BY JEANETTE HURT | PHOTO BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
An idea scribbled on the back of a bar napkin led friends Evan Hughes, publisher of Draft Magazine, and Pat McQuillan, a former banker, to found Milwaukee’s second craft distillery. The idea came in 2012, the distillery opened its doors in 2014, and now, just three years later, the partners are moving production from Walker’s Point to 2330 W. Clybourn St., but they’re keeping the original distillery open for tastings and test batches. The two sat down with M Magazine to talk about being entrepreneurs, giving back to the community, and, of course, spirits and cocktails.
Hughes: The building was constructed in 1933, and it’s got a lot of character. We can see the Eagles Club down the hill.
McQuillan: This building (the current location) is only 2,000 square feet, but our new facility is 12,000 square feet.
Hughes: Our tasting room here (in Walker’s Point) is only open Thursdays through Sundays. Mondays through (opening on Thursday evening), we do production in here.
McQuillan: It’s cozy.
Hughes: This place is so small; this forklift sits in our neighbor’s garage. Our new space will have two stills, and we will have a smaller still here for test batches.
Hughes: A public component is definitely down the road. Hopefully not too far down the road.
Hughes: Pat and I would get together to talk craft spirits (over drinks), and we also complained (about the lack of) job creation in Milwaukee, and we said, “We should start a distillery.” Typically, we even hashed it out on the back of a napkin. The next morning, I called Pat and said, “Did we decide to create a distillery?”
McQuillan: So we met with Guy Rehorst at Great Lakes Distillery.
Hughes: And he told us it would take us two years from the idea to get it up and running. We left the meeting, thinking, “We’ll be up and running long before two years.” But he was absolutely right, and we opened almost two years later to the day.
McQuillan: Now it’s been five years from the idea, and we feel like it’s just flown by. We now employ close to 20 people.
Hughes: And we haven’t taken a salary yet from the business.
Hughes: I still publish Draft Magazine.
McQuillan: I just retired from banking earlier this year. It hasn’t quite hit me yet. Just the fact that I’m wearing jeans right now is amazing. It’s great to be here. The community has been so supportive that it’s allowed us to grow.
Hughes: It’s important to us to give back to the community. Every month we have a different Give Back cocktail, and $3 of every cocktail goes to a charity. On average, the cocktail raises at least $500 for the charity. We like to have a personal connection to the charity. Someone in our family or a friend comes to us with a cause to promote. Recently, we had puppies everywhere. (The charity of choice was a humane society.)
McQuillan: We also have a veterans batch of rye whiskey, and a percentage of every bottle sale goes to the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce.
Hughes: Since we’re coming into (warmer weather), I drink a lot of our gin in gin and tonics, using Top Note Tonics and different bitters from Bittercube.
McQuillan: For me, it’s so hard to get away from our bourbon. I usually just drink it straight, or I’ll make it into a Manhattan — 1½ ounces bourbon, ½ ounce Carpano Antica (Formula vermouth), a couple of shots of Angostura bitters, stirred together with ice, then strained. We’re not snobs about this.
Hughes: We don’t want to intimidate anyone.