SoulBoxer Brandy Old Fashioned serves up Wisconsin in a bottle
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Even before the recent boom in craft cocktail consumption, Wisconsinites mixed and muddled a mean Brandy Old Fashioned. It's quite possibly the state's signature drink and people are particularly passionate about how it's made.
Doug MacKenzie and Jason Neu took this to heart while concocting Black Fawn Cocktail Co., a local, independent cocktail company that plans to blend a variety of high-end, ready-to-drink cocktails beginning with the SoulBoxer Brandy Old Fashioned.
"For a generation or more, everyone gave up on the Old Fashioned, but Wisconsin held onto it, perfected it," says Neu. "So when we say 'Wisconsin-style' we know we have a lot to live up to."
The goal was to create a pre-made Old Fashioned that was as satisfying as one made fresh behind the bar.
"We weren't going to do this if we couldn't reach the standards of a classic Old Fashioned and I think we nailed it," says Neu. "At the end of a long day, you don't want to muddle an Old Fashioned. When you would normally just grab a beer, this is another option."
SoulBoxer is made solely from natural ingredients – California brandy, Door County cherries, real oranges, Angostura bitters and cane sugar. It can be served straight-up over ice or mixed with seltzer or soda to make it sour or sweet depending on the drinker's taste.
"This is a niche in the cocktail market that's not being filled," says MacKenzie. "We knew we could do this, and do it really well."
MacKenzie and Neu first met while working at Great Lakes Distillery – the state's first distillery since prohibition – which was started by Guy Rehorst in 2006. The two had an instant chemistry, shared a passion for spirits and became friends.
"We make good business partners. We have a yin and yang thing going on," says MacKenzie.
MacKenzie served as Great Lake's distiller and production manager from 2006 until January of 2015. During this time, he earned double gold and gold medals at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition and World Whiskies Awards.
"I am totally thankful for the opportunity Guy (Rehorst) gave me at Great Lakes," says MacKenzie. "It took Jason a year to convince me to do a bottled cocktail. I'm a distiller. But over time, I saw the potential and I'm excited to do something different for now."
Neu started working for Great Lakes in 2009 as a tour guide. He later moved into sales support and ran the tasting room.
"I was in love with the idea of working for a distillery from the start. I've always been a spirits geek," says Neu.
The Black Fawn owners recently welcomed a third partner, Roger Scommegna, who is a serial entrepreneur behind Three Thieves Wine, Bandit boxed wine, Black Dot Vodka and Bite Hard Cider.
"He has offered us a wealth of knowledge and motivation," says MacKenzie.
Eventually, MacKenzie and Neu plan to start a brick and mortar distillery called Black Fawn Distillery in or near Milwaukee.
"Basically, for the rest of our lives we want to walk into our own place and say 'let's make booze today,'" says Neu.
SoulBoxer, which is made at Yahara Bay in Madison, will be available at yet-to-be-determined retail liquor stores in April 2015. The price will be between $19.99 and $24.99. In the future, Black Fawn may release a ready-to-drink Whiskey Old Fashioned and a Manhattan.
Milwaukee's Savage Solutions serves as the creative behind the brand and came up with the Black Fawn and SoulBoxer names.
"Black fawns are very rare in nature, which works to describe our company. SoulBoxer is loosely based on the concept of the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. The classic internal struggle: should I? Shouldn't I?" says MacKenzie. "Either way, just have an Old Fashioned."
Both MacKenzie and Neu were raised in Wisconsin. Neu, who has also worked as a longtime bartender as well as in retail liquor sales, says he first learned to make an Old Fashioned in his grandparent's basement bar many years ago.
"I'm pretty sure the Old Fashioned was the first drink I learned to make," he says.
MacKenzie and Neu say the process of starting their own venture is daunting to think about, but in reality, the journey has, so far, felt smooth and natural.
"From the beginning, it has felt like everything is falling into place. I keep saying that we've been lucky, but it's more than that. We met one cool person and then they introduced us to another cool person and before we knew it, we were surrounded by people who understood what we want to do," says Neu. "We're dedicated to making SoulBoxer a tribute to all of the great Old Fashioneds we've had in this city, this state. It's our love letter to Wisconsin taverns and supper clubs."
To follow SoulBoxer's progess, visit the Facebook page.
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