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Milwaukee has a long – albeit interrupted – history of distilling, dating back to the mid-19th century, when city directories show a number of whiskey and gin distillers and merchants.
One Milwaukee whiskey man – S.C. Herbst – created the long-beloved Old Fitzgerald brand, which is now owned by Heaven Hill.
Prohibition, of course, shuttered the distilleries, though this one pivoted to making yeast full-time and became a Milwaukee classic.
After Repeal, a number of whiskey-related business reopened but none, that I can tell, were actually distilling. Not even the coyly named Ambur Distillers, which government regulators warned about its misleading name.
The first was Great Lakes Distillery, started by Guy Rehorst, who worked hard to get restrictive state laws changed, allowing for the return of Wisconsin distilling.
Since then, others have joined the fray.
Here are the Milwaukee-area’s distilleries...
Central Standard Craft Distilling
320 E. Clybourn St., (414) 455-8870
Although its main production facility is about a mile west, Central Standard opened a tasting room, shop, events space, restaurant and small stillhouse in this stunning 19th century cream city brick building Downtown in 2021.
Don’t miss the rooftop deck for great views, and if you can, take a peek at the beautiful table in the lower level created by the Urban Craftsman.
Central Standard is best known for its Red Cabin whiskey, aged in cabernet wine barrels – a barrel proof version, called Cabin Proof, is also available – L Flag Bourbon, Door County Cherry Vodka and North Wisconsin Brandy. Other spirits include a bourbon, gin, rye, coffee vodka and two chocolate brandies.
Tours of the distillery are promised soon.
Eagle Park Distilling
S64 W15640, Commerce Center Parkway, Muskego, (414) 585-0123
After carving out a great reputation as a craft brewer, Eagle Park bought a still, hired a top-notch distiller in Jordan Stielow and launched a spirits program that has drawn similar kudos for quality.
So far, it has released a vodka and gin and a bourbon sourced from MGP while its own whiskey rests in barrels. There’s also Vanilla Cheese Cream Liqueur on offer.
No public tours at the moment, but I’m told they’re coming soon.
Great Lakes Distillery
616 W. Virginia St., (414) 431-8683
The first distillery to open in Wisconsin since Prohibition has become known for its tours as well as its spirits.
W62 N590 Washington Ave., (262) 421-8380
A woman-owned distillery, Handen is located in the heart of historic Cedarburg and has a great tasting room with really inventive cocktails.
Vodka, gin (including a barrel-aged version), Port-barrel-finished bourbon, single-barrel bourbon and Mill Race, a blended whiskey. Some of the whiskey is sourced from MGP while Handen’s own spirit ages.
Twisted Path Distillery
2018 S. 1st St., (414) 405-8900
Brian Sammons opened Twisted Path Distillery in the Lincoln Warehouse in Bay View in 2017 and immediately began laying down whiskey, while selling gin, vodka, liqueurs and cocktails. Some of the most inventive have been a chai liqueur and a pre-made bloody mary that includes the vodka, but just needs tomato juice added.
In the past year or so, Sammons has begun to bottle his rye and bourbon and it sells out fast.
Check out the tasting room, which is sandwiched between two craft breweries and offers great cocktails in a welcoming atmosphere.
The extremely knowledgeable Sammons leads tours on Saturdays at 1, 3, 5 and 7 p.m.
If you don’t mind a little road trip, check out these other relatively nearby distillers: AEppel Treow Winery & Distillery in Burlington, Dancing Goat Distillery in Cambridge, Geneva Lake Distilling in Lake Geneva, Ledgerock farm distillery in Fond du Lac, Plank Road Distillery in Plymouth, Stable Rock Winery & Distillery in Jefferson and Waterford Stillhouse in Waterford.
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.