Bay View Houses Top Shelf Beverage Makers
Story by Heather Ray
Photography by Adam Horwitz
A distiller, a bitters maker, a tonic producer and a brewer walk out of bar… and into a warehouse. Only this is no joke. These like-minded entrepreneurs aren’t your ordinary brew crew, they’re fine-tuning Milwaukee’s craft beverage industry in very distinct markets, and yet, they’re all under one roof—a warehouse actually—sharing the same view through the 20th century factory windows on the corner of Becher and South 1st Streets in Bay View.
The Lincoln Warehouse, originally built in 1928 as a bake house for the A&P grocery chain, has been home to several manufacturing companies specializing in fishing equipment (Frabill Manufacturing), sporting goods (Huffy Corporation) and “Be Mine” candy hearts (NECCO).
Today, under the management of Andrew Bandy, the warehouse has been reconfigured to better suit the needs of Bay View’s young businesses, with imaginative spaces built out for artisan producers ranging between 500 and 7,000 square feet.
Wandering up and down the stairs and through the halls, aromatics are your tour guide for what’s in production. Beer makers from Enlightened Brewery send wafts of fermenting yeast to counter Bittercube’s sweet fragrance of macerated orange peels and toasted spices. A floor above, grapefruit peels and Makrut lime leaves are accented with fresh lemongrass and infused into Top Note’s Indian Tonic concentrate, an ideal mixer for the small-batch gin being distilled on the ground floor at Twisted Path Distillery.
It may seem that each of these artisans has carved out their own personal space, but the beverage tenants that call Lincoln Warehouse home frequently turn to each other to propel mutual success. After all, that’s the spirit of Bay View’s young artisan producers—you sample my booze, I’ll accentuate yours.
Brian Sammons, founder and distiller of Twisted Path Distillery, lives about a mile and a half from the warehouse with his wife and two young children. A former lawyer, Sammons’ risk to transition from attorney to one-man organic distiller introduces Milwaukee to its third distillery, joining the likes of Great Lakes Distillery and Central Standard, both in nearby Walker’s Point.
Admittedly, Sammons recognizes Milwaukee’s storied brewing history—“We aren’t known for our spirits,” he says. “But as the craft distilling industry begins to shadow the growth of craft brewing, I’m excited to be part of Milwaukee creating a name for itself in distilling.”
The Bitters Maker
Ira Koplowitz, co-proprietor of the specialty bitters company Bittercube, works out of the 2,800-square-foot space responsible for the ambrosial scents that sweep through the open corridors. Here, apothecaries tinker with an evolving menu of elixirs, ranging from bitters with notes of chamomile and jasmine, such as their Bolivar, to the Jamaican #2, a potent concoction with hints of ginger and black pepper—a bitters built not just for cocktails, but for liquors (rum is recommended), baking and marinades.
Koplowitz, 35, founded the company along with fellow bartender Nick Kosevich in 2009. “We came to Milwaukee during the early stages of the cocktail renaissance and helped put our stamp on the scene here,” says Koplowitz. During those early years, the company leased space from Yahara Bay Distillers Inc. in Madison before seeking out a home in Bay View in 2014. “I was talking with an old friend of mine, the manager at Braise in Walker’s Point, about our need to move. He mentioned the Lincoln Warehouse,” he says. “I own a house less than a mile from there, so it seemed like the perfect place to open the apothecary.”
The Tonic Producer
Shoppers at Outpost, Sendik’s, Woodmans or Beans & Barley may have seen Top Note Tonics in the beverage aisle and thought, hmm, that’s new. This premium, lower-in-sugar concentrate was designed to put a better mixer in the hands of specialty cocktail and soda drinkers. It too is produced is the same unassuming warehouse.
“We wanted to craft traditional tonics, which are really herbal, botanical sodas,” says president and cofounder Mary Pellettieri. With a background in botany and more than 20 years experience in the craft brewing industry, Pellettieri draws on her brewing skills to balance the flavors in the company’s line of tonic recipes. The Gentian Tonic, for example, doesn’t contain any quinine—a controversial compound commonly found in tonics—instead, Pellettieri uses natural gentian bittering and flavors from limes and ginger to give it a distinguished taste.
She and her husband Noah Swanson share the business, along with their two creative middle school boys, who are used to spending evenings doing homework in Top Note’s warehouse office space. “We moved to Bay View from a not-so-safe neighborhood in Chicago,” says Pellettieri. “And we love it. Our neighborhood customers are loyal early adopters, and that’s highly coveted when you have an uphill climb.”
The couple started eyeing up Lincoln Warehouse early in 2014, as it offered a raw space for them build out their own kitchen and a convenient location to their home. They started by renting storage space, but by the time they were ready for construction, “we were almost too late,” says Pellettieri. Luckily, they staked their kitchen space in time to meet the production needs for three new distributors in 2015, allowing them to expand into Minneapolis, Denver and Seattle.
Occupying a cozy 500-square-foot space in the warehouse, Bay View resident and founder of The Enlightened Brewing Company Tommy Vandervort along with co-owner James Larson are supplying neighborhood bars such as Sugar Maple, Palomino and Burnhearts with seriously thoughtful beers (look for Sustained Thought and A Priori Pale Ale), and all before turning 30 years old. “We just want to make good beer for our neighbors and friends,” says Larson. “We did everything we could to find a space in Bay View that would work for us, so we’re pretty grateful for Lincoln Warehouse.”
Vandervort and Larson are working to expand from a half-barrel brewery to three barrels, a jump that offers hope for the twentysomethings to quit their day jobs. “We’re lucky to have an opportunity to grow within the warehouse,” says Larson. “We’ll be moving downstairs to the first floor to have street level access and more space for a tap room.”
Mixing It All Together
The idea of four Bay View neighbors in the beverage industry operating within earshot of one another at the “office”—was it calculated? Nope. Was it ill-fated? Not at all. Was it destiny? Heck yeah.
“In building out, we all consulted each other on compliance and inspections, and on particular equipment needs,” says Sammons of Twisted Path Distillery. “I ended up buying a large commercial sink that I subsequently couldn’t use, but it was perfect for Top Note. And Bittercube needed water filtration, but I already figured out a good system they could duplicate.”
In return, the folks at Bittercube were able to help broker Twisted Path into new states. “We’re also collaborating on Dock18, a cocktail lab that we’re running for the distillery,” says Koplowitz.
“All of us are creating products from scratch and love experimentation, so it’s great to be able to share ideas and get their feedback on different projects,” continues Kopowitz.
“Top Note has been a great neighbor, too, because Mary worked for a long time at Goose Island. So we can pick her brain when it comes to sales, distribution and all the rest,” says Larson. “Being in the same industry, it’s just inevitable that we’ll run into similar challenges or opportunities, and so it’s easy to check in with each other and get help or advice.”
Dock18 Cocktail Lab
A partnership between Twisted Path Distillery and Bittercube, this experimental cocktail “lab” is open to the public Thursday through Sunday. Just past dock 17, there is a glass door with a metal box. Open it and press the buzzer to enter.
Thursday: 5 p.m. – midnight
Friday: 5 p.m. – midnight
Saturday: 1 p.m. – midnight
Sunday: 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
The Lincoln Warehouse is located at 2018 S 1st St. in Bay View
Heather Ray is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer currently pursuing a Master’s in Nutrition and Dietetics from Eastern Michigan University. As the former editor of Healthy Cooking magazine for Reader’s Digest, she claims to eat healthy 80 percent of the time, reserving 20 percent for pie. When she’s not buried in homework, you’re likely to find her running along the lake or shooting arrows at one of Milwaukee’s outdoor ranges.