6 botanical-forward, locally made spirits

April showers bring May flowers with plant-infused spirits.
six bottles of spirits

Photo by Nikki Hansen

Local distillers are embracing the proverb “April showers bring May flowers” with plant-infused spirits. We’ve picked a few libations to try at home while enjoying the warm days ahead.

Starring Juniper
When it comes to botanical beverages, gin is often the first liquor brought to mind, thanks to its strong juniper berry flavor. Black Dot Spirits was started in 2010 by a group of craft distillers who enjoy cocktails, and they’ve created their own vapor-infused gin with six different botanicals. “We tinkered and toiled with the recipe but couldn’t agree on anything because we all loved different botanicals,” says co-owner Matt Harnden. “We picked our favorites and pitted them against each other in blind head-to-head challenges.” The group narrowed it down to six: juniper berries, lime zest, cucumber, coriander, orris and angelica root. Harnden says the juniper berry shines, with all of the other ingredients supporting the predominant flavor. blackdotspirits.com
Recommended Cocktail Recipe: Tom Collins — 2 ounces Black Dot Gin, 1 ounce lemon juice, .5 ounce simple syrup, top with club soda and garnish it with lemon and cherry

Ready to Go
Once a year in the spring or summer, Old Sugar Distillery creates a large batch of Honey-Ginger Liqueur. Owner Nathan Greenawalt infuses freshly ground ginger with a cane sugar rum base and a lot of Wisconsin honey. Although Honey-Ginger is on the sweet side, Greenawalt says it still has a kick due to the spicy ginger. Unlike a traditional liqueur, it’s essentially a daiquiri (once you add lime juice) or a boozy margarita mix (once you add lime and tequila), making it easy to drink without adding much to it. The single batch typically lasts all year, but if it runs out, be on the lookout for a fresh batch in the next couple months. oldsugardistillery.com
Recommended Cocktail Recipe: Margarita (Honey-Ginger Liqueur, tequila, lime juice)

Since adding a stillhouse and distillery to its winery in 2015, Wollersheim has introduced a full lineup of spirits, including Garden Gate Gin, to rival its extensive wine list. Garden Gate Gin is described as a “botanically balanced gin.” Jessi Schoville, marketing communications specialist for Wollersheim, says juniper takes a bit of a back seat to some other gins, as it’s more about lavender and lemongrass. Garden Gate Gin also uses coriander, chamomile and anise. Schoville says Wollersheim Distilling specifically wanted to use botanicals that could grow well in Wisconsin soil. Because lavender, chamomile, rosemary and lemongrass thrive in the area, Wollersheim sources from Four Elements Farm in the Baraboo bluffs to keep the ingredients local. wollersheim.com
Recommended Cocktail Recipe: Southside

Flower Power
At Doundrins Distilling in Cottage Grove, co-owner Nickolas Abramovich says they like to experiment with different ingredients, fermentation techniques and distillation techniques. Some of the ingredients end up working in the spirits and some don’t. “We like to create things that are different from what other craft distilleries make and to push the envelope of what people think of when talking about spirits,” Abramovich says. One success was adding pot marigold (calendula) to a neutral spirit base and creating Marigold Liqueur. The spirit partially stemmed from the idea that, for centuries, marigolds have been used in teas and recipes for their health benefits. Abramovich says they mainly liked the “unique floral taste and aroma.” Marigold Liqueur is most commonly used to enhance a cocktail, and only a small amount is needed. Some of the other botanical options are chamomile, elderflower and hibiscus liqueurs — the latter being the most popular of these varieties. doundrinsdistilling.com
Recommended Cocktail Recipe: Herb Your Enthusiasm —10 sprays of a rosemary tincture in a coupe glass, 1.5 ounces Doundrins Maple Liqueur, 1 ounce Doundrins Marigold Liqueur, 0.5 ounce simple syrup, 0.5 ounces lime juice, shake and strain into the rosemary coupe glass and top with a splash of tonic

Pretty in Pink
Justin Bondurant has more than a decade of experience in the restaurant industry — currently he’s the bar manager at RED Madison — but he decided to branch out to something new in October 2019 when he made his first batch of Hibiscus Liqueur under his brand Wandering Mind Spirits. Bondurant has always loved traveling and wanted to create a cordial inspired by his travels. Hibiscus Liqueur was inspired by a trip to Mexico City and a hibiscus tea he tried there called agua de Jamaica. The spirit combines hibiscus with fresh ginger, dried lime peel and cinnamon. Bondurant says Hibiscus Liqueur is best used in cocktails, but a variety nicknamed “Ryebiscus” (as it was aged in Dancing Goat Distillery’s Limousine Rye barrels) serves as a sipper on the rocks. The rye barrel variety has more spice and depth, having absorbed the flavor from the barrels. wanderingmindspirits.com
Recommended Cocktail Recipe: Hibiscus Old-Fashioned

From French Fields
Yahara Bay Distillers creates more than 40 spirits and offers contract distilling for a variety of local businesses, including Black Dot Spirits and Wandering Mind Spirits. With so many options available, Yahara Bay was bound to offer a botanically inspired product. Using a vodka base made with Honeycrisp apples and corn, Yahara Bay infuses the vodka with French lavender and sugar cane to make its Lavender Liqueur. Nels Forde, the president of Yahara Bay, says they have been making Lavender Liqueur since 2016 and most often use it as an ingredient in cocktails. The spirit has a strong lavender flavor and smells of flowers as you sip. Forde suggests pairing it with Yahara Bay’s Extra Dry Gin, as it complements the other botanicals in the gin. yaharabay.com
Recommended Cocktail Recipe: Lavender Gin Hound

Maija Inveiss is an associate editor of Madison Magazine.