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St. Mary's Distillery

Cashton, Wisconsin

 

Crusin' Rating: B+

Booze Rating: D+

 
Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Distillery Blogger- St. Mary's Distillery- Exterior

We are continuing our journey following our trip to Gravity Box Brewing Co. in Mauston, WI and taking the scenic route along Wisconsin Hwy 71. Hannah and I had to pass on this stop during our first trip to do reviews in La Crosse, much like Gravity Box, but this time we made it a point to make the stop at St. Mary’s Distillery in Cashton, WI. St. Mary’s caught our eye when planning a trip based on appearance alone. The photos of this spot make it look as though it is in a barn loft which is a fairly unique place for a distillery - we’ve seen a barn as a brewery and as a cidery - but this is our first barn distillery!



The drive from Mauston to St. Mary’s takes you right into some serious Amish Country which is always a sight to see plows pulled by teams of horses. Each individual made sure to give us a friendly wave as we passed by which only adds to the surrealness of it all. Rolling hills, us zooming around listening to old rock music and then a small fellow, maybe ten years old, on the back of a horse-drawn plow with dogs chasing behind. That juxtaposition can be just as surreal as the idea of building a brand new barn and putting a modern bar inside of it!


Driving through those hills and then taking a turn on a dirt road had us thinking that there was a possibility that this was an Amish distillery. Those thoughts were soon cast aside as the sports cars and motorcycles came tearing up the gravel driveway on their way out to the road. It’s clear that St. Mary’s Distillery is a homestead imbibery on account of the house, an old barn that denotes the history of this spot as a once functioning Wisconsin farm (perhaps still in some capacity). The property takes up a flat space on the top of a hill and the views, even from the car, are just fantastic. You can see pastoral farmland, broken up by patches of trees, for miles in three directions. The view already had us with some very high expectations as we walked from the car. In the middle of the property is a newer building that was half enclosed-half open, with a temporary tent set up on one side and various picnic tables. This is a sort of on-site concession stand with burgers, dogs, and smoked pulled pork. Great for a picnic with the family and nice to have food nearby when drinking. Had we not already eaten lunch, we definitely would have grabbed a bite here as part of the experience. I’m fairly certain it wasn’t going to be any fancier than a small-town little league game but in this instance it didn’t need to be fancy. I could see owners later on adding food that fits the sort of feel of the distillery itself, but with the view outside on a hot summer day, neither of us were bothered enough by this now third juxtaposition of Memorial-Weekend-state-park-grilling mixed with decidedly upscale-looking new distillery.



The distillery itself is built into the side of a small hill on top of the hill we were currently already on, giving it the best view. Built into the side of this mound, is a brand new building meant to look like a small farm building but you can tell it’s quite new. If you’ve ever seen those pole-barn or barndominiums you know what I am talking about! Inside, the view again, was quite fantastic. Immediately when you walk in your eyes are drawn first to the far wall of the space which is all glass. The vaulted ceiling makes the space appear even larger and more open. With plenty of wood and black metal - what we see at so many places these days - but also with some rustic touches I was absolutely taken with the space. It’s unique in it’s view and design and was the right amount of modern trendy without being obnoxious. To your right there is a large bar that sported no less than five ladies taking orders. Behind you is a lofted space up a small metal staircase that affords a view of not only the room below and the large glass wall but also another window facing the direction you just came from. Hannah and I disagreed on whether it should be somehow closed off with glass or in some way to make it a more private space for a small group (I’d say fiveor less). Whiskey barrel tables and HGTV accents were mixed with pull tab machines and an interesting menu which brings us to our next juxtaposition. A modern, trendy bar where I fully expected smoked craft cocktails was instead sporting a menu that you could find at just about any party bar around Wisconsin. While this may seem a bit snobby on my part I’m going to forge ahead with the fact that the space did just not match the menu. Now, it could be a myriad or reasons such as the owners not being into the craft cocktail scene, simple inexperience when creating a cocktail menu, or - what I think is most likely - that their day-to-day patrons simply couldn’t care less if you use Rose’s Lime Juice and sour mix (heresy in most craft scenes). The space really said balanced and crafted imbibements but that’s not quite what we experienced.



