Spring has sprung, the ice is melting, and the worst of the coronavirus pandemic seems to be behind us *fingers crossed*. We could use a stiff drink, how about you?!
So here’s to community spaces, friendly faces, patio weather, and our favorite whiskey bars in the Midwest. Cheers! (As always, Top Note Tonic reminds you to please drink responsibly.)
Palomino, Milwaukee, WI
This popular neighborhood bar and eatery boasts a menu of Southern-inspired comfort food, craft beer, and perhaps Milwaukee’s largest selection of whiskeys. Currently offering patio seating and a walk-up window, we can’t wait to belly up to the bar again soon.
Order up: House Barreled Boulevardier (Four Roses Bourbon, Campari, Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth)
Volstead House, Eagan, MN
This speakeasy features modern eats and pre-Prohibition era cocktails, along with a top-notch whiskey list. Calling all scotch lovers, we’ve found your new favorite bar.
Order up: Don’t Mind If I Don’t (Volstead House Private Select Single Barrel Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Fernet Branca, Becherovka, Demerara, Volstead House Orange Bitters)
Stella’s Lounge, Grand Rapids, MI
Come for the ambiance (funky graffitied walls and 80s arcade games), stay for the grub (and yes, the whiskey). In addition to making what is arguably the city’s best burger, Stella’s Lounge boasts a long list of whiskeys - mostly American’s but also a good selection of scotch - plus whiskey flights and a cocktail menu made up exclusively of - you guessed it - whiskey.
Order up: Michigan Made Whiskey Flight (American Fih Bourbon (90 Proof), Journeyman Silver Cross (90 Proof), Eastern Kille Straight Rye (90 Proof))
Cask & Ale, Madison, WI
Having arguably Wisconsin’s most diverse whiskey list, this is the place to go for the adventurous whiskey drinker. While many bars feature a small selection of Asian whisky, Cask & Ale bucks the norm with a wide variety of Japanese, Taiwanese, and Indian bottles. If American whiskey is more your style, fear not: the number of options is truly mind-boggling!
Order up: Cask & Ale Single Barrel Bourbon Ball Chocolates
Kumiko, Chicago, IL
Japanese-inspired bar and restaurant Kumiko features innovative fare, omakase (or “bartender’s choice”) cocktail tastings, and rare Japanese whiskies. Partner and creative director, Julia Momose, is an expert at coaxing out and highlighting each whisky’s unique flavors on Kumiko’s rotating menu of whisky cocktails.
Order up: Highball (Suntory Toki Japanese Whisky, Sudachi, Kumiko Club Soda)
Julep, Kansas City, MS
Featuring an 18-page whiskey menu, Julep is bound to have a whiskey (or several) for even the most experienced whiskey connoisseur. If cocktails are more your speed, the bartenders are happy to craft you an Old Fashioned or Mint Julep.
Order up: Decadent & Depraved (Rye Whiskey, PX Sherry, Sugar, Mint)
Merlin’s Rest Pub, Minneapolis, MN
A neighborhood pub specializing in traditional British fare, it’s no surprise that Merlin’s Rest has a well-stocked bar, but what might surprise you is how extensive their scotch list is. You’ll find the usual suspects listed, but what’s especially exciting is their collection of rare bottles. So the next time you’re looking to treat yourself to something special, be sure to make this your first stop.
Order up: Merlin’s Ginger (Ginger-Infused Jameson Irish Whiskey, Ginger Ale, Bitters)
The Mothership, Milwaukee, WI
A relative newcomer to the Bay View bar scene, this unassuming watering hole has an extensive collection of American whiskeys as well as a handful of unexpected bottles from places like India and South Africa. For those looking for a unique and expertly-crafted whiskey cocktail, The Mothership’s got you covered there, too!
Order up: Bang Bang! (Dickel No.12 Tennessee Sour Mash Whisky, China China, Galliano Ristretto, Almond, Walnut, Chicory Root)
Rebel & Rye, Chicago, IL
This bar has something for everyone: big screen TVs, lots of outdoor seating, and a staff of bartenders ready to recommend your new favorite whiskey. Specializing in American whiskey, Rebel & Rye breaks their menu down by both region and state, featuring a mix of household names and up-and-comers.
Order up: The Jalisco Tea Party (Barrel-Aged Tequila, Rye, Chamomile, Lemon, Tea Bitters)
Vanguard, Milwaukee, WI
Best known for their selection of creative house-made sausages, Vanguard has a fantastic selection of whiskies and whiskey cocktails, as well. With an all-star team including Longman & Eagle (Chicago, IL) partner Jim McCann and former Cactus Club (Milwaukee, WI) manager Chris Schulist, these guys really know their stuff.
Order up: a shot of Maker's Mark Private Select "Vanguard 2018" Bourbon