By Hannah Wente | Photography by Hillary Schave
In the middle of winter, a well-crafted cocktail or mocktail is a simple pleasure. Sip a coffee-infused concoction with your gal pals in Verona or venture through an extensive dessert wine list after dinner in downtown Sun Prairie. Simple spirits and bold, full-bodied wines dominate right now — with classic cocktails punctuating seasonal menus.
Sustainable cocktails are having a renaissance. Using locally-grown ingredients for garnishes and mixers, minimizing shipping by using spirits from local distilleries and using paper straws (or no straws) are all part of the movement. In Verona, cocktail bar and restaurant Hodge Podge sustainably sources their food and ingredients when possible, and food waste is composted.
Look for local spirits and ingredients here by Driftless Glen, Yahara Bay, State Line, Red Cabin Bourbon from Central Standard Distillery and Wollersheim. You can make any of their coffee drinks boozy — they often use coffee from Milwaukee-based coffee roaster Stone Creek Coffee — which is also used in their signature cocktail, the Cozy Arm Chair.
Sip On This: Cozy Arm Chair
- 1 1⁄2 oz. chai vodka
- 3⁄4 oz. coffee liqueur
- 2 oz. iced coffee
- 2 pumps ginger syrup
- 1 pump cinnamon syrup
Directions: In a cocktail shaker, combine and shake all ingredients. Strain into a serving glass. Garnish with chai leaves. (Note: At home, you can make a simple syrup out of ginger and find the cinnamon syrup in grocery stores.)
PLAIN SPOKE COCKTAILS
Tom Dufek, the mastermind behind Merchant and Lucille’s cocktail fame, opened Plain Spoke in 2018 and the tasting room in 2020. The neon-clad, buzzy cocktail bar (below) serves an array of Plain Spoke’s best-selling canned cocktails on draft with paper straws.
They serve NA options too, including celery bitters and soda, a housemade tonic and a rotating special. Grab craft cocktails to-go like the bourbon smash, brandy old fashioned and mojito — or the house-made Amaro with saffron, rhubarb and orange. The spot is located above Young Blood Beer Company.
Sip On This: Cardamom Sazerac
This classic 1800’s cocktail takes minutes to make. Plain Spoke uses their house brandy and bourbon and then adds a touch of cardamom and almond before adding in a splash of Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters for a wintry touch.
- 1 1⁄2 oz. almond-infused bourbon
- 1⁄2 oz. brandy
- 1⁄4 oz. cardamom simple syrup
- 2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- Absinthe (for coating glass)
Directions: Add all ingredients to a mixing glass. Crack two cubes of ice and place in glass. Stir ice briskly for 30-45 seconds. Add a dash of absinthe to cocktail glass and swirl to coat glass. Strain mixed cocktail through julep strainer into cocktail glass and garnish with a star anise.
CANNERY WINE BAR AND TASTING ROOM
Take the dog for a wintry run at Token Creek County Park, and then head to this downtown Sun Prairie gem. Four-and- a-half years ago, owner Joe Van Tassel opened Cannery Wine Bar and Tasting Room to showcase local as well as rare spirits and wines from all over the world. (Van Tassel also runs nearby Cannery Wine and Spirits.) The tasting room has over 300 whiskeys, from U.S. bourbons to Scotland scotches to Irish, Japanese and Israeli whiskeys. The menu changes daily and is more like an encyclopedia — staff can help guide you on what to choose based on the flavor profiles you’re into.
Sip On This: Graham’s Tawny Port Flight
Made in Portugal and aged in branded barrels, this sumptuous red wine made for dessert pairings comes in a flight with 10-, 20-, 30- and 40-year aged varieties.
This downtown Madison nightlife spot from the owners of Lucille and Amara recently reopened after a refresh. Beverage director Caitlyn Nicholson says their 2023 cocktail menu “really focuses on what Merchant does best — classics. Our new menu heavily focuses on some of our favorites through the ages, some with special twists of our own.”
Sip On This: Nicholson says they don’t share recipes for permanent menu items or original cocktails, but she’s currently loving their Brandy Alexander (Hine Cognac, Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao and heavy cream) and Sazerac cocktails, made with George Dickle No. 12 Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey, Maison Rouge Cognac VSOP, Combier Liqueur de Banane, Demerara and Peychaud’s Absinthe.