Adding a tasting room to the Great Lakes Distillery was no small task. A Wisconsin law prohibited distillers from serving liquor, so before the Walker’s Point distillery could open its tasting room in 2010, owner Guy Rehorst had to lobby for the state Legislature to change the law. The first Great Lakes Distillery tasting room was a modest, oftencramped nook in the corner of the distillery’s factory floor. It was functional enough, but hardly the grand gathering space you’d expect from the bar that changed state law.
“That tasting room was just too small for what we needed,” Rehorst says. “In the summer it was ridiculously hot and uncomfortable, and in the winter it got ridiculously cold and uncomfortable. We needed something that could accommodate more people.”
Last month the distillery at 616 W. Virginia St. added just that: a large, finished tasting room on the building’s previously unoccupied second floor that Rehorst says will be able to comfortably seat 160 people. That added seating was particularly important because the distillery’s free tours are becoming increasingly popular—especially on Saturdays, when they often fill up.
The area also includes a store selling Great Lakes liquors, glassware and shirts.
The tasting room opens at 11 a.m. every day and operates much like a bar, except its liquor license only allows it to serve Great Lakes products. Flights of five liquor samples are available for $5, and there is also a menu of specialty cocktails, including the popular “Mooncusser,” which is made with the distillery’s Roaring Dan’s rum, Sprecher cream soda and bitters. All cocktail syrups are made on site.
“We have some extremely creative people who work in the tasting room,” Rehorst says. “You can order a drink off the menu, or they can do custom drinks. They’ll ask you what you’re in the mood for and mix you something special.”
The tasting room also serves light snacks, Rehorst says, including small pizzas from the owners of the recently closed Walker’s Point pizzeria the Olive Pit.