To me, just as an aside, and I don’t mean to harp on this point or rip in too hard, it was odd from my perspective to go through the time to list a cocktail’s history but then go off book by not always sticking to the fresh, intended ingredients. Again, there’s a sort of irony there. Hannah and I struggled to find a phrase that would serve as an apt comparison to the type of bar that has a menu closest, maybe your favorite bar that’s near a lake. You know, a spot that can probably throw together all sorts of different concoctions that feature a fun array of colors but probably isn’t the right spot to ask for anything with craft or fancy. It seemed to be the right call for the clientele because it was busy when we arrived and there was a steady stream of people as time went on. They are heading in the right direction, using syrups in their cocktails other than grenadine - I just hope they eventually discover that making your own is much easier than you realize and often tastes better!


It should be said, that we were a little bummed to find out that they only make two spirits here. Totally understandable of course, since many distilleries start out making vodka and then tend to branch off to gin or maybe even whiskey. In this instance though, I was surprised to see that there was no vodka to be seen. Brandy and Rum were the two spirits available. Okay, that’s a little different but nothing wrong with that. If you follow along regularly you know Rum has become one of my favorite spirits, the funkier the better. Brandy also seems like an odd choice to me but I suppose the owners wanted to go straight to the old fashioned crowd - although I would be hard pressed to name ten brandy cocktails even now much less fill out a menu with it. Hannah and I were both anticipating some good stuff here and were excited to see that they sold smaller bottles in case we wanted to bring some home to work into cocktails. I will give credit where it’s due, the tasting samples were free (about ½ oz). Hannah paid $10 for her cocktail which was fairly standard for the menu and for her money, she said it mostly tasted of cilantro - a cilantro-jalepeno-lime syrup was used - and she couldn't quite get past the aggressiveness of the base spirit. It has been a fair amount of time since neither of us could get through a cocktail.


Brandy (40% ABV) - A very light gold in color, we picked up corn, sugar, and green grape skin to start but overall was aggressive reminiscent of some moonshine we’ve tried. Dry heat from the alcohol when tasting and highly alcohol-forward. This brandy was highly aggressive to the senses and could definitely use a little more time aging.


White Rum (40% ABV) - I haven’t had tons of luck with rum in Wisconsin outside of Awildan but I will always continue trying it where I see it and keep an open mind when doing so! This rum, however, for all of my tasting experience was difficult to tell apart front the brandy. Hannah and I both blind tasted the samples. There may have, and I mean may as in I am not sure if I was sort of convincing myself in this instance, a faint hint of raisin hidden in here as I tasted another sample. But really the difference here was so minimal that I considered the two spirits easily interchangeable.


Again, I don’t want to come off as totally harping here as I know they are a new distillery and I am sure there’s plenty of challenges that go along with that, but this was a spot that was just absolutely fantastic in terms of view and what they chose to do with the space but I could just not justify going back here any time soon until the spirits get dialed in a little bit. As of right now, there is a sign that reads something to the effect of “active ethanol production” on the side of the tasting room area and the spirits, as they stand, are not far off in taste from straight ethanol, which I know sounds like a cliche, but we really both looked for some noticeable characteristics and they simply weren’t there nor did we think the level of drinks justified their price. There are a lot of spirits on the market and we respect everyone’s time who follows us so I can’t really recommended a trip out here even for the view. I hope that the spirits improve over time because as it stands now, they are a a high price point for a taste that you get get at any supermarket and it will be a few years before we attempt this place again.



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


To learn more about St. Mary's distillery please visit their website at: www.stmarysdistillery.com or on Facebook: @StMarysDistillery or on Instagram: @StMarysDistillery

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