Wollersheim Distillery grows with rye variations and canned cocktails | Meals & Drink

PRAIRIE DU SAC — The vibes have been summery and mellow at Wollersheim Distillery on a latest weekday afternoon, as a handful of company sipped outdated fashioneds within the cool of the tasting room. By way of a window close to the bar, Wollersheim’s stills bubbled away, making rye.

Inaudible to the guests and previous one other door behind these stills, a canning line clanked and rattled. Many fingers assisted in a liquid transition from metal tank to 6 pack, packaging a barely modified model of the bourbon quaint. (The canning line itself, a cell unit owned by WilCraft Can, is nicknamed “Ariel,” after the Disney princess.) 

That Wollersheim quaint is “just a little pricier” than the standard canned cocktail, distiller Tom Lenerz stated. A six-pack prices $32.

However “that is the very same bourbon quaint you’d get in my tasting room, much less the fruit,” he stated. “We don’t put muddled fruit in there; I haven’t discovered a method to try this but. But it surely’s the identical recipe we use within the bar.”

As a vineyard, Wollersheim is a mature model, based within the hills of Prairie du Sac in 1972. Philippe and Julie Coquard (neé Wollersheim) joined the vineyard in 1984. Their daughter, Celine Coquard Lenerz, earned a level in winemaking. Now the resident enologist, she has been slowly taking up a few of her father’s duties.

With the recognition of its flagship white, Prairie Fumé, and estate-grown reds made out of hardy Midwestern hybrids, Wisconsin wine drinkers know Wollersheim. The distillery nonetheless feels just a little below the collective radar. It’s robust to coax a Wisconsin quaint drinker away from Korbel. 

“Folks know Wollersheim as wine, not as spirits,” stated Coquard Lenerz. “We nonetheless have folks saying, ‘Oh, you’re a distillery too?’”

“I’m promoting a $40 bottle of brandy when you will get a deal with of the ‘great things’ for 20 bucks within the state of Wisconsin,” Lenerz added. “It’s not simple. However we’ve carved out a distinct segment. We’re proud of our area of interest.”

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Company sit within the tasting room and examine the stills and distillers via a window at Wollersheim Distillery in Prairie du Sac.

Enlargement mode

For the previous 13 years — even throughout the pandemic pause — Wollersheim has been in growth mode. The distillery’s rise has been arguably essentially the most seen.  

The primary launch in 2010 was the Coquard brandy. That is an “all-Wisconsin cognac,” Lenerz stated, taking French philosophy and method and making use of it regionally.

Wollersheim is “rising grapes particularly for this brandy, making barrels particularly for this brandy,” identical to they do within the Cognac area. “But it surely’s Wisconsin native grapes that have been bred within the ’70s by Elmer Swenson … with Wisconsin oak.” 

Lenerz calls the Coquard his “cornerstone” spirit, not the flagship. That might be the 1876 Press Home Brandy, launched in 2016.

A gin distilled from Wisconsin wheat and an absinthe got here earlier than the Press Home, and an apple brandy got here later. They began making whiskey in 2015, the 12 months the distillery opened to the general public. The primary bourbon, launched in 2019, offered out in three hours.

Bourbon, by definition, should have at the very least 51% corn within the mash invoice, or recipe. Wollersheim’s bottled-in-bond 2017 bourbon is made with 75% white corn, 10% rye and 15% malted barley, aged in charred new Wisconsin oak.

“As winemakers, (we wished to) discover out about particular varietals,” Lenerz stated. “So we did a variety of experimentation early on with white corn, blue corn, crimson corn, yellow corn. We labored with heirloom varieties. We labored with trendy hybrids.”

Wollersheim is including a brand new offsite warehouse to offer it extra bottling house, and an extra nonetheless ought to permit Lenerz to do extra small scale contract distilling. (Contract distilling, just like co-packing, is when a person or firm hires a distillery to make their merchandise for them.)

“There was an period from perhaps 2010 on, like — we’re including a distillery, that is this mission, that is this mission,” Lenerz stated. “Now we’ve obtained the Bistro (Wollersheim’s onsite restaurant) and now we’ve obtained cans.

“I really feel like as a household we’re all making an attempt to take a break, pause, consider what’s working and what wants consideration,” he added. “I’m positive tuning and tweaking, driving consistency. That’s the main focus.”

