If nothing else, the past year has taught us the importance of fostering new connections and finding new ways to support local businesses and start-ups. When head distiller Alyssa Hughes reached out to us about her upcoming venture into a new Wisconsin-based distillery, we knew we had to include her in our Highballs at High Noon series. We’re so inspired by her kindness, entrepreneurial spirit, and unique perspective. Welcome to Wisconsin, Alyssa, we can’t wait to support you on your new adventure!
Q: What was it that first got you into cocktails?
Alyssa Hughes: Well honestly, becoming a distiller. You quickly find out that in order to make good spirits, you need to be able to make good drinks with your products. It also helps working next to inspiring bartenders that are eager to teach you good cocktails.
Q: What new cocktail discoveries are you exploring right now?
AH: Largely going blind has been a lot of fun, toying with flavors without a thought to what category it might be in. Currently I am most interested in classic cocktails that incorporate different types of bitters. I recently made a birchbark bitters that I’ve found goes great with aged spirits like whiskey.
Q: Why do you think people at home might be intimidated by making cocktails?
AH: I think the fact that it’s a learned craft can intimidate people. It’s like art - you can go to a gallery to see some art, or do some yourself at home. Not everyone can be a master bartender, but anyone can make simple, good cocktails when they have the right ingredients. It’s easy to be intimidated by the hardworking individuals we are used to seeing behind the bar slinging drinks like it’s second nature.
Q: What are some of your favorite cocktails to make at home?
AH: I enjoy putting my own spins on drinks like the Manhattan and Blood and Sand. When you make your own ingredients the possibilities are endless. Lately I've been mixing rye whiskey, cherry liqueur, and an aperitivo with a slice of orange zest. Fun fact about my cocktail preferences: I don’t like ice!
Q: What do you take to a party?
AH: Back when it was safe to party I would bring the makings for a Jalapeño Gin Rickey - just soak the simple syrup in some chopped jalapeños. I look forward to being able to get together again when it’s safe to do so.
Q: Where do you think the cocktail and bar industry is headed?
AH: I think it is going to become even more craft than it already is. Bartenders are finding that making their own bitters, shrubs and fresh juices make a cocktail more unique. I think we’ll see a rise in - sorry, I know some people hate this term - mixologists… aka the people making the most incredible potions!
Q: What has the pandemic taught you?
AH: A lot of things, mostly my heart goes out to the people it’s hurt the most, and that includes the incredibly talented bartenders we’ve been talking about. If anyone wishes to help, please donate to the USBG National Charity Foundation. I was Head Distiller in Michigan during the worst of the pandemic when hand sanitizer was scarce. My talented assistant, Ian Shackelford, and I worked long shifts to turn what would’ve been vodka or gin into hand sanitizer. We donated most of it to local elderly homes, homeless shelters, and our broader community. This is a common story for most distilleries, so when you’re making your own cocktails at home, be sure to buy spirits from your local distilleries.
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