On Family, Curiosity & Wisconsin Cocktails: A Q&A With Jeanette Hurt

Jeanette Hurt is, in our humble opinion, the author of some of the best culinary books in recent history, including Wisconsin Cocktails, Drink Like a Woman, and The Unofficial Aldi Cookbook. Her writing and recipes specialize “in the intersection of culture and consumption,” making for content that’s as creative as it is approachable.

We had the pleasure of catching up with Jeanette live on Highballs at High Noon, where you can watch her mix up a Mezcal Paloma as well as a Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashioned with a grapefruit twist. You’re not going to want to miss this one - it’s a conversation filled with storytelling and joy.

Download the free Highballs at High Noon E-Book here!

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

Jeanette Hurt: I was a food and wine writer, and then Guy Rehorst started making vodka and gin in Milwaukee. I started writing about him in national wine publications, and once you start writing about spirits, you get curious about cocktails. That curiosity has served me well. Anytime I get really curious about something, I usually end up writing a book - or three - on the subject. My initial curiosity about cocktails led me to write Drink Like a Woman.  While I was researching that book - about the history of women and cocktails - I got trained by a woman who had been teaching bartending for 30 years. I knew that if I was to write a book about cocktails, I had to learn how to make them myself.

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

JH: Right now, I am researching two books for the University of Kentucky Press - and the first one is The Whiskey Sour so I'm doing all things whiskey sour. Perhaps the most interesting iteration is using an amaretto reduction instead of simple syrup. 

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

JH: If you go to a cocktail bar, sometimes mixologists will talk about tinctures and infused spirits and flavored simple syrups… and it can sound pretty complicated. But it's not. If you can cook and bake at home, you can make really good cocktails at home. Every book I've written about cocktails - and three contain extensive cocktail recipes - I've made sure to break down each recipe so that even the most novice of cocktail makers can follow them. Yet, I always also try to include exciting cocktails that professionals would enjoy or be inspired by. So, while some of the cocktails in my book are more advanced, people who are not experts at bartending can still follow their instructions.

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

JH: Since my Wisconsin Cocktails book came out, I've been making a lot of Brandy Old Fashioneds - Top Note Grapefruit makes a stellar sour! But I also love making Negronis and highballs. In the summer I adore Palomas made with Top Note Grapefruit and a good G&T is a work of art.

Q: What do you take to a party?

JH: A lot of people love Margaritas so I usually will bring one margarita - I was famous for bringing a mini bar to my son's previous gymnastics club family parties (that gym no longer offers competitive boys gymnastics so we moved to a different gym, and then COVID hit so we haven't been able to attend any gymnastics parties there yet). But I will also bring at least one or two other interesting cocktails that people might not be familiar with. I usually have a barrel-aged cocktail on hand at all times, and right now I'm aging a rum and citrus concoction that would be a perfect base for a Mojito.

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

JH: I think it is recovering from this past year, but I think to-go cocktails are here to stay, and I think people will continue to want to be able to make high quality yet easy cocktails at home.

Q: What has the pandemic taught you?

JH: To really appreciate my family. I quarantined with my husband and my son, and we didn't get sick of each other. Once things opened up a bit, I visited more with my two sisters, and we grew closer. Family and friends are worth everything, and they make everything worth it.

Follow Jeanette Hurt on Instagram.

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