I got a little drunk in Milwaukee.
I landed in MKE for the Women in Travel Summit on Thursday mid-morning, was to the hotel by 11:00am, and offered to help with a few of the pre-conference tasks. After a great lunch in the hotel-adjoined restaurant, I made a quick judgement call to join up with the Craft Brewery and Cocktails tour being run by Milwaukee Food Tours for conference attendees. I guess I’d be misleading if I said I “just decided” to go – I had forgotten to sign up so I creeped around the lobby until I was told that there were enough no-shows that I could join. Glad I made the cut.
The first stop was located within the Lincoln Warehouse in the Bay View neighborhood. The 170,000sq.ft building has multiple tenants, 3 of which we visited on our tour: Twisted Path Distillery, Bittercube, and Enlightened Brewing Company.
Pulling up to the building, one might never have known that there were such interesting businesses inside. We had to be buzzed though the door just to the right of the loading dock labeled #17. We marched up the stairs and into the small Dock18 Cocktail Lab (this is a space shared by Twisted Path and Bittercube- and a place where both company’s products are turned into creative cocktails). We were immediately handed some delicious concoction- with an ingredient list too long for me to scribble into my notepad- as we entered our first stop.
Twisted Path Distillery
Brian, the owner of Twisted Path, gave us a quick rundown of both his personal and the distillery’s history. A former government employee turned attorney turned distiller, Brian’s own “twisted path” has led him to creating some mighty fine spirits (I know because I tried a few….. ok all of them). One thing I found particularly appealing was his interest in keeping his gin, vodka, and both white and dark rum – organic. And like Brian didn’t impress us enough with the opening cocktail and the dedication to organics, he outed himself as a total innovator by pointing out that he has a patent pending on his distilling heat source.
After a great, albeit brief, tour of the distillery we were offered the opportunity to sample some of the product before heading on to our next stop.
We were ushered upstairs by the man who had made our cocktails. The door to Bittercube is incredible – like a huge barn door that slides open to reveal the lair of a mad scientist. Mad – maybe not, but scientists – definitely. Our tour was led by Brendan, who outlined both the process to make and the purpose of bitters.
Bittercube takes a lot of care in crafting their product, which has clearly served them well, as they’ve seen enough growth since their humble gallon-jar beginnings to catapult them into the minds, hears, and bars of both local restaurants and home liquor cabinets. They’ve got eight different varieties on offer, and not a single one is made with extracts or fake crap – this was very easy to believe given the first thing that caught my eye upon entering their lair was the pineapple pile and other fruits stacked up waiting to be turned into something delicious for your cocktail.
Right as the tasting portion was beginning, as if by magic, one of the owners appeared and helped facilitate and give a little more context to each sample. We “sampled” all eight varieties, six of which we licked off the back of our hands, and two of which we only smelled. When asked why there were two different methods, we were told that given the overwhelming flavor of bitters, if we tasted all of them it might overwhelm the palate.
Flavors sampled: Cherry Bark Vanilla, Bolivar, Orange, Jamaican #1, Jamaican #2, Blackstrap, Corazon, Trinity (favorites in bold)
The bitters didn’t have any impact on sobriety levels, as they’re technically not classified as alcohol. But by the time that tour was wrapping up, I was mighty thirsty and ready for a beer.
Though in the same facility, we had to exit the main part of the building and go outside to access Enlightened Brewing. They were brewing the day of our tour, so we were unable to tour the whole facility, but we did get to partake of a mini-beer (which, in hindsight, I was glad the size was conservative). My choice was the Free Will Pale Ale, and it was petty good. I like beer, but unless its a total standout, subtleties tend to be lost on me.
As much as the beer hit the spot, I think that what I liked the most about Enlightened was the space. The bar area was small, but you got a great view into the heart of the operation. They also had these incredible garage-style doors that led out to the sidewalk that I’m sure makes this place a really rad hangout in warmer weather.
Like the champs that we are, after killing our beers, the blogger bunch loaded back into the bus to head north for our next destination.
