Get in the holiday "spirit" with local seasonal libations
Like it or not, it's cold weather time. For a lot of you, all this means is throwing on an extra layer or two before hitting up your favorite watering hole. For those trying to avoid as much of the chill as possible, it involves a lot of social hibernation with whatever mixers are left lying around from your last summer party.
But, why not add some style to your drink card? Winter means more than shutting yourself up at home with Rumchata'd weekend coffee. Just like many of you have plans to deck the halls and light up your homes with a little festive glow, there's no reason why your palate should go, well, un-lit.
Curious-but-cautious winter drinkers don't have to make great leaps to enjoy a good seasonal cocktail. Bryant's Cocktail Lounge, 1579 S. 9th St., has been mixing up its classic holiday punch for around half a century now. This popular mainstay is made with all-in-house ingredients and has remained unchanged since the recipe was created. It returns to the "menu" between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.
"It's a really amazing mix," Bryant's owner John Dye has said of the punch's secret recipe. "It's a little bit fruity, but not overly fruity. It's very punchy. It has enough sweetness to go down easily, but there's a lot of booze in it. It's very deceiving."
While Bryant's has perhaps the oldest winter cocktail tradition, holiday drinkers can visit The Duplex, 785 N. Jefferson St., to sample what could be the start of a new one. The bar, which opened in August, is ringing in its first winter with its apple pie Bellini, a mix of simple syrup, apple cider, secret spices and champagne served in a cinnamon sugar-rimmed glass.
"The drink will be available all month," said The Duplex's owner, William Jenkins.
Just steps away at The Pfister Hotel, the Lobby Lounge is offering its own spicy seasonal treat. Mixed by bartender Val (who is famous for her Pfister Bloody Marys), the Winter Glog is a combination of red wine, brandy, bourbon, apple cider, apple juice, cranberry juice, cloves and cinnamon. It's a creative arrangement, but the hotel staff can't take all the credit.
"This Glog originated from a family recipe of a former guest with ties to the hotel," said The Pfister's social media manager, Dustin Zick.
If all this mention of apples has you sighing wistfully for the bold, warm flavors of seasons past, there is still solace to be found in a few local bars. Craft cocktail fans still clinging to autumn can find refuge at The Hamilton, 823 E. Hamilton St., where the staff's fall menu is still available for the next couple of weeks.
Notable potables include the Carol of Harvest, made with Boomsma Genever gin, Great Lakes Pumpkin Spirit, cayenne-pumpkin syrup, lemon and Bittercube Bolivar bitters; the Autumn Cobbler, a mixture of Bulleit rye, walnut liqueur, lemon, grapes and Angostura bitters; and the Template for Fingerprints, made with Armagnac brandy, Earl Grey-infused vermouth, brown sugar syrup, sage leaves, lemon and Bittercube Jamaican #1 bitters.
"Our winter menu is a few weeks away but some intriguing flavors are already being developed," said owner Kimberly Floyd. "I know one bartender is working on a bourbon-based drink with a pecan/peppercorn-infused vermouth, and a rye drink with a cardamon/anise syrup."
The Hotel Foster, 2028 E. North Ave., and its Bay View sister bar Boone & Crockett, 2151 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., have made quite a name for themselves in the relatively short time they've been open. Known locally as go-to bars for their ever-changing menus of delicious and complex craft cocktails, they recently received national attention in the holiday issue of Imbibe Magazine for their kumquat-cardamom sidecar, a spicy mix of cognac, kumquat- and cardamom-infused white wine, lemon juice and simple syrup.
"It's the perfect transition between lamb chops and holiday fruitcake," co-owner Doug Williams told the magazine.
You wouldn't think from looking at it, but just across the street from Boone & Crockett Hamburger Mary's, 2130 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., is hiding a bevy of cold-weather libations right in plain sight. The big purple burger joint has put its own spin on the hot toddy, spiked hot cocoa and Kahlua'd-up coffee for the winter months. Patrons can choose to warm up with a Nutty Irishman, Peppermint Patti, Hot Mudslide, Aunt Betty's Apple Toddy or A Snog in the Bog for $6.50 apiece.
Hidden away across town in the Tosa Village, Firefly Bar & Grill, 7754 Harwood Ave., has revamped its whole drink menu for the holiday season.
"At Firefly we strive to bring the most flavorful, fresh cocktails to our guests," said manager Chris Prissel. "We use all natural ingredients to flavor our drinks which we feel really sets us apart."
Winter drinkers can wet their whistles with a Cranberry Basil Crush (fresh muddled basil, cranberry and lime juice with fresh lime sour, vodka and seltzer), Spiced Caramel Apple (Canton Ginger liquor, Pearl caramel vodka, apple cider and fresh lemon juice), the Cin-Gin (muddled pear with gin, fresh lemon sour, maple syrup, cinnamon and tonic) and others.
