This week marks the end of Prohibition, an era that banned the production, consumption and sale of alcohol from 1920 to 1933. In celebration of the end of the “Noble Experiment,” Great Lakes Distillery has joined forces with Bittercube to host a Repeal Day Party on Friday, December 7th at the Great Lakes Distillery.
Wisconsin Foodie contributor Savanah Ladd sat down with Guy Rehorst, owner of Great Lakes Distillery, and Ira Koplowitz, proprietor of Bittercube, to test their Prohibition knowledge, talk cocktails, and learn what we can expect from them both in the near future.
WI Foodie: What is the importance of Repeal Day? Why should we be celebrating?
Guy: Repeal Day really marks the end of a failed experiment. Prohibition increased crime and took money away from the people, doing the exact opposite of what it was intended to do.
Ira: Well, Guy and I wouldn’t have jobs without the repeal of Prohibition. I’d say that’s something to celebrate! The repeal allows us to make and sell spirits, invent new cocktails, experiment with bitters, the list of possibilities is endless.
WI Foodie: How involved was Wisconsin in the practice of bootlegging and trafficking of alcohol?
Guy: Capone had a house here in Wisconsin out in Brookfield. It’s said that he made moonshine in his attic and moved it into Chicago.
Ira: To add to that, many Wisconsinites were of western European descent and alcohol was a way of life for them, even for children. So many of them were making batches of alcohol in their basements.
WI Foodie: What role did Wisconsin play in repealing Prohibition?
Guy: Wisconsin was one of the last states to vote for Prohibition and one of the first to vote for the repeal. Since alcohol was a way of life for most Wisconsinites, they weren’t fond of the Prohibition. Even the local law enforcement had a hard time supporting it.
WI Foodie: What cocktails will Bittercube be serving at the Repeal Day event? How did you come up with the menu?
Ira: My partner Nick and I have selected a few Prohibition-era cocktails for Friday’s menu. We aren’t using the exact same recipes that were used during the era, as the modern palate doesn’t quite appreciate some of the ingredients used in the past. At that time, a lot of honey and juice was used in cocktails to mask the taste of bathtub gin. One of the cocktails we will be featuring at the event consists of Rehorst gin, lemon, orange, honey syrup, and Bittercube orange bitters. This is sort of a modern twist on Bees Knees, a drink that was served during that time.
Guy: It should be a good time with a good turn out. We’re very excited to be hosting.
WI Foodie: How have Great Lakes Distillery and Bittercube changed the way Wisconsinites order cocktails?
Guy: Ultimately we are working to provide a better product for our customers. I think Wisconsinites appreciate that we are local and they are able to actually meet the owner and discuss their products with them.
Ira: As far as Great Lakes Distillery, I think they have really contributed to people trying new things. For example, a person may be scared to order a gin cocktail while out at a bar, but because they see that the gin is made locally, they are probably more likely to give it a try.
Guy: I think Bittercube has done something extremely unique, and people are taking notice. Before bitters, there wasn’t much variety in the cocktail world, but now with Bittercube bitters, the possibilities are endless.
Ira: I hear people ordering special cocktails and specifically asking for bitters like cherry vanilla bark, for example. Once they ask for it at one establishment the word spreads and it becomes part of the norm and raises the bar for what people expect from their cocktails.
WI Foodie: How did Great Lakes Distillery and Bittercube first come together?
Guy: From what I remember, Bittercube came into the distillery to consult with us on a project they were starting. They were looking for unique local ingredients and products.
Ira: I don’t remember much, but I do remember Bittercube being welcomed with open arms. Ever since then, Great Lakes Distillery and Bittercube have been collaborating by putting together seasonal speakeasy events at the distillery. Good spirits go well with good bitters, so if person is already a fan of one, it’s great to introduce them to the other.
WI Foodie: What’s next for Great Lakes Distillery? What’s next for Bittercube?
Guy: We have a few things in the works. Our main issue right now is that our capacity to produce is limited – we’ve caught up to the capacity of our equipment. Because of this, we will ultimately need to expand. I can say that I know of four new products right now that you can expect to see in the future.
Ira: Next we are working on a limited batch of lemon tree bitters, barrel aged blood orange, and Door County hop bitters. We are also working on two single origin varietals of fresh hops, which are super limited and will be ready in a week or two – hopefully in time for the holidays. Next spring, we will be introducing another limited batch of barrel aged cherry bitters.
Be sure to stop by Great Lakes Distillery this Friday to join these fine men in celebrating Repeal Day in the most appropriate way possible: with cocktail in hand.
Great Lakes Distillery is a Milwaukee based distillery offering locally made vodka, gin, rum, whiskey and 15 other different spirits. Bittercube is another local business that hand crafts six varieties of artisanal bitters. Ask for these great products the next time you’re out and looking for a great cocktail.
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