By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Sep 11, 2013 at 11:04 AM

A deftly created craft cocktail is a bit like art. It’s beautiful and nuanced, and it can have the power to evoke a sensual revelation.  But a great craft cocktail paired with food … THAT can be a real game changer.

Cocktails used to be relegated to positions as "aperitifs" or "night caps."  But these days, restaurants around the country are beginning to realize the power they have to create amazing pairings that go beyond beer and wine.

Bartenders are developing deftness of palate. They’re creating cocktails with depth, complexity, and balance.  And forward thinking chefs are beginning to work with them to create cocktail pairings that not only compliment – but enhance – the flavor of their food.

The trend is a testament to how far cocktails have come in recent years – and an acknowledgment that thoughtful, carefully made cocktails are worthy to accompany delicious creations from even the best chefs. But, best of all for most of us, the trend presents even more opportunities for outstanding dining experiences that push the boundaries of our palates.

Experience any number of such dinners during Milwaukee Cocktail Week, Sept. 22-28, when area restaurants will showcase multi-course meals for $65 or less, making the most of both fresh seasonal fare and artful craft cocktails. 

Not quite a dinner, but it all begins with the Milwaukee Cocktail Week kick-off event…

Sunday, Sept. 22 from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. $30
Milwaukee Cocktail Week Kick-off Event
Horny Goat Hideaway

This casual game-day event brings you the best of both the food and cocktail worlds in one place. This all-inclusive, ticketed event will feature unlimited food sampling and cocktail samples. Meet and greet local restaurateurs, chefs and bartenders, mingle with other cocktail enthusiasts and indulge in all the great Milwaukee food and drink as you play classic tailgate games and watch the football game on Horny Goat’s giant TV! This event will feature food from the renowned chefs at Bavette La Boucherie, Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub, Love Handle, Maxie’s, Sanford, Smoke Shack and Wolf Peach. Cocktail pairings will be provided by bartenders from Blue Jacket, Bryant’s, Distil, Hi-Hat, Bacchus, Blackbird, and Horny Goat. Tickets are $30 each; or you can opt for the Touchdown Special - buy 6 tickets, get the 7th free.  In either case, purchase tickets online at mkecw.eventbrite.com  

Monday, Sept. 23 at 7 p.m.
c.1880 Five-Course Cocktail Dinner $65

Experience the delicious seasonality and artful presentation of Chef Thomas Hauck as he presents this special five course feast where cocktails are as much a part of the make-up of the dishes as they are pairings. Courses include a vodka cocktail served with "Bloody Mary" soup; an aquavit cocktail served with cured trout with fennel, herbed potato rosti, lemon yogurt and caraway oil; a gin cocktail served with seared scallop with grapefruit mustard, tarragon salsa verde, spiced and seared cauliflower; a whiskey cocktail served alongside whiskey and coffee glazed shortribs with with cauliflower puree, orange glazed carrots and pickled scallion; and a rum cocktail served with pound cake with spiced apple syrup, vanilla ice cream, apple sorbet and rum caramel. Make reservations by calling (414) 431-9271. 

Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m.
Honeypie Three-course Pre-Fixe Cocktail Menu $30

Stop by and enjoy three special seasonal courses, including an appetizer/salad, entrée, and dessert accompanied by two cocktail pairings featuring AeppelTreow spirits. Vegetarian option will be available. Walk-ins only; reservations not accepted.

Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m.
Five-Course Rumpus Room Mezcal Dinner $55

Mezcal. It’s smoky. It’s briney. It’s aggressive, yet beguilingly smooth. And those who love it simply adore its mysterious charm. Join the Rumpus Room as they present a night of worship and celebration where mezcal is King. Enjoy five courses that make the most of the marriage between fine cocktails and delicious food. Call (414) 292-0100 to make reservations.

Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 6:30 p.m.
Blue Jacket Five Course Cocktail Dinner $50

Join Bittercube proprietors Ira Koplowitz and Nick Kosevich at the newly opened Blue Jacket for an exploration of Great Lakes cuisine and spirits.  This five course cocktail dinner will feature Third Coast inspired courses meticulously paired with cocktails from distilleries around Wisconsin.  Participating brands include AeppelTreow, Great Lakes, Yahara Bay, Gamle Ode, Death’s Door and 45th Parallel.

Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 6:30 p.m.
New Orleans meets Milwaukee at the Eatery on
Farwell $35
New Orleans is truly a historic cocktail town, famous for classics like the Sazerac. And its food is incredible, too! Experience what happens when New Orleans cocktails and cuisine meet Milwaukee in this three-course cajun-inspired cocktail dinner featuring shrimp fritters with roasted tarragon and garlic aioli, jambalaya and bourbon pecan pie with peach cream. Milwaukee’s own Great Lakes Distillery will provide twists on New Orleans classic cocktails. Make reservations by calling (414) 220-1110.

Thursday, Sept. 26 at 7 p.m.
INdustri Café Five Course Gluten Free Cocktail Dinner $55 per person/$95 for two
Enjoy five gluten-free courses and five cocktails featuring Yahara Bay spirits. Menu will include a poached pear and sorrel salad, caprese piccolo, pan seared diver scallops with summer’s end risotto, and braised beef short ribs with garlic mashed potatoes. Top it all off with a chocolate float made with Purple Door ancho-chile-chocolate ice cream, Yahara Bay Cocoa Liquor and house-made Dr. Pepper foam.  Call (414) 224-7777 for reservations.

Thursday, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m.
Willet Whiskey Dinner at DISTIL $45 per person

Three course pre-fixe menu featuring Willet Whiskey cocktails.  Courses include Distil house cured prosciutto with crispy celery leaf salad and 12th century chutney, pan seared fig stuffed porchetta with apple sauce, brussel sprout leaves, smoked butter and pork jus and salted caramel mousse cider poached bosc pear charred oak ice cream with spiced crumble.  Two cocktails included.  Call (414) 220-9411 for reservations.

Contact individual restaurants for additional details and to make reservations, if needed.

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

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.