Local bars look to history to elevate drinking culture
Where classic serves a purpose of preserving tradition and history, contemporary brings a blast of fresh air and something not typically seen before. There’s certainly room for both, especially on the bar scene. In fact, it’s impossible not to build upon the former to create the latter.
While Wisconsin is recognized for brewing beer, the state has its fair share of cocktail mixologists known for their expertise in crafting innovative concoctions and thinking outside the box when it comes to options. In the Fox Valley, it’s obvious on carefully curated drink menus being transformed by reimagining classics using fresh, seasonal ingredients and a knowledge and respect for history.
“Everybody’s got their own spin on craft cocktails. The biggest thing is creativity and trying to use the best ingredients you can where you are,” says Corbin Schiedermayer, owner of Ambassador in Appleton.
“Craft cocktails can be a number of things,” Margot Reed of Appleton’s Fox River House agrees. “But you need to have a basic sense of flavor profiles and how they interact with each other. Everything is an iteration of something that’s already been made.”
We can thank prohibition, the banishment of alcohol from 1920 to 1933, for some of the most popular masterpieces still enjoyed today.
“That’s a part of craft, borrowing from the past,” says Alex Fehrenbach of Town Council Kitchen & Bar in Neenah. “All the stories have already been told.”
“Someone who is knowledgeable about the history makes it more approachable,” adds Tyler MacLellan also of Town Council Kitchen & Bar.
“It helps make the person excited about something we’re all so excited about.” “During that prohibition era people were using ingredients a certain way because they had to,” says Appleton bartender Patrick Frawley. “It created this need for people to get inventive with how they served drinks.”
Mixologists understandably have an easier time of it today, but many are looking to the past to bring back the methods that facilitated the start of drink culture in the first place. Take the resurgence of milk punch, for example. Said to have a rich history (Benjamin Franklin had his own recipe!), it originated in the early 1700’s out of the necessity to help preserve dairy without modern refrigeration.
“My recent milk punch used tea, some vermouth, a base spirit—I lean toward a funky rum—and then some sort of citrus,” Frawley explains. “When you add milk to it, it curdles. You slowly strain it until it’s clear again… it’s a really delightful drink.”
The art of crafting a winning cocktail relies on the balance of spirits, sugar, water and bitters. After that, area establishments are taking the time to thoughtfully elevate the traditional to create unique combinations using fresh ingredients like real fruit and herbs.