I visited Milwaukee once a year when I went to college in Wisconsin, mainly to check out sausage races at County Stadium (now Miller Park) and earn my “I closed Wolski’s” bumper sticker. But now, I go there for the cocktails. The scene is genuinely hospitable and free of hipster pretension. No one drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon with a smirk. Cocktail culture isn’t ironic in Milwaukee. Very little is.
One of my favorite places is Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, opened in 1938. The place offers drinks like the cucumber collins; I prefer old-fashioneds made with brandy instead of whiskey, as Wisconsinites like them.
The old guard has inspired newer spots, like Distil. To me, it’s one of the best bars in America. For his Made In Milwaukee, mixologist Mathias Simonis combines local ingredients: Great Lakes Distillery’s Rehorst Vodka steeped with Rishi plum tea, Sprecher ginger ale and Schlitz foam. Distil stocks more than 100 bourbons and ryes, plus the locally made Bittercube bitters in flavors like blackstrap and cherry bark–vanilla.
The men behind Bittercube, Nick Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz, run the cocktail program at The Hamilton, a cool new bar in a former parking garage. Their Bluestocking Society is a gin-based riff on an old-fashioned made with lemon bitters. It’s a drink you couldn’t find anywhere but Milwaukee.
—Jim Meehan, author of The PDT Cocktail Book and deputy editor, Food & Wine Cocktails