[ I’m actually going to keep this brief because I’m going to give Good City their own post in the next week or so.] As we walked into Good City, the first thing that popped into my mind was “man, these Milwaukee distillers and brewers really have a knack for design.” We were seated in a semi-private area and Dave, one of the three owners, came out to give us a little background on the business.
Our tour leader had dropped a major teaser earlier on in the tour, and we had a pretty decent idea that along with our beer samples would come some curry fries. Let me tell you – food was utterly necessary at this point in the day. We were allowed to pick from their tap menu, and the beer that came out was not a sample – it was a full sized, big-girl beer. Accompanying the beer and fries was (and babyangelgenius move on their part) a pitcher of water. Necessary.
After the beer and fries and water were all gone – so were we. Onto the next.
By the time we arrived, we were super behind schedule and had to take an abbreviated tour. We all grabbed our samples and head over to the brewery floor. Out of all the presenters of the day, Third Space co-founder Andy was the most engaging. How he managed to wrangle 25 half-in-the-bag bloggers and get us all to listen to his spiel- is a mystery for the ages.
I think this may have been the youngest of the facilities we visited, having only opened in late 2016. I never would’ve guessed just based on appearance and the impressive fact that they are sold at the home of the Milwaukee Brewers, Miller Park. One major takeaway from the tour was that beer is sold in grocery stores in Milwaukee (and apparently lots of other places, as I quickly learned after expressing my surprise aloud).
As we were headed out to the bus, I realized I was well on my way to an early-evening hangover…. but we had just one more spot to see.
The front of the Urban Harvest building was super cool and dramatic; it almost felt as if you were walking into a theater. Oh, actually… we (kinda) were! The bar area has a good amount of space- with a decent view into the brewery floor. One really unique attribute of the space is the small theater just off the taproom that is slated to be used as an event space.
We were directed to head into the theater and were offered a muffin tin – with four beer samples and the two remaining muffin holes were filled with pretzels (a much needed snack). By this time in the afternoon, I was pretty well in the bag (ask just about any person on the bus would tell you based on the question I asked about the relationship status of one of the gents we had encountered previously). The beer was really good, though I knew it would be wise to not finish them all.
I left feeling pretty impressed with Urban Harvest – particularly as it relates to their sustainability practices. Given the state I was in at the end of the tour, my notes came out looking more like scribbles than actual words – so though I remembered that they compost all spent grain, I needed to reach out to have my memory jogged on the rest. As it turns out, they utilize a local organization called Compost Crusader who takes away the leftover organic waste and turns it into a usable product, reselling the finished compost. But it doesn’t end there, friends. Urban Harvest tries to keep purchases local, and save a few specialty grains, sources from a malting company only 90 minutes north of Milwaukee. As if that wasn’t cool enough – they’ve held several events supporting local non-profits, recently raising over $600 for the Wisconsin Humane Society. They care about the environment, the animals, and our taste buds – winning combo!
Wrap-up on the tour…
The tour was so fun and informative. Robert, our guide, had a good “stage presence” and I enjoyed the little tidbits of area history that he would share during our rides in between
drinks, booze establishments breweries and distilleries. I liked them all for different reasons, but based on my personal preferences, there we a couple that I would make a point to return to when I visit Milwaukee again someday (soon?).
I think my favorite takeaway was that nearly every person we encountered at each location had a “real life” before transitioning into something less traditional. I can’t speak for the others on the tour, but that was really cool to me. As a traveler/travel blogger, meeting other people in different industries who have left a “normal” job for something they truly love to do is really inspirational. But inspirational in a realistic kinda way, ya know? Encountering a different kind of entrepreneurial spirit before a conference like WITS, really put me in the right mood and mindset to both learn from the fellow travelpaneurs and represent my own brand.
…oh, and if you’re wondering: I started to feel the hangover creep up around 8:00pm. I slammed some water and this special tea I have, took forever to fall asleep, but woke up feeling fresh as something fresh.
- Where have you been that has a super vibrant craft brewery and/or distillery scene?
- What is your drink of choice?
- How do you manage hangovers?