batches.

The whole point of taking the time to make these handmade liqueurs, syrups and the like, is so that “you can design it to showcase a specific spirit,” Casey explains. “If you have a spirit that has a lot of vanilla and cherry flavor, you may make a pecan liqueur to set it off.”

Some of the most interesting flavors Casey has made include a ginger liqueur and cardamom-anise syrup. They may sound overpowering, but it is all about balancing the spirits and other flavors to create something delicious.

As more Milwaukeeans become aware of how special craft cocktails are and actively seek out venues that serve them, more places will want to experiment. The bartenders who make these drinks right now are dedicated to excellence and happy to see their work appreciated. “When you make your own liqueurs, it takes a long time to do, but it shows you are really putting your heart into making a high-quality cocktail,” says Casey.

For more information about the Hamilton call 414-223-1020 or visit thehamiltonmke.com. For more about Bittercube visit bittercube.com.


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