Winemaker-Distillers with a Whole Lot of Spirit
On Friday nights in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, the tasting lounge of Infinity Beverages Winery and Distillery is hopping, thanks to the rocking live music and flowing cocktails. Summer Heat, its most popular drink (recipe on the next page), has become the tasting room’s big draw.
“And we’re not even a bar,” says Founder, Winemaker and Distiller Matthew Rick, who plans to bottle the cocktail next year. Infinity Beverages began as an urban winery that expanded into a craft distillery, which enabled crowds and revenue to soar. The following spots represent a diverse range of unique places to sip wine and spirits.
Distilling in Wine Country
A pioneer of American winery/distilleries, 12th-generation distiller Milo Karakasevic was simply carrying on a family tradition in 1983 when he founded Charbay Winery & Distillery in St. Helena, California. His son, Marko, expanded Charbay’s offerings with flavored vodkas, and whiskey distilled from beer. At the winery, tours include tastings of wine and apéritifs.
From Old World to Idaho
In Caldwell, Idaho, brothers Andy and Greg Koenig, inspired by the beverage scene in their father’s hometown of Lustenau, Austria, established a winery in 1994 and added a distillery in 1999. Koenig Vineyards & Distillery hit pay dirt when it started to flavor its potato vodka with Idaho’s state fruit, huckleberries. It’s no surprise that the Huckleberry Martini (reciJpe at top right) is a hit.
Another pioneer is Tad Seestedt of Ransom Wines & Spirits in Sheridan, Oregon. Unlike many of its contemporaries, Ransom started as a distillery in 1997, and it planted Pinot Noir vines and added a winery in 1999. Renowned for his dedication to historic spirits styles, Ransom offers wine, spirits, vermouth and cocktails at its tasting room in nearby McMinnville.
At Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery, in Swisher, Iowa, both operations opened simultaneously because owners Jeff and Laurie Quint wanted their fledgling business to stand out. They became Iowa’s first licensed distillers, making whiskey from corn grown on their farm. The tasting room offers wine, spirits, cocktails and live music.
An Indiana Institution
The list of spirits, liqueurs and wines (fortified and otherwise) is long at Huber’s Orchard, Winery & Vineyards and Starlight Distillery in Starlight, Indiana. Opened in the 1800s, it’s one of Indiana’s top tourist attractions, as the 650-acre farm and tasting room attracts about 600,000 visitors per year. Most people ask for sangria made from Huber’s wine and brandy.
Skins in the Game
Mike Fiore, of Fiore Winery & Distillery in Pylesville, Maryland, grew tired of wasting grape skins that could be made into grappa, so he lobbied state regulators to allow distilleries at wineries. A recent law allowed cocktails to be served in the tasting room, along with Fiore’s grappa, limoncello, Bourbon, rye whiskey and big reds from the winery.
Sweetgrass Winery & Distillery has tasting rooms in Portland and on its 70-acre farm in Union, Maine. Keith and Constance Bodine offer up to 20 beverages for tasting, the favorite being Cranberry Splash, made with cranberry gin, cranberry fortified wine and tonic.
Flying Leap Vineyards & Distillery, in Elgin, Arizona, has six tasting rooms around the state, two of them on the Elgin property. The owners, three former combat pilots, make award-winning wines and built the distillery last year to handle excess fruit. The whiskey is still aging, but its vodka, brandies and liqueurs are available onsite.
Spirits, Spice and Everything Nice
In Oakland, California, Two Mile Wines and Oakland Spirits Co. were founded as an urban winery and distillery. Owner Adam Nelson produces unusually flavored spirits like his seaweed-flavored gin. One of his most popular offerings is Glasshouse Tradewinds Brandy, made with garam masala, cilantro and Assam tea.
Moonshine and Moxie
Still Pond Vineyard & Winery in Arlington, Georgia, is one of the largest producers of wine made from Muscadine, a grape native to the South. After the business weathered the recession, the Cowart family diversified with moonshine and vodka. Until a new law allowed bottle sales, Still Pond offered tours that included a “free” bottle.
Courtesy Brick 29 Bistro, Nampa, ID
- 1 lemon
- Sugar, to rim glass
- 2½ ounces Koenig Huckleberry Vodka
- 1½ ounces cranberry juice
- ½ ounce simple syrup
Juice lemon, and use rind to wet rim of martini glass. Pour sugar onto plate. Gently press wet rim of glass into sugar. Set aside. Combine 1 ounce lemon juice, vodka, cranberry juice and syrup in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well, and strain into prepared martini glass.
Courtesy Infinity Beverages, Eau Claire, WI
- 1½ ounces Infinity Chile Pepper Vodka
- 2½ ounces lemonade
- 1 ounce simple syrup
- Cucumber and jalapeño slices, for garnish
In mixing glass or cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients, except garnishes. Pour over ice. Garnish with cucumber and jalapeño slices.
- 1Huckleberry Martini
- 2Summer Heat Cocktail