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La Crosse Distilling Co.

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

La Crosse, WI

 
 
Outside Picture of La Crosse Distilling Co

I was flying both solo from my usual partner yet this was a group effort. I was accompanied on this journey by my brother and two close friends, one a recent doctor and the other has journeyed with us to at least half of the local spots we’ve explored. I’d like to thank all three for dealing with my incessant questions as we enjoyed a night out.


Right in the heart of downtown La Crosse sits a fairly new (est. 2017) distilling company named after its city. Just a half block walk from the Mississippi river and sharing a parking lot with a well-known eatery, The Freighthouse, this distillery is constantly buzzing with activity as soon as it opens for business. This time around we were unable to catch a tour but I’ve been assured they do have them available. The four of us opted for tastings of the spirits themselves as well as a test of how those spirits play in their house cocktails.


As you can see from the outside, the building is quite large. It sports an easy-to-read sign, brick facade and some additional outdoor space as La Crosse has borrowed the streatery program made popular in Madison during COVID-19. Even without the streatery, the distillery does have some outdoor seating available with garage doors all around the common space that presumably open (only two were open during our visit).


As you can see, the inside is that modern industrial look that we see -well- just about everywhere else. A lot of wood accents, black metal pipe, and concrete floors. Much like barn weddings, this style is highly overdone and has long-lost it’s unique charm.


We were also quite stunned at just how little space was dedicated to actual drinking. While it is true they do have an upstairs, the upstairs is short creating a not-quite-doubling of the seating space. We sat at a long community table which is an interesting choice. It does seem to work in some of the breweries we have seen that take cues from German beer halls but here, outside of the obvious COVID-19 implications, it felt like an odd use of the space. Typically, when you think of cocktails you picture a little more intimate setting, small tables where you can have a conversation with friends. I’m not necessarily against the shared table space, but it can make it awkward when you have a group of four and you either need to share half a table and try and not eavesdrop on everything they say.


The vibe overall was a little too Madison to fit in to La Crosse. According to our good Doctor, a native La Croissant (yes I know that’s not what they are probably called but no one we asked had a better guess), he stated that it was a little pretentious for that city.


I could definitely see that. The prices were a little outrageous. Usually we don’t discuss pricing other than a brief overview but here, I feel like it’s worth mentioning. Usually beer flights of four can range from anywhere from $4-$12, typically.


I realize spirits are more expensive to produce so I’ll put it into perspective. Our first reviewed distillery gave us ½ ounce tastes complimentary. Door County Distillery gives you six 2 ounce samples for $12.


La Crosse Distilling charged $3 for one ½ ounce sample, $6 for a 1.5 ounce sample and $8 for a 2 ounce. sample. Just seemed outrageous, and this is coming from someone who is very familiar with the up-charges on alcohol. Why they tossed the ratio of $4 per ounce out the window with the half ounce pours will remain a mystery especially since it would be a great way to get rid of those last dregs in a bottle behind the bar.


Digression aside, the brother, our DD, ordered a mocktail priced at $6. To add any sort of spirit to that (assuming either a 1.5 or 2 ounce pour) would have sent that up to $12. Now, I don’t know about you, but other than our doctor friend no one could afford to stay here all night, and for a place that stays open until 11 PM you can tell that’s what they are shooting for. Nothing against La Crosse at all. I even said, well it’s clear downtown is going through a renaissance and maybe trying to change it’s image.


To which the La Croissant in our party stated “yeah, but we are still in La Crosse.” Take that as you will.


Another group member made an excellent observation on the vibe as a whole.

“It’s too noisy for a first date, this is where you go on a date night when you’ve been with someone for years and don’t care if you hear what they say anymore.”

Stick with us for more nuggets of wisdom like that.


La Crosse Distilling's bottles of Gin

Now, on to the Booze. We tried 6 samples and 3 cocktails between the four of us.


Fieldnotes Vodka (40% ABV): Citrus and farm odor on the nose. This was a dry crack of cereal right on the tongue that had a very crisp bite. Not entirely unpleasant and would serve you just as well as any Tito’s.


