"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com is back for another round! The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs -- including guides, the latest trends, bartender profiles and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
While mixology often gets a bad rap for adopting the stuffy, elitist reputation the wine world has been battling to shed, two Milwaukee barroom wizards are taking it upon themselves to preach the virtues of a balanced cocktail to the masses.
Nicholas Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz of Bittercube Bitters have stepped out from behind the bar and into the streets acting as ambassadors to a growing cocktail movement that favors fresh and handmade ingredients and pre-Prohibition recipes.
"I think that some people have a negative perception of the cocktail scene because there may be a bartender who will chastise you for what you drink, but at the end of the day it should be fun, it should be exciting and it should be about the drinking," Koplowitz said.
Crafting and marketing their bitters is just one facet of what Koplowitz and Kosevich are doing with Bittercube.
From consulting and training gigs like their successful six-month residency at Bacchus and the soon-to-open east side faux hotel bar The Hamilton, mixing cocktails at large scale events like the March MAM After Dark: ReMix, or more intimate affairs like a small batch bourbon tasting tonight at Ray's Wine and Spirits in Wauwatosa, the Bittercube guys have made education a key component of what they do.
"Before, if you owned a bar you were looking for people to come into that bar and spend money at that bar. Bittercube is now in this stage in the company where we are reaching out to people and giving information away and showing people that everyone deserves to drink a good drink," Kosevich said.
Koplowitz and Kosevich met in Minneapolis where Kosevich managed the bar at the popular Town Talk Diner and bonded over craft cocktails. Kosevich would visit Koplowitz where he worked at The Violet Hour in Chicago, and they soon hatched plans to move to Milwaukee to open a cocktail bar only to abandon the project at the last minute following a dispute with their investor.
They say being forced to shift their focus to Bittercube has ultimately let them take their bitters and cocktail recipes into the public giving them far more reach than had they been tethered to a brick and mortar bar.
"We are batching 3,000 cocktails and saying 'Taste this drink that is balanced, and has fresh squeezed juice and syrup that we made,' and a lot of people haven't had that experience," Koplowitz said.
"It's just creating this dialogue over and over again," added Kosevich, "It's more like being ambassadors to a movement, which is exciting."
The pair has also been writing for national publications and eschewing the age old habit of closely guarding its recipes, opting to share them with as many people as it can in the hopes of drawing others into the world of craft cocktails.
"We throw these events and we give away as many recipes as possible and we get e-mails from people every day asking us how to use our products and how make a drink they had at our last event, so I feel like now we have become more of a company that is known for educating. It's not just about getting people to come in and spend money," Kosevich said.
And while Milwaukee is known more for its craft beer scene, Kosevich and Koplowitz said the city is slowly but surely latching on to the cocktail movement.
"Madison is killing it right now with the cocktail scene. There are places that are opening up that are craft cocktail bars that are doing well and I think it's not that people don't care about what they are consuming in Milwaukee it's about getting people to think about cocktails in a different way," said Kosevich. "So it's really about just turning that on in people."
You can catch them tonight at Ray's, 8930 W. North Ave., where they will be matching their six unique bitters flavors with a selection of small batch bourbons. The cost is $30 and includes a $10 coupon toward a bottle purchase and special pricing on tasted bitters and spirits.