Looking for a little indulgence? Firefly also serves a trio of hot drinks – the Toasted Cocoa-Nut (hot chocolate, Malibu coconut rum and Rumchata topped with whipped cream), Harvest Apple Cider (the house's special spiked cider blend) or Hot Caramel "O" (Alterra coffee, Pearl caramel vodka, Chinese 5 spice and whipped cream) – which all ring in under $9.
For those interested in doubling down on a night of spirits, Shakers Cigar Bar, 422 S. 2nd St., is the place to go. Not only does the staff provide bar-goers with tales of the space's many ghostly encounters, this year it has crafted a unique set of seasonal mixers.
"There is a local Wisconsin flair to each one of our seasonal cocktails," said marketing manager Amanda Morden. The drinks combine local ingredients with Shakers' flair for classic cocktails and a little (sometimes dark) humor.
The Cranberry Fairy, "a spicy holiday treat that combines classic botanical spirits with traditional seasonal flavor," features Mata Hari absinthe topped with Cider Boys Cranberry Hard Cider (Stevens Point), accompanied by a Bob-a-Loo's proprietary bitters cube and garnished with skewered Wisconsin cranberries (Warrens, Wis.). The London Dry Holiday Martini is "an old favorite to keep you in high spirits during the stressful family and shopping season." It mixes Gallo dry vermouth and Greenall's London dry gin garnished with Penzey's juniper berries.
Finally, their Death in the Afternoon will give patrons the chance to channel the famous Ernest Hemingway. The cocktail is "a Hemingway creation that he indulged in frequently. (It's) also the cocktail he was imbibing in when his suicidal tendencies took over." It combines Lamarca prosecco, Mata Hari absinthe and a Bob-a-Loo's proprietary bitters cube. Before you consider over-indulging, however, be aware that Shakers takes care to make sure you don't join its ranks of hallowed haunts.
"We only allow three absinthe cocktails per person, compared to Hemingway's typical eight per day," said Morden.
Bar-goers looking for a more international flair this holiday season (or simply an escape from the hustle and bustle) need only travel to Bay View's Studio Lounge, 2246 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. Its winter cocktail menu just rolled out for the season and includes both classic favorites and a little Latin inspiration to complement their regular salsa dance and music nights.
Visit the bar/art gallery and dream of warmer temperatures with the Flor de Cuzco, a mixture of Rishi Blueberry tea-infused Pisco, house-made hibiscus syrup, egg whites, limes and a dash of Aztec chocolate bitters; or the Tamarindo Margarita, which combines Anejo tequila, Cointreau, Tamarind nectar, limes and oranges on the rocks with a chili pepper-lime salt rim. A Studio Lounge favorite, the Black Pear (Blackstrap rum, Muscovado sugar, ginger root, pear nectar and limes) also makes an appearance on this list of inventive cocktails.
If tradition is what you're after, however, nothing does holiday elegance quite like wine. Whether you have a big, full-bodied red or a light, effervescent champagne in mind, Indulge Wine Room, 708 N. Milwaukee St., has an array of seasonals perfect for the bar or at home. Sommelier and wine director Mike Nedeau has introduced a number of new reds and bubbly whites to the menu that would please any palate.
"I have some bigger, heavier reds I added for the season," he said. "This time of year it's cold, so we need some big reds to warm us up. I have a nice syrah that I just added to the menu, and I'm also adding another heavy cabernet and a shiraz as well. I'm going to be bringing in some nice Spanish cava from Catalonia. I already brought in a Crémant de Loire, and some champagne alternatives that are just as good, if not better, for most people."
Patrons can indulge, as it were, in Indulge's wines by the glass for between $7 and $15, or by the bottle starting at around $20 during happy hour, said Nedeau. While relaxing with a glass of vino and one of the bar's new charcuterie or cheese pairings is the ideal scenario, those on the go can pick up a bottle or two in between checking people off their holiday gift lists, too.
"We also do retail before 9 p.m., so they can come and go if they don't want to sit around," added Nedeau.
Cocktails and wine are one thing, but Milwaukee is a beer city, after all. Don't worry, brew fiends – Lakefront Breweryebccxqarryuyavavuzyctsxabbyrfffuxxts has you covered. Its Holiday Spice lager, brewed with cinnamon, orange zest, clove and honey, is back on liquor store shelves all over town and boasts an 11-percent alcohol by volume.
"Around the brewery, Holiday Spice is know as Santa's Rocket Fuel because it's such a high-alcohol beer," said Chris Johnson, Lakefront's director of business development.
Holiday Spice isn't the only seasonal on tap for Lakefront in the coming months. Three more are due out over the course of this winter, including a revamped take on an old favorite.
"The big one is our series one (of four) 25th Anniversary beer," said Johnson. "It's going to be an imperial stout with coco nibs, Madagascar vanilla beans and cherries. Look for that to be released around Christmas. Our next My Turn series beer will be Chad('s). Chad made an organic barley wine, and that should be out in mid-January. We (also) put a new spin on our Fuel coffee stout for draft: Fuel NITRO coffee stout. This made the beer a lot more silky and creamy and really brought out the coffee flavor. It tastes amazing."
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