Rock & Rye (44% ABV): Wow was this one red in appearance, almost like an amber. I was hesitant seeing this in the bottle, thinking it was some sort of old fashioned mix. I was surprised at the nose full of nutmeg and straight maple jumping out with the typical caramel and charred oak. Tasting this rye, it was full of flavors of black peppercorns, peppermint, clove and nutmeg. This one had a sticky mouthfeel that really lingered after you had swallowed. One of our group even offered that it was a little too much spice for a rye.


High Rye Light Whiskey (45%): You know, I’m starting to get more and more on the fence about paying top dollar for a mediocre spirit that’s barely been aged. I’m not going to jump down the rabbit whole, but the whole light whiskey fad is starting to seem like a sham.

This one was barely different from the vodka and I think taste-wise calling it a whiskey would be generous, but I suppose if it meets what might end up being ill-defined definitions there were hints of sweet cereal along with some sourness (think sour mash Jack Daniels) and it was overall pretty jarring to taste while simultaneously lazy.


Fieldnotes Gin (45% ABV): On a more positive note, and definitely a unique one, this gin heavily features lavender. While I had thought it was one-of-a-kind, while writing this post I remembered that it’s not the first time I’ve tried it. I made a rookie mistake years ago with a very similar gin, Garden Gate Gin by Wollersheim Distillery, by trying to make a dry martini with an olive. Please never do that.


This gin was decent, but it is so niche. It was smooth and you could only smell lavender but tasted of both lavender and black licorice. If you use too much it will overpower a Collins or just taste like flower juice if in a classic lemon twist martini, it doesn’t seem to play well with other fruit-forward drinks. I think it would work in a very delicate Aviation or a subtle spin on a gin and tonic. It’s just not a flavor that I think plays well with others.


Navy Strength Gin (57% ABV): This gin on the other hand, all juniper and pine with a good clean bite is just what I was looking for those years ago for my martini. It’s tough to find a high proof gin for something like a Vesper made locally. Some of our group who don’t care for gin eloquently described this one as “pinecones and rubbing alcohol”. If that’s what you’re looking for in a gin, like I am, then this is a solid offering.


Espresso Yo’Self (40.3% ABV): Definitely an interesting combo of whiskey and coffee to make a liqueur rather than vodka, especially when their vodka was quite clean. This one did not really do it for anyone in the group. Putting it to your nose gives the scent of a light roast hazelnut coffee. It’s very sweet when tasting, there’s a nuttiness to it and caramel at the very end along with that bite from the whiskey. However this one seemed like two distinct items in the drink, almost as if they were not blended. It was definitely coffee that hit your palate first and then definitely whiskey. One and then the other, not two together. In all it tasted closer to a coffee float on whiskey than a liqueur. I would skip this one.


There is another Rye they offer, called Robber’s Rye that smells of toasted cornmeal and tastes of sweet, silky cinnamon but we elected to not review it since it is a “rescue” from Death’s Door that went out of business in Middleton, WI no less. Death’s Door Gin has been purchased by Dancing Goat in Cambridge. We will delve into this at a later date, but if you like Robber’s Rye I would opt for Dancing Goat’s Limousine Rye as it’s sounding like the base spirits from Death’s door have really got around town (WI) to many distilleries, pure speculation on my part, but patterns are emerging.


3 of the cocktails that were sampled for this post

The Cocktails, which will be brief as two of these descriptions are from the quest reviewers in our group:


John Daily: “It works, but I couldn’t tell the difference between your bees knees (gin) and my John Daily (vodka)


Bee’s Knees: Overpowered with the amount of lemon added. I do enjoy lemon, but when a bee's knees misses out on that sweet honey I love, it's not great. It was better than average, but not great


Blueberry Yum Yum: “Refreshing and yummy, but I couldn’t tell what alcohol was in it”

You are The Pom (Mocktail): Our designated driver dubbed this one as “way too bitter, I need some water since it tastes like vinegar”. To be fair, it was a shrub.


And that’s it for La Crosse Distilling Co.! If you’re in the area I would say it’s worth a visit if you’re looking to try a cocktail, just don’t plan too big of a party if you haven’t recently won the lottery. The group’s consensus that it was decent, but not worth an out-of-the-way visit.


~Cru and Friends


Until next time, keep on crusin’, don’t stop boozin’!


To learn more about La Crosse Distilling Co. visit their website at: lacrossedistilling.co or Facebook page at: @lacrossedistillingco or on Instagram @lacrossedistillingco

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