Words by Kevin Gray.
When you think Wisconsin, you probably think beer. And while it is home to over 100 breweries, there’s another drink you might not know Wisconsin’s been recently championing – spirits.
In 2006, the Great Lakes Distillery became the first Wisconsin operation to bottle and sell liquor since Prohibition. They paved the way for many to follow, and over the past decade, Wisconsin’s craft spirits scene has flourished, with more than 20 distilleries now calling Wisconsin home. Many of them offer tours and tastings, which means you can experience these liquors first hand.
And since donning on a flannel and sipping something hard is arguably one of the best ways to stave off the autumn chill, here are eight of our favorite Wisconsin distilleries—each with a physical location you can visit, should you wish to pay your respects. Or, you know, drink some whiskey at the source.
Great Lakes Distillery
The pioneers of Wisconsin’s craft distilling scene, Great Lakes got its start in 2004 and bottled its first spirit in 2006. Now, they’re churning out one of the most diverse lineups in the state, with a portfolio that includes gin, vodka, rum, brandy and the unique Kinnickinnic whiskey, which is a blend of sourced bourbon with a malt whiskey and rye whiskey made on site. The tasting room is open seven days a week, and one-hour tours can be booked via the distillery’s website. After looking around and learning a few things, you’ll end the tour with a flight of six spirits—lest you were concerned about going thirsty. More info.
Yahara Bay Distillery
Yahara Bay is a prolific maker of craft spirits. Since opening in 2007, the distillery has gone from producing three products—including the state’s first aged whiskey since Prohibition—to more than 20. The lineup covers everything from four-grain whiskey, gin, rum and vodka to a variety of fruit-based liqueurs, so there’s something for every taste. Tours are available every Tuesday through Saturday, and besides seeing the stills and tasting the goods, visitors will also stroll through the art gallery, which features work from local artists. So that’s different. More info.
Twisted Path Distillery
Founded by distiller Brian Sammons, Twisted Path popped up in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood in 2014. They’re making organic small batch spirits—two vodkas, two rums and a gin. And by partnering with local bitters makers, Bittercube, they’re putting an emphasis on cocktails. The tasting room/bar is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday and, in addition to pouring tastes of the Twisted Path spirits, features craft cocktails. Swing back often, because the cocktail menu changes each week. And if you fancy yourself a bartender, take home some souvenirs, and then check out the company’s website for recipes, like the ginger-y Infused Mule and the dark rum-spiked Kill Devil 2. More info.
Central Standard Distillery
This Milwaukee distillery is sporting a lineup of whiskey, gin and vodka. Nothing unusual there. But they’re incorporating a variety of grains, from obvious choices like wheat and rye to much-less-common oats—which is the backbone of Central Standard’s interesting, and clear, Oat Whiskey. Visitors can tour the facilities Friday and Saturdays in small groups of 10, or hang out in the tasting room Wednesday through Sunday. It operates like a bar, with plenty of seating, TVs and a cocktail menu, plus a big window that looks into the distillery and upon the copper stills. More info.
Death’s Door Spirits
Death’s Door is the largest craft distillery in Wisconsin, and its products are also the easiest to come by, with spirits shipped to both coasts and most places between. The Middleton-based operation sources its wheat from Washington Island, incorporating the grain into its gin, vodka, whiskey and Wondermint, a peppermint schnapps. Try all four for yourself by visiting the distillery, which offers tours every other month. Next up is an October 25 tour. You can expect to spend about two hours at the facility, which means plenty of time to walk around and sample the merchandise. More info.
45th Parallel Distillery
Located in New Richmond, 45th Parallel is a small, family-owned distillery that opened its doors in 2007. Over the years, the company has expanded from producing a single vodka to dozens of different spirits, including gins, whiskeys, aquavits, and citrus liqueurs. The distillery store and tasting room are open seven days a week, and tours are available Friday through Sunday. If you’d like to take a more hands-on approach, 45th Parallel offers two-day distilling classes that teach the fundamentals of making spirits. Pay close attention, and one day, you might count yourself as a competitor. More info.
Great Northern Distilling
Great Northern takes a hyper-local approach to everything they do. The potatoes for their vodka, grain for their whiskey and fruit for their brandy are all sourced from farmers within 150 miles of the distillery. They also make a rum… and sugar cane doesn’t grow in Wisconsin, but let’s not split hairs—it’s a local operation. Tours are offered each Saturday, and visitors are also invited to take a seat at the bar, where the talented bartenders mix up classic cocktails and unique creations like the Manhattan Project, with rye, Earl Grey-and-clove-infused vermouth, orange blossom water, salt and bitters. More info.
Door County Distillery
Inside a stone, barn-like structure in Door County is where you’ll find a hardworking copper pot still that’s responsible for creating small batches of vodka, gin, whiskey and brandy. Each spirit is distilled with clean, limestone-infused water from the surrounding area. The distillery is open to the public daily, and offers complimentary tastes, which is your cue to swing by. If you’d like to stay for awhile, find some real estate at the on-site bar, and enjoy a cocktail. And if you’re going home with a bottle, you can’t go wrong with Door County Gin. Produced with eight botanicals, including juniper berries and citrus peels, it was rated as the best gin in North America in the 2013 and 2014 Ultimate Spirits Challenge, scoring 95 out of 100 points. If you’re scoring at home, that’s a solid 4.0 GPA. More info.