State Line Distillery celebrates first anniversary
Whiskey is in the works
State Line Distillery, a “grain-to-glass” 6500-square-foot distillery and tasting room located just off the bike path on Madison’s near east side, celebrated its first anniversary in September.
State Line founder and head distiller John Mleziva says State Line is “a celebration of the best of what Wisconsin has to offer for raw ingredients. That’s the core mission of what we’re doing.”
From the barley from Briess in Chilton to the seven pounds of sage harvested by a Madison-area farmer the morning of distillation for each batch of State Line gin, Mleziva loves utilizing local ingredients. “Using ingredients from Wisconsin allows us the flexibility and opportunity to hone in on flavor profiles and what Wisconsin has to offer in terms of grains and botanicals,” Mleziva says. “Everything you drink our hands have touched.”
Mleziva grew up in Golden Valley, Minnesota and was introduced to home brewing by his grandfather. With a background in biology, Mleziva loved “geeking out” on the science behind the home brewing process. Mleziva moved to Madison in 2008 and started volunteering at breweries including Lake Louie in nearby Arena.
While working at Edgewood College in 2012 Mleziva came across a year-long master’s program in brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. Mleziva says that after a lot of soul searching he decided to move to Scotland to participate in the program. “I knew I would regret it if I didn’t do it,” Mleziva says.
The program was an awakening. “I was introduced to the art of distillation,” Mleziva says. “There is another layer of artistry when making distilled spirits. It’s so fun!”
Upon returning to Madison in 2013 Mleziva wrote a business plan and started looking for investors and a space for his own distillery. Because of the time it takes to obtain a still– State Line uses a Kothe still from Germany which took 14 months to arrive in Madison– Mleziva had to make a decision to go for it.
“I ordered the still without having a building,” Mleziva says. “You just have to jump off the cliff.” Luckily, during that time, Mleziva came across the abandoned, windowless building on Northern Court that was a former nickel plating company and stood empty since 2002. “It was a blank canvas,” Mleziva says.
With the help and vision of artist Jeremiah Logemann, the 1500-square-foot area slated for the cocktail lounge was transformed into a stunning space with barn wood, curved lines and high ceilings. An original oil on canvas painting by local artist Leslie Smith III is the focal point of the room depicting “the abstract representation of whiskey,” Mleziva says. “It’s what whiskey looks like through the bottom of a rocks glass.” Outside the door from the cocktail lounge there is also outdoor seating available with a back patio that abuts to a green space near the bike path.
Open Thursday through Saturday, State Line’s cocktail lounge offers original and classic cocktails, along with samples of State Line’s spirits.
All of State Line’s syrups and tonics are made in house, juices are squeezed fresh. Original cocktails on the current menu include Pavarotti Pepino made with gin, lime, cucumber, seltzer and chile oil and the Bee’s Please with vodka, lemon, pineapple and honey. Sip your way through samples of State Line’s offerings which have expanded from vodka and gin to include aquavit and a coffee liquor made with Kin Kin coffee.
When State Line’s cocktail menu changes in late October, look for a specialty drink made with its coffee liquor (hint: you are going to want to wear your Lebowski sweater). State Line offers Emil’s pizza and frequently collaborates with food trucks (check State Line’s facebook page for updates). Mleziva says people are also always welcome to bring in their own food (and dogs!) too.
If you want to learn more about the distilled spirits you are enjoying, Mleziva loves giving tours of the 5000-square-foot production area. Bottles of State Line’s gin, vodka, aquavit and coffee liquor are available for sale from the distillery Monday through Saturday and are also available at local stores.
Reflecting on State Line’s first anniversary Mleziva says it has been great that more people are discovering the distillery. “We’ve been like this tucked away neighborhood secret,” Mleziva says.
He’s also excited about the future and where State Line might be headed. With whiskey in the works (it takes three years to produce) and “nestled in the middle of the isthmus where we can make connections with other businesses,” the State Line story is just getting started.
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