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Simplicity & Balance: A Q&A With Matt Hiel, Wollersheim Distillery

Located in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, the Wollersheim estate is home to a historic winery and most recently a distillery and bistro. Their mission statement is “To grow and produce the best wine possible, to offer it at a reasonable price, and to share our passion for wine.” That passion became evident upon speaking with bar manager Matt Hiel, whose knowledge of wine, spirits and cocktails and excitement about his craft nearly leapt out of our split screen live session on Instagram.

Be sure to watch Matt’s live Highballs at High Noon session, check out his low-ABV Featherweight which features Wollersheim’s White Vermouth, and make a trip to Wollersheim’s Distillery to learn more about the history of this beautiful estate.

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

Matt Hiel: Madison Cocktail Week 2016. We (Wollersheim Distillery) hosted a cocktail dinner where Chef Evan Dannels, then from Merchant, and Dan Fox of Heritage Tavern prepared a coursed meal that was paired with cocktails created by Thor Messer (formerly of Merchant) and Clint Sterwald (formerly of Heritage). Every dish was incredibly creative and the paired cocktails re-defined what I thought was possible. There was a Sour cocktail made with our Coquard Brandy that was garnished with dehydrated grape skins, that spelled a “W” with a stencil.

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

MH: Doing less. After first learning how to make classic cocktails, I got really into exploring what some people call molecular mixology (acid adjustment, fat washing, etc.) but have slowly come to realize that what I really value in a drink is simplicity and balance. We are so lucky to live in an era with an unlimited supply of meticulously crafted spirits, mixers, and syrups so why should I add 15 ingredients to a drink, where I could tell the same story with 4 ingredients?

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

MH: There are a lot of tools and spirits/liqueurs needed to make cocktails. I recommend finding one drink that you love and branching out to similar cocktails from there.

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

MH: After a long day making cocktails the last thing I want to do is shake or stir another drink. Most often I drink Blanc Vermouth & Tonic. I think of Vermouth as a cocktail all by itself, as it is wine that has been fortified and aromatized with herbs and botanicals. A dash of bubbles lightens things up and keeps it refreshing!

Q: What do you take to a party?

MH: Crémant de Bourgogne. Everybody loves bubbles!

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

MH: I hope that those businesses that have made it this far are able to make it a little while longer. There is a light at the end of the tunnel! I’m already starting to see that people are really eager to get out and socialize. I imagine as the year goes on, that this is only going to grow.

Q: What has the pandemic taught you?

MH: How to slow down and savor the little things. I was able to spend a lot more time at home with my wife and daughters this past year and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Follow Wollersheim Distillery and Matt Hiel on Instagram.

Follow Top Note Tonic for the latest Highball at High Noon sessions.

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