Up and Coming Craft Distilleries
Wisconsin has been long known for its great microbreweries. In the mid 1980’s Sprecher and Lakefront emerged as the front runners in the category, setting the stage for an explosion of these small, craft breweries throughout the state. I don’t know if Randy or Russ and Jim realized at that time they would be blazing a trail that would lead to the creation of more than 120 craft breweries in Wisconsin today. Thanks guys, for being visionaries that have led to the brewing of hundreds of thousands of barrels of great craft beer in the Badger State!
In similar fashion, Guy Rehorst started the Great Lakes Distillery in 2004. Another true visionary, this was the first distillery to open in Wisconsin since the end of prohibition. He has set into motion a boom in the craft distillery business in Wisconsin. Notably there are 3 distilleries the Otto’s Wine and Spirits chain is quite excited about and we believe are up and comers with bright futures ahead of them.
The first is Driftless Glen out of Baraboo. (driftlessglen.com) Named after the Driftless Region of Central Wisconsin, this state of the art distillery features a 44 foot tall column still and a “one of a kind” pot still. Oh yeah, they also have a beautiful fine dining restaurant. Brian and Renee Bemis have established their craft distillery using the common “grain to glass” philosophy, which, in a nutshell, means having control of the entire distilling process. This has already contributed to them receiving national and world wide awards for their spirits. At a recent tasting, I was most impressed by their rye, brandy and bourbons. Their rye is considered a “high rye” with 75% of the mash bill. A nicely spicy backbone is complemented by honey and vanilla undertones. Made from ingredients from the midwest, this rye is bottled at 96 proof. A single barrel version is also available. I also enjoyed their brandy immensely. This is actually distilled and aged for 5 years in France, then brought to Baraboo where it is finished in used bourbon barrels and bottled at 92 proof. This is an excellent and unique product, perfect in an Old Fashioned, but still smooth and elegant to drink neat. Last but not least, the D.G. Bourbon was also exceptional. We were so impressed, that we picked out a single barrel that they will bottle exclusively for the Otto’s Wine and Spirits chain. It will be bottled at “barrel proof” and will be arriving soon. I urge you to take a ride to Baraboo, home of the World Circus Museum and the Driftless Glen Distillery. Arrange a tour and make a reservation for dinner. It will be a great road trip.
Next is the J. Henry Distillery. (jhenryandsons.com) Located in Dane, Wisconsin, about 20 miles north of Madison, J. Henry only produces bourbon. They do it to perfection. Using a unique heirloom red corn, rye and wheat grown on the Henry farm, they also adhere to the “grain to glass” philosophy. Patience is a virtue when it comes to making world class bourbon. 5 years is a long time to wait, but that is the minimum time they age their bourbon. Resting bourbon in charred oak barrels in a non-temperature controlled warehouse, with a variance of more than 100 degrees, produces a smooth, rich, flavorful and complex final product. We were greatly impressed with the quality of their bourbon so we handpicked a barrel from them as well, bottled at barrel proof and coming in at about 119 proof. This gem is in stock at our stores, but it probably won’t last for long. Stop in for a tasting in Dane on your way to Baraboo.
Finally we come to the Dancing Goat Distillery in Cambridge, Wisconsin, the town most well known as the hometown of NASCAR driver, Matt Kenseth. (dancinggoat.com) Owner, Travis Hasse, got his start in the distilling business by creating 3 liqueurs, apple and cherry pie and a chocolate cream liqueur called Cowpie. This “good ol’ Wisconsin boy was not satisfied with just making some after dinner cordials. He had visions of creating high quality distilled spirits. With young Nicholas Mass as his head distiller, he is well on his way to accomplishing this. Travis invited us out to Cambridge recently to see his beautiful 20,000 square foot, state of the art distillery. We were met at the door by a tray of his highly regarded Limousin Rye and dark gourmet chocolates from the Baraboo Candy Company. This is also where he gets the chocolate for Cowpie. What a great way to start out our visit. One word comes to mind, delicious. We then were invited to taste his newest product, Dancing Goat Wheat Vodka, made with 100% organic grains. First we tasted it neat, nicely smooth with a hint of sweetness on the finish. We followed that up with an awesome Moscow Mule. They are going to continue working on the recipe to get the exact flavor profile Nick and Travis want. They hope to release the vodka in February or March of 2019.
Travis has an amazingly talented head distiller in Nick. His knowledge and passion is at an extremely high level for what I would call a “young buck.” He believes distilling should be a combination of science and art, he shows a love for both. I see a bright future for Dancing Goat. Soon Cambridge will be most well known as the home of the Dancing Goat Distillery and Matt Kenseth will just be a “plus one”.
We wish the best for all of these craft distillers and look forward to selling and enjoying their fine products for years to come. Cheers Wisconsin, the home of some great craft distilleries.
Tim – Brown Deer