Snuggle up with some holiday cheer as OnMilwaukee shares stories of everything merry and bright in the spirit of the season.
If there was ever a time during which many of us could use a good stiff drink, these past 18 or so months has been it.
That said, brewers, distillers, winemakers and retailers could still use a little holiday boost this year, to, so why not consider one of these boozy gifts for your beloved this holiday season?
And, of course, please drink responsibly.
I believe Santa said it best, when he raised a glass of rum-enhanced nog and, with a deep chuckle, bellowed, "414 let's have one more!"
Black Friday specials
In the world of craft beer, there are few times of the year as anticipated now as Black Friday, when Wisconsin craft brewers unleash all kinds of special brews into the world.
You can find a thorough list of what’s available at this link.
Be aware, however, that these are invariably limited brews that are often in high demand. If you want to nab something cool for the hophead on your list, you can’t leave it until Saturday. Make a plan to get it done on Black Friday.
Laithwaites’ wine collections
The one I checked out was the Halloween Collection – so named because the 12 bottles in this set are deep, dark reds – creepy, right? No! Tasty! There are delectable wines from Italy and Portugal and Argentina and the USA and Australia. Primitivo, malbec, shiraz, zin, blends and more. The case cost $160, which averages to a tad over $13 a bottle, including for a magnum of Black Saint Peter, which Laithwaites rated as one of its top zinfandels of all time. That’s $60 off the single-bottle total.
The "Halloween" package has moved on, but for the holidays, consider this equally interesting set (which is pictured above).
The company also offers wine club subscriptions and more.
Please remember, too, to support your local wine retailer, be it Ray’s or Scout or Waterford or Otto’s or Thief or Avenue or Discount or Downer or whichever you prefer. Each of them can offer personalized recommendations and share their vast knowledge of wines from around the world.
Central Standard Brewmasters Series No. 1: Toppling Goliath collaboration
This first installment in Central Standard Craft Distillery's new Brewmasters Series of collaborations with craft brewers is this Toppling Goliath Barrel-Aged Brandy. For this limited run – just under 240 cases – Central Standard’s brandy was aged in barrels that previous held Iowa brewery Toppling Goliath’s collaboration with Wisconsin’s Central Waters, Toppling Waters Stout. The result is a brandy with hints of espresso and chocolate and caramel and, of course, a touch of maple syrup. There’s talk of doing another batch next year, but the barrels won’t be the same, especially as they might not have held the same stout collab. Remember, (s)he who hesitates is lost.
Eagle Park Fernet
The spirits side of Eagle Park Brewing and Distilling has released its first amaro, which bridges the sweetness of the Sicilian varieties and the more bitter pioneers from Turin and Milan.
Released for Black Friday, the amaro, says Eagle Park’s Jake Schinker, has, “complex aromatics (that) start you on an amusing and well balanced carousel of the entire list of botanicals that make up this treat.
"The texture of sweet and mellow caramel is followed by an unsoiled minty finish.”
Twisted Path Chai Nog
Bay View’s Twisted Path Distillery has been making its Twisted Chai for a number of years now, but this year, owner Brian Sammons has bottled Chai Nog, which is $25 for a 750ml bottle, at the taproom only. It’s an alluring treat for folks (like me) who love both chai and nog.
“It's real egg nog, just our chai liqueur, eggs, cream, and sugar,” says Sammons. “It's crazy delicious and it is non-perishable in the fridge. A great alternative to bringing a bottle of wine to a party, as are our other bottled cocktails to-go.”
Although it has released a few barrels of its rye over the past couple years, Twisted Path is finally ready to release its first bourbon, which has been aging since the start. It’s now five years old and bottled at barrel strength (129.9 proof). Available Black Friday, $40 for a 375ml bottle.
Great Lakes Distillery mug sets
The folks at Great Lakes Distillery have put together a trio of mug sets that are perfect stocking stuffers this holiday season. They are $15 each and come wrapped as a set with a ribbon bow.
The Mocha Hot Cocoa Mug includes a logo mug, two packs of hot cocoa mix and a mini bottle of Good Land Coffee Liqueur, made with Valentine cold brew coffee. The Whiskey Hot Cocoa Mug includes a logo mug, two packs of hot cocoa mix and a mini bottle of Kinnickinnic Whiskey. The Cranberry Tea Mug has a logo mug, two Rishii English Breakfast Tea sachets and a mini bottle of Good Land Wisconsin Cranberry Liqueur.
Tasting sets are a great way to sample a distillery’s wares without having to commit upfront to the very expensive proposition of buying multiple full-size bottles. I love ‘em and I wish there were more out there. This one from County Cork’s Clonakilty Distillery includes three 50ml bottles from its lineup: Single Batch Bordeeaux Cask, Single Batch Double Oak Finish and Port Cask. These are three great whiskeys; the first has strawberry and honey sweetness balanced with oak, the second is rich in vanilla and a grounding earthiness and the third has peppery and chocolatey notes.
If you can’t find Clonakilty at your local retailer, you can order online here, where there are other expressions, plus gin, for sale. If the sets are exhausted, choose a full one to sample – there are also some interesting collabs with brewers – and I bet your whiskey gift recipient will still be thrilled.
As I wrote here, opened just a few years ago, Peerless immediately drew accolades for its whiskey, an has already been named the best Whisky Magazine’s best craft distillery in the world. Peerless is unique for using only sweet (all new with each batch) mash and has a really interesting backstory. Plus, owner Corky Taylor tells me that Wisconsinites are the ones who visit the Louisville distillery most! The rye has a brown sugar sweetness on the front, making way for the spicier edge you expect from rye: oak and cinnamon and pepper, with a touch of citrus.
Great Lakes Repeal Rye
Each year since it turned five, Great Lakes has released its five-year straight rye that is aged exactly five years to the day upon release. The 2021 batch was barreled on Dec. 5, 2016 and will be bottled and sold at an afternoon release party on Dec. 5. Extremely limited, so don’t dally.
Glen Moray Elgin Heritage 12’year-old
I’m a big fan of Speyside’s Glen Moray and of its double-distilled 12-year-old with its floral bouquet, fruit-forward flavor and honey sweetness and body. There are also supposedly Glen Moray tasting sets out there, though I haven’t seen one yet. In the meantime, you can look for this dram – you will want a full bottle of it anyway – in a value added holiday pack that includes two engraved glasses.
Paul John Indian Single Malt
The fourth installment of the annual Christmas Edition from one of the top Indian whisky distilleries (yes, it’s a thing!) is distilled from six-row barley grown in Rajasthan and the foothills of the Himalayas. The long-neck stills create a fruity whisky that then rests in ex-bourbon, port and madeira casks for complexity and character, with a creamy mouthfeel and a touch of peat. There’s caramel and orange jam and dried fruit followed by smoke and spice. If you haven’t yet become acquainted with Indian whiskey, gift yourself this introduction.
Traverse City Whiskey Co. gift pack
A few years back I went to northern Michigan to get to know Traverse City Whiskey, where I tasted its full range of expressions, including the American Cherry Edition, made with the area’s renowned fruit. You can get to know them via this $39.99 sampler pack of 200ml bottles, that includes XXX Straight Bourbon Whiskey, American Cherry Edition and Michigan Apple Straight Bourbon. Find it at Woodman’s, Discount Liquor, Ray’s, Metcalfe’s and other retailers.
Buffalo Trace Old Charter Oak #6 / French Oak #3
The third release of bourbon resting in French oak barrels (previous expressions arrived in 2019 and 2020) is the sixth in the Old Charter Oak series. This is mashbill #1, the same used to make Eagle Rare and Buffalo Trace, and aged for 12 years, the result is creamy and rich with heavy oak vanilla, chocolate and apricot notes. This one is limited and so will be harder to find. That's why I've dubbed it a "quest" dram.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.