Central Standard, a new craft distillery located at 613 S. 2nd St. in Walker’s Point, quietly opened its tasting room this past weekend.
Although the company will not begin making spirits until next week, their tasting room is serving up Milwaukee Brewing Company beer and offering the public an opportunity to experience its brand new 1600 square foot space.
The Central Standard brand is built upon the foundations of hard-working Midwestern roots, depicted in their logo, "Walker," an iconic figure whose back bears the weight of a bottle of spirits. And the mood of the space follows suit.
Described laughingly by the owners as "Amish chic," the distillery dons repurposed boards from a 108-year-old Wautoma barn on the walls, with metalwork from local artisan Kendall Polster adding an industrial charm.
Comfortable bar stools surround an attractive bar, with tables providing space for guests to socialize and enjoy snacks, like Wisconsin cheese, crackers and cheese curds from Clock Shadow Creamery. Food delivery from area restaurants will also be available in the future.
The distillery is owned by friends and business partners Evan Hughes, Pat McQuillan and Brandt Foster three Midwesterners – from Oshkosh, Nebraska and Iowa, respectively – whose love for bourbon prompted many late night conversations, including one during which they hatched plans to start a distillery.
"We’re all very philanthropic by nature," Foster remarks. "And this was really a way to give back to the community, create jobs, and make a product we’d really enjoy."
Walker’s Point was a top choice for the location of the distillery from the beginning, says Hughes, who says that "There might not be a better neighborhood in the country to start a craft business."
And "craft" is the name of the game as the team approaches their foray into the creation of small batch spirits. Grains – including rye, wheat, corn and oats – along with some botanicals for gin production, will be sourced from a local farm within an hour’s drive of Milwaukee.
A nationwide search for a head distiller brought the team to Brian "Blaze" Blazel, a brewer for Milwaukee Brewing Company.
"We needed someone who could really bring creativity to our team," says Hughes, "and Blaze fit the bill. We’ll be giving him a lot of creative freedom with our products, and we wanted someone who wasn’t fearful of experimentation."
Central Standard will use a 300-gallon hybrid one pot still system that allows them to make multiple spirits with a high level of efficiency.
The company will begin by producing three products: a rye-based vodka, wheat-based gin with pronounced floral notes and white whiskey made with oats, all of which will be sold at the distillery's tasting room for the first few months before being distributed more widely to Milwaukee-area bars, restaurants and liquor stores.
They will debut with a white whiskey, a relatively new – but increasingly popular – offering that they will distill with a mash containing primarily oats. The naturally sweet grain imparts a smooth, almost fruity flavor that is very unlike the "corny, buttery and hot" flavor typical to most white whiskey.
"It’s very clean on the palate," Foster notes, "And we want people to experience it. It’s perfect for craft cocktails, imparting a much smoother flavor than your average whiskey."
The team says bourbon is also on the docket, with a young version to be ready in 6-8 months and a two-year aged bourbon to follow. A "tri-state" bourbon blend featuring ingredients from Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin is also in the works.
"Our passion is definitely in the whiskey," says Hughes. "But all of our spirits will be unique. We’re excited for the chance to be creative with our products while producing high quality options for cocktail lovers. Ultimately, our offerings will be about what we like, and what we like to drink."
The spirits, which will be served at the bar, will also be available in 750-ml bottles, which will sell for around $25 to $30 each. Flights of Central Standard Spirits, which will come with a glass emblazoned with the Central Standard logo, will be served in the tasting room on barn board trays made from the same Wautoma-sourced wood as the surrounding walls. And craft cocktails made by the bar’s mixologists will highlight the company’s spirits – both traditional and experimental.
"Before Prohibition, Milwaukee had multiple nationally known distilleries," notes McQuillan. "The Spring Meadow Distillery, which eventually morphed into Red Star Yeast and then Sensient Technologies, was started by three business partners who initially knew very little about distilling. We’re excited to continue that tradition in this great neighborhood."
All three owners credit Guy Rehorst, of nearby Great Lakes Distillery, with "blazing the trail" and breaking down barriers for newcomers to the scene, and say that they’re excited to partner with and support other area craft businesses as they move forward.
"As entrepreneurs, we’re excited to see this coming together," says Hughes. "We love Milwaukee and it’s the perfect place to start something like this."
The Central Standard tasting room will be open Monday through Thursday from 4 to 11 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday evenings from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.