Even though it may seem like summer doesn't want to quite get here, inevitably it will, and we will turn our complaining from "It's too cold" to "It's too hot."
With the warm sunny days ahead, I went out on the town to see who was serving up some great summertime cocktails.
After surveying a number of restaurants and bars, I came up with a list of five great locations serving some terrific cocktails that are sure to help wile away the hot, sticky days ahead. I asked the people responsible for the cocktails which drink they thought was the ideal summer quaffer. Who better to tell you what to drink than the people who work hard to create and execute the following tasty libations?
Here is the list:
Branded at the Iron Horse Hotel
500 W. Florida St.
The "Apple Jacque"
A play off the old "Apple Jack" in all it various forms, this clever concoction marries the rustic with the modern. That is the intent, according to resident mixologist Dustin Drankiewicz (and yes that is his actual title). He told me in an interview that he designs all the cocktails at Branded around the look and feel of the hotel, but with a focus on seasonally fresh ingredients. The Apple Jacque is an original creation consisting of Granny Smith apple-infused Sazerac Rye, Canton Ginger Liqueur, lemon juice, Barrett's Ginger Beer and freshly muddled ginger root and basil. Shaken well and poured over ice, this is one well-crafted cocktail. You should definitely stop in to see him and beg him for the recipe. Dustin rolls out the new summer cocktail menu at Branded this weekend.
1579 S 9th St.
Moscow Mule/Mai Tai
John Dye bought Bryant's in the last year and carried on the torch of this Milwaukee fixture. He has brought a little new life to the famed establishment, but maintains the classic and timeless nature of the extraordinary cocktail list. They even feature a 5-9 happy hour with half-price Old Fashioneds and Depression-era drinks. With more than 450 cocktails to chose from, when I asked him to chose the ONE that he thought was the best summer time drink to have at Bryant's, he literally said, "Oh, God."
How to even begin to chose? Well, I will report his first choice -- "The Moscow Mule," which is a great classic featuring vodka (preferably Russian), lime juice and ginger beer. Sometimes, a dash of bitters is added, but you will have to visit Bryant's and ask John yourself. The reason that I mentioned his initial choice is that the cocktail he went with to best represent a summer drink at Bryant's was the Mai Tai. While he would not divulge the exact ingredients of Bryant's version, he indicated that they make the "traditional layered" version with dark/light/and 151 rums. This classic is "Tall, refreshing, but still a little heady," very in keeping with the bevy of hurricane-style drinks that dominate the Bryant's list.
John standing on the merits of the Mai Tai allowed that last bit of this column to turn into a little bit of a challenge. You see, the last establishment that I spoke with was none other than ...
2718 N. Bremen St.
The "Mai Tai"
What better way to think of summer than to conjure the smells and tastes of the sea, coconuts, sandy beaches and of course, The Mai Tai. Manager Don Nelson didn't hesitate for a second when I asked him what the best summer drink at Foundation was. He told me they make so many Mai Tais that he looses count every night. The special thing about these Mai Tais? They are as traditional as it gets.
Crafted from the original recipe created by Trader Vic in 1944, each Mai Tai is made to order and served in a tall white Hawaiian-style glass. They are so special that they have been heralded as "Milwaukee's Best Mai Tai." Also featuring 30 other tropical drinks, Foundation is a great place to unwind this summer. The interior is straight out of a Polynesian island with Tiki everywhere, nets, a 1950s-'60s-style bar and even a tin ceiling. They even have surf bands playing live music -- this weekend is a performance by Chicago's finest surf band, the Cocktail Preachers. Make sure to see if you can wrangle the "original" recipe from Don and the other bartenders at Foundation.
So with Bryant's and Foundation claiming best summer time cocktail as the Mai Tai, you decide: Can Bryant's go toe-to-toe with the alleged best Mai Tai in the city? Let me know which you liked best.
Although with all that rum, make sure you take a cab or have someone else haul you around.
411 E. Mason St.
I stopped in to see what was new and exciting at Hotel Metro this week. Known for busy lunches and wine flights with good food, Hotel Metro also has an extensive cocktail list including an entire page of mojitos. I asked bartender Adam May what he would consider the summer time drink to bring people in and he immediately pointed to the first drink on the list -- the Champeartini. This straight-up beverage contains Absolut Pear Vodka, Midori Melon Liqueur and is topped with Champagne. I asked if there were any other secret ingredients and Adam replied that there were none. The simplicity and freshness of the drink is what he feels makes it a no-brainer for protecting you from the heat. Enjoy one of these at the bar downstairs or the "Zen on 7" rooftop bar this summer.
345 N. Broadway
The Wicked Hop does a lot of things pretty darn well, from beer to cocktails and tasty food for lunch, dinner and brunch. I spoke with manager Jon Vavera to see what he and the staff thought was the best summertime drink. They came back with a unanimous answer of both their white and red sangrias. The white is derived from a mix of chardonnay and sauvignon Blanc, and the red is based on merlot. The grape varietals and the addition of peach schnapps steer these away from ultra-classic, but sometimes a modern interpretation can be just as good. Jon told me they can hardly keep up when summer hits and people are relaxing on their patio enjoying good food, warm weather and cold sangria.
Here are some other notable summer cocktails to try:
Kana, (see Julie Lawrence's article here), Hotel Metro, Café Lulu and Cubanitas
Cempazuchi, La Fuente and Botanas -- good for anything tequila-related, especially margaritas
Beer, beer and more beer
Sugar Maple, Bomb Shelter, Fat Abbey Biercafe, Palm Tavern, Roman's
Water Buffalo, Trocadero, Paddy's Pub, Roots
As always, there are so many great establishments for summer drinking in this town. After all, we only have 2 1/2 months to get it all in, so we Milwaukeeans know how to make the most of it. If I missed your favorite, use the Talkback feature to let everyone know where you like to go.
Have fun with cocktails this summer. See you next week.