By Martha Keeffe  

“One of the main motivations we had behind opening a distillery was the simple fact that no one has ever tried to legally make spirits or liquor in this area,” said Chad Staehly, co-owner of La Crosse Distilling Co. in downtown La Crosse. And given the enthusiastic crowds of patrons who have been packing the venue since it opened on Aug. 31, it looks like the distillery has found its niche.

Situated near the Freighthouse Restaurant and The Charmant Hotel, La Crosse Distