These 10 drinks and drink experiences are distinctly Wisconsin. Enjoy them during your next Wisconsin adventures, and raise a glass with friends new and old!
Check out this original article in the Wisconsin Travel Guide for more travel inspiration!
1. Wisconsin’s Twist on a Classic — The Brandy Old Fashioned
Did you know Wisconsin consumes the most brandy per capita in the country? Part of the reason is due to our unofficial state cocktail, the Brandy Old Fashioned. It’s the Old Fashioned cocktail you know and love, but substituting brandy for the whiskey.
During World War II, alcohol grains were sent to the front in Europe. That meant US alcohol producers had to rely on subpar ingredients — and the results were questionable. Luckily, some lost cases of aged brandy found their way to Wisconsin, and the spirit’s popularity took off. We already loved Old Fashioneds, so we started using brandy and never looked back.
2. Mixers Loved by Depression-Era Mafia
What do gangster John Dillinger, actor Johnny Depp and bootleg liquor have in common? They all paid a visit to Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters. In 1934, Dillinger came to Little Bohemia to stay for a few days. The FBI got a tip about the outlaw’s presence, leading to a shootout. Dillinger escaped, but the bullet holes are still visible. As for Johnny Depp, he played Dillinger in Public Enemies, the 2009 movie featuring the raid. Check it out — Little Bohemia is still an operating bar, restaurant and lodge.
3. Taste Wisconsin’s Terroir with Local Wine & Cider
When a winery and cidery’s tagline is “flavored by Wisconsin,” you know you’re going to get an ultra-local treat. At Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery in Stockholm, owners Herdie Baisden and Carol Wiersma are uncompromising on their pursuit to infuse the state’s terroir into every bottle of wine and hard cider. All the apples used — such as Chestnut Crab, Sweet Sixteen and Northern Spy — are grown in Maiden Rock’s own orchard. As an extra bonus, you can buy your own cider apple trees from their tree nursery so you can savor your favorite Maiden Rock flavor for years to come.
4. This Speakeasy is Password-Protected
Speakeasies were practically required once Wisconsin taps stopped flowing during Prohibition. Maxwell Mansion in Lake Geneva, a former 1855 summer home-turned-inn, has their very own. In authentic speakeasy fashion, you and your party will need the password to enjoy libations in this hip, hidden lounge. Hint: Follow the inn on social media for a clue.
5. This Distillery Using Home-Grown Ingredients
Since 2014, Perlick Distillery in Sarona has specialized in one spirit: American Yeoman Vodka. It’s made from grain grown on the Perlick farm — 2,000 acres of corn, wheat, soybeans and more, which evolved from a small plot bought in 1920. Make a point to swing by with your friends in 2023, when Perlick will release a new spirit — an American single malt whiskey.
6. Cherry Bounce — The Door County Cordial
From July to August, more than 270,000 trees across Door County turn bright red with ripe, ready-to-pick cherries. The county is the fourth-largest producer of cherries in the US, pulling in up to 12 million pounds every year. That big of a harvest can be hard to handle, so locals use a preservation method: a drink called Cherry Bounce. The cordial was popular during colonial times, and Door Countians have kept the tradition alive since the first cherry trees arrived in Wisconsin in 1896. Here’s how to make your own:
3 cups sugar
4 cups liquor of your choice, divided (vodka is traditional)
1 pound pitted cherries
In a glass half-gallon jar, combine sugar and one cup of the liquor. Shake until the sugar dissolves. Add the cherries and shake again. Add the remaining liquor and shake once more. Store in a sunny spot for a week, then move the jar to a cabinet and let the mixture mature for about six weeks before enjoying with cherry-loving friends.
7. Only-in-Wisconsin Craft Beer
Deborah Carey, owner of New Glarus Brewing Company in New Glarus, has a special claim to fame: She was one of the country’s first woman brewery owners. The business, initially a gift for her husband, has now grown to be one of Wisconsin’s premier breweries. Craft beer fans should not miss the chance to raise a pint with friends here. Local favorites such as Spotted Cow and Moon Man keep customers coming back, as New Glarus beers are not sold anywhere outside of Wisconsin.
8. Bloody Marys Garnished with Entire Meals
It’s Wisconsin tradition to follow a Bloody Mary with a beer chaser. It’s also Wisconsin tradition to jam as much food as humanly possible onto the top of the Marys. Sobelman’s, in Milwaukee, does it right — the Bloody Marys sport the standard cheese, sausage and pickled items, but you can also get one with a cheeseburger on top while your brunch companions’ drinks may sport bacon-wrapped jalapeno cheese balls or even an entire fried chicken. We hope you came to brunch hungry!
9. Native American-Owned & Infused with Lake Superior
Bayfield’s Copper Crow Distillery has a joint mission: to honor the greatness of Lake Superior, and to make unparalleled spirits. Linda and Curt Basina, members of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, try to source all grains for their vodka, rum and gin locally. Area farmers supply seasonal ingredients. And every spirit gets an infusion of Lake Superior water to cut them to proof. Stop in for a tour and tasting with your friends, and — of course — to meet the official Copper Crow dog, Jackson.
10. We All Scream for Ice-Cream Drinks
What’s the only thing better than enjoying an ice cream shake with friends? A round of boozy ice cream shakes served in a mid-century retro lounge. At Random in Milwaukee specializes in spiked ice-cream drinks (including vegan options!) such as the Grasshopper, Pink Squirrel and Brandy Alexander. Each comes with a soothsaying butter cookie. Ask a yes-or-no question and check your drink; the cookies say yes, no or maybe. Ice cream not your thing? The bartender can make you a specialty cocktail instead. But at a place where the patio is named the Ice Cream Social, shake it up for the full experience.