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Exploring the Unique Blend of Wine and Spirits at River Bend Winery and Distillery

Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin

 

Crusin Rating:  C+

Booze Rating: C

 

Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Distillery Blogger- River Bend Winery and Distillery

Hot off the heels of our Door County Series, we are checking out some of the spots that Chippewa Falls has to offer - that means some spots you’ve definitely heard of, and some not-so-known spots. We are starting this week with River Bend Winery & Distillery.  Coincidentally, it was not the only spot in Chippewa Falls that made more than one type of booze - the other was a brewery/distillery (review coming soon).  Because our time was limited, we actually opted to only review the distillery half of River Bend, mainly due to the long drive home and having one of us being a designated driver.  



For the most part, River Bend is geared toward being a winery.  The distillery bar was small, humble, and off in a side room - almost a lounge area with a handful of seats.  The distillery room was decorated for Christmas, and on an early November day where it was 50 outside, it did feel a little too soon to be thinking about the holidays.  The room had wood floors, dark wood, antique frames and pictures and reminded me very much of a repurposed farmhouse dining room.  


Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Distillery Blogger- River Bend Winery and Distillery

Hannah took a peek around the winery and we split a small tasting of wine just to get a little preview.  With Christmas music playing over the speakers, a fireplace, high ceilings, and comfy chairs, the winery area was absolutely geared toward some cozy winter days.  There was a small swag area, the usual little wine gifts, and premade charcuterie boards for snacking on.  A well-appointed, if a little formulaic wine space as far as I could tell, but hey, it’s clear that it works!



Caleb was our bartender in the distillery room, distantly related to the new owners of the winery and I was excited to grill him with questions on the spirits since we were the only ones in the room.  We learned that the winery had been around since 2009 but was under new ownership as of 2022, the distillery has been around for 10 years.  The new owners redecorated, painted, redesigned the space, and rolled out a rebrand of “Craftsman” spirits.  


Much like our recent visit to Hatch Distilling Company, I opted to taste four spirits while Hannah tested the Lavender Gin Collins.


Craftsman Gin (40% ABV) - Smelling of coriander and low levels of juniper, I didn’t find any citrus or lavender here as described.  Having just tested some dried lavender in a home batch, I knew I would recognize it if it was there and I wanted this to be a floral and citrusy gin that would go well in summer cocktails.  I tasted a little lemon zest, a little herbal-ness, and there was some juniper in the background.  I mention that because this wasn’t a gin where the flavors were in opposition with each other, rather this one was bright and floral up front with the juniper playing a background role of added complexity.   On the whole I thought this gin needed to be bolder in order to stand up to a cocktail, and found that I was right after tasting Hannah’s collins.  This wasn’t a bad gin, but it could definitely be amped up.  I did prefer it to last week’s gin featured at Hatch Distilling.  


American Whiskey (40% ABV) - Lots of corn and grain sweetness hitting my nose here with some warm caramelized sugar, this whiskey smelled sweet.  With grains sourced within sixty miles though, I did have to tip my hat to that aspect of this imbibement. Although, tasting, I got grainy brown sugar crystals, more corn sweetness, and a molasses finish for an overall impression that was far too sweet for my taste.  While I wanted the gin to be more pronounced in its botanicals, I wanted this whiskey to pull back on the grainy sugar.


Craftsman Bourbon Whiskey (40% ABV) - This whiskey had notes of toffee, caramel, and a great deal of toasted wood, especially so when compared to the American Whiskey above.  This one smelled of freshly sanded wood when standing next to that sweet corn.  This whiskey featured mellow warmth on the palate and moved from light caramel to stick toffee on a light bed of spice - almost baking spice in flavor.  The wood really carried through here and I feel it did so a little too fervently.  If that could be pulled back a little, this would be a solid sipper.


Sap Happy (35% ABV) - This maple vodka is made with local maple syrup and smelled exactly of that, a slightly whipped, creamy maple syrup.  You know, shockingly, that’s also what it tasted like!  I will note though that it was not too sweet as other maple liqueurs were and it was surprisingly balanced -perhaps the most balanced of any maple vodka, liqueur, or other maple-adjacent spirit we’ve had.  I was very eager to experiment with this based on the fact that it was a maple-vodka, rather than a liqueur and wanted to see how it featured directly in a drink. 


We were about to buy a bottle when I noticed a major bummer though.  There were artificial flavorings in the vodka.   Now, maybe the Madison is getting to me.  And it may be slightly hypocritical because I do love a good french fry here and there, but when it comes to the Crusin’ for Booze bar, I fervently try to avoid anything artificial.  As a matter of fact, I went through the Crusin’ for Booze bar on break from writing and could not find a single bottle with artificial flavorings.  From Bacon Jalapeno Vodka made by Northern Waters Distillery, to Bloody Mary Vodka made by Twisted Path Distilling, to Coffee Liqueur made by Lacrosse Distilling.  I checked liqueurs, amari, various herbal concoctions, and even my extensive bitters collection.  Natrual flavors is something that I take seriously and I look for real and natural (organic if available) ingredients.  We have an extensive collection from across the spectrum of imbibements and it’s something that is not present, intentionally, on our bar.  After all, real ingredients are grown, and hopefully locally sourced and I firmly believe that they make a better quality cocktail.  I had to draw a hard line here though, and it really was a shame as Hannah and I had both been stoked by how much we enjoyed it.


If they ever switch to just using local maple syrup, please let us know as we will be the first in line.


It was a major bummer to end on but I will say, although we ended up putting Caleb on the spot with a lot of questions, he was an excellent host for our time there and easy to converse with and kept it lively.  I’m sure we will hit up the winery itself on a future trip and will update this review at that time.  For now though, I would give them a little time for the rebrand and spirits to come into their own if you’re looking to stock your bar and I, unfortunately, can’t recommend a trip from more than 20 minutes away.


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


To learn more about River Bend Winery and Distillery please visit their website at: www.riverbendwinery.com or on Facebook: @RiverBendWinery or on Instagram: @RiverBendWinery


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