Keeping It Simple: A Q&A With Ross Salchow Of Great Lakes Distillery

As Wisconsin’s first post-Prohibition distillery, it’s no surprise that Milwaukee’s Great Lakes Distillery is full of history. Marketing Director Ross Salchow is like a walking historical guidebook of cocktails and spirits, but what’s so great about talking with Ross is his humility and love for what he does. We can’t wait for the return of long afternoon chats at the Tasting Room with Ross and the rest of the Great Lakes crew!

Be sure to check out the Barrel-Aged Gin Highball Ross made for us live on Highballs at High Noon!

Download the free highballs at high noon e-book here!

Q: What was it that first got you into cocktails?

Ross Salchow: I’m not entirely sure. My early drinking was bottled things like beer and whatnot. Eventually I started drinking highballs like Gin & Tonic and Rum & Coke, etc. I would guess it was when I started hanging around Great Lakes Distillery that the staff eased me into what a cocktail could be as opposed to just beer or spirits with a mixer.

Q: What new cocktail discoveries are you exploring right now?

RS: Tea! Tea can bring so much to a drink on its own, to the point that you only need a few more elements to make a really complex and decadent cocktail.

Q: Why do you think people at home might be intimidated by making cocktails?

RS: I assume people see a large bar full of bottles, mixers, and tools and think all those elements are needed to make top level cocktails. It’s also quite possible that people have had truly awful homemade cocktails from friends and family and assume it’s just a hard thing to do in the home setting.  

Q: What are some of your favorite cocktails to make at home?

RS: I keep it pretty simple at home. I don’t wander too far outside basic things like a Gimlet, Tom Collins, Bee’s Knees, or something with gin and rosewater.

Q: What do you take to a party?

RS: I’m either bringing a punch or batched cocktail for everyone to enjoy or a bottle of wine/spirits to gift to the host, plus whatever beer I plan on drinking for the evening.

Q: Where do you think the cocktail and bar industry is headed?

RS: An industry newsletter/publication said to expect a return to classic cocktails made to perfection, with a nice profit margin. I can’t find fault with that. I don’t expect there to be an immediate demand for 13-ingredient cocktail opuses. 

Q: What has the pandemic taught you?

RS: It just reinforced the lessons of Prohibition. People want to drink and will always find a way. The where, what, how, and with who may change, but our species' inherent desire for alcohol will always prevail. 

Cocktail kits available at Great Lakes Distillery. (Image credit: Great Lakes Distillery)

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