Sure, Milwaukee is world-famous for its prowess in beer making, but our city is gaining notoriety for its cocktail scene, too. We don’t want to stop you from stocking your reception bar with Lakefront or Miller, but why not give props to our talented bartenders by featuring a local signature drink at your wedding (or another festive occasion), too?

Here, five bartenders from local hot spots have stepped up to the challenge and created exclusive cocktails perfect for warmer weather. They even fit a variety of vibes, so choose the one that goes best with your event’s style.

If you want a modern feel…

Go for the Blessed Union, a drink concocted especially for us by barman Nic Behrends of Great Lakes Distillery (616 W. Virginia St.). It’s tart, it’s sweet and it goes down easy—a great way to kick off cocktail hour.

“I love the idea of bringing flavors together that you don’t normally think of,” says Behrends of the vodka and whiskey blend. But believe us, once you’ve had your first sip, you’ll agree, this pair of liquors fits together perfectly, just like you and your spouse-to-be.

Blessed Union

Combine these ingredients in a shaker full of ice:
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/4 oz. fresh red grapefruit juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
1/2 oz. Kinnikinnick Whiskey
1 oz. Rehorst Citrus & Honey Vodka
1 eyedropper Bittercube Bolivar Bitters (optional)

Cover and shake. Strain into a footed rocks glass (shown here on the left) or a Champagne flute. Top with 1 oz. sparkling wine, such as Prosecco, and garnish with a twist of lemon.

If you want a trendy feel…

You can’t go wrong with Clyde’s Cocktail developed by Evan Barnes, bartender at The Hotel Foster (2028 E. North Ave.). He suggests you serve this super-fresh after-dinner drink in a Collins glass (like he did for us) or in a punch bowl. “It settles your stomach after a big meal with the spice and the ginger,” he says. But we can’t help but assert that Clyde’s Cocktail would be delicious at any time of day.

And what’s sloe gin, you ask? “It’s sloe berry-flavored gin; more like a berry vodka, if you will,” says Barnes. Pimm’s is gin-based, too.

Clyde’s Cocktail

Combine these ingredients in a glass:
1 1/2 oz. sloe gin
1/2 oz. Pimm’s
2 slices cucumber
Shaved fresh ginger
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. simple syrup

Lightly muddle to bring out the cucumber and ginger flavors. Then, double-strain into a glass of ice. Top with 1 oz. of white soda and 1 oz. of club soda. Finish with cucumber and/or lemon slices.

If you want a laid-back feel…

What liquor is more laid back than tequila? For that we paid a visit to Ian Cliffe, bar manager at BelAir Cantina (1935 N. Water St.). [Full disclosure: He's also married to this writer.] His suggestion for a signature drink: the Ball & Chain. “Every song I know that references a ball and chain is actually romantic,” he explains. [Good save, babe.]

“The short ingredient list makes it quick to mix, and the rich tequila and sweet creme de cassis make it just as desirable for bridesmaids as groomsmen,” Cliffe says. “This is perfect for cocktail hour on a patio. It’s a summer sipper.”

Ball & Chain

Combine these ingredients in a shaker full of ice:
1 1/2 oz. Sauza Hornitos Reposado tequila
3/4 oz. creme de cassis (black currant liqueur)
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup

Cover and shake. Strain into an old-fashioned glass (no ice) and top with a splash of club soda. Garnish the cocktail with a twist of lemon.

 

 

If you want a retro feel…

Heading to Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge (1579 S. 9th St.) is a no-brainer for anyone who’s in a retro mood. And if you go, you may see a familiar face: Evan Barnes (creator of Clyde’s Cocktail, above). This time, he presented us with Eau de Vie.

Its complex flavor is 100-percent refreshing. And despite the ingredient list, says Barnes, “It’s really basic. That’s what I love about it.”

Eau de Vie

Combine these ingredients in a shaker with ice:
1 1/2 oz. Death’s Door gin
1 oz. limoncello
3/4 oz. St. Germain elderflower liqueur
3/4 oz. Lillet Blanc
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
3 dashes Fee Brothers peach bitters
2 slices cucumber

Lightly muddle. Cover and shake. Double-strain into a Collins glass of ice. Top with club soda and garnish with a cucumber slice.

If you want a rustic feel…

With its Provencial hunting-lodge decor, Balzac Wine Bar (1716 N. Arlington Pl.) was our go-to for an outdoor wedding signature cocktail. Stefanie Dodge treated us to her Pink Drink. We found it floral, fresh and incredibly un-ginny (despite the main ingredient); something that could easily be enjoyed al fresco.

“We try to incorporate wine in all our cocktails, since that’s Balzac’s specialty,” says Dodge. “This makes sense for a spring or summer wedding—it’s like Easter in a glass!”

Pink Drink

Combine these ingredients in a shaker with ice:
2 1/2 oz. gin
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
Splash of simple syrup (to taste)

Cover and shake. Pour into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice, and top with sparkling rose. Garnish with a lemon twist, slice or both.

 

 

 

If you want an elegant feel…

We called on Ryan Casey, manager at The Hamilton (823 E. Hamilton St.), which is bedecked in fine fabrics and lots of chandeliers—true vintage elegance. He poured us a Summer Bearing, which he designed to accompany cake. “The raspberry and blackberry flavors would complement chocolate, but the lemon would amplify vanilla,” he explains.

“It’s a simple, elegant cocktail to have after dinner when the festivities are just starting,” Casey says.

Summer Bearing

Combine these ingredients in a shaker:
1 1/2 oz. Rehorst gin
1/3 oz. fresh raspberry syrup
1/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/4 oz. simple syrup
2 blackberries

Muddle to crush the blackberries and combine the flavors. Add ice. Cover and shake; double-strain into a Champagne flute. Top with Prosecco and garnish with a lemon twist.

 

A few notes: All recipes above make one cocktail. Multiply by your number of guests (minus the underagers and others who you know will abstain) for the total amount of ingredients you’ll need.

For these recipes, simple syrup is just that: simple. Mix one part water and one part granulated sugar in a pan. Boil until the sugar has dissolved; then cool and store in the fridge for up to two weeks.

And in some cases, the bartenders have recommended certain brands, but if you purchase an equivalent, your cocktails will likely taste as intended. You can find all these ingredients at fine liquor stores around Southeastern Wisconsin, so try mixing your own drinks at home, hassle-free. (Date night in, anyone?)

 

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Ellie Martin Cliffe Ellie Martin Cliffe (104 Posts)

By the end of high school, Ellie Martin Cliffe was completely enamored of journalism, so she chose the most logical college major possible: anthropology. Disappointed by the minimal emphasis on writing and editing, she changed tracks and earned a comm degree from Carroll College. Ellie has since tackled many facets of the field including books, magazines and the Web at places like The Knot and Reader's Digest. She now works full time in book publishing, and is thrilled to get her wedding fix with WedInMilwaukee.com. When she isn’t wielding her (red) pen, Ellie can be found in the garden, at any concert that showcases a fiddle, playing pub trivia or in the kitchen. She and her husband live in Riverwest with their hedgehog, Guinness, and grapefruit tree, Sprout.



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