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Distiller Tom Lenerz explains the method of canning the Wollersheim brandy quaint on the Wollersheim Vineyard and Distillery in Prairie du Sac.

Candy science

From that flagship brandy to rye aged in port and experiments with yeast strains, Wollersheim has merchandise prepared and tasting rooms open. However regional wineries and distilleries like these nonetheless want general notion to vary to get a bigger share of the market.

Canned wine and cocktails, for instance, are having a second in shops. However they’re about the place screw prime wine was when it comes to purchaser angle.  

“After we began introducing screwcaps (on wine), there was a unfavourable notion of the packaging,” he stated. “When the massive firms wish to experiment with a brand new format, like a canned cocktail or a screwcap wine, they’re going to go low threat. They’ve a worth level in thoughts that they’re making an attempt to hit … so they should minimize corners on high quality.”

Recreating a mojito or margarita in a can at scale is more durable than it sounds. Dozens of canned cocktails have been too candy, too sharp, too oddly chemical, too boozy.

“Folks like Tom (Dufek) at Plain Spoke (Cocktail Co.) have finished an excellent job of exhibiting folks when you spend just a little bit additional, you will get a greater high quality product. That’s the identical factor we’re doing,” Lenerz stated, referring to a Madison-based cocktail firm with a tasting room on King Avenue.

On the wine facet, Wollersheim began canning a Wollersheim White, a mix of gewürztraminer and riesling, in 2019. More moderen releases embody a mix of St. Pepin, a hardy white grape that Wollersheim has been rising for the reason that early Nineteen Eighties, and cider from Ski Hello, an orchard in close by Baraboo.

Lenerz additionally labored up an apple-forward Ski Hello collaboration on the distillery. That might be obtainable solely on the orchard itself, offered in hip flask-size bottles.

“That’s a factor that got here out of the pandemic,” Lenerz stated. “I used to be binge-watching ‘Sopranos’ when my buddy Danny (at Ski Hello) texted me and stated, ‘Why don’t you make something in flasks?’”

The ensuing mix is Wollersheim’s rye whiskey minimize with Ski Hello apple cider, minimize all the way down to 70 proof. The one sweetener is the actual apple juice.

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Wollersheim’s brandy quaint is canned on an meeting line named “Ariel,” after the principle character of “The Little Mermaid,” in a manufacturing room on the Wollersheim Distillery in Prairie du Sac.

‘We make what we like’

Each within the distillery and the vineyard at Wollersheim, the philosophy is comparable. Lenerz and Coquard Lenerz, who’ve two younger children, are interested by “generational longevity,” Coquard Lenerz stated.

“With wine and spirits, you’re not on the lookout for speedy payoff,” she stated. “It’s a must to be affected person and wait till it’s the proper time.”

A few of Wollersheim’s grapes come from Washington state or New York, however with native grapes and grains, each side purpose to seize the terroir or “style of place” within the Sauk area. The corn, wheat and rye come from close by Wisconsin farms.

“Identical to a winemaker selecting out a favourite clone or selection for a sure wine type, we’re doing the identical factor with grain,” Lenerz stated. For fermentation, “we go low and gradual. We do cool fermentations to specific the flavors of the yeast correctly … so we don’t should strip it out within the nonetheless, or with charred barrels.

“Each step we’re making decisions which can be barely extra inefficient, barely costlier than the massive guys would make,” he stated.

Wollersheim focuses on what the household is already into as a information. If no one is especially enthusiastic about vodka, why make it?

“I all the time say we make what we like,” Lenerz stated. “Then we drink what we are able to and we promote the remainder. The product lineup is constructed round that philosophy.”

However although he’s not actively placing out a brand new product this summer time, Lenerz remains to be interested by development. He spent Distill America, a latest trade gathering at Breese Stevens Discipline, speaking with different Wisconsin distillers about what comes subsequent. He’s been impressed by the openness of colleagues like Nick Brady Maas, founding father of Dancing Goat Distillery in Cambridge.

“It’s not going to be simply us. We are able to’t proceed to develop simply by ourselves,” he stated. “I was extra guarded in regards to the info I shared with folks once we began the distillery. Now I genuinely say I’ve no secrets and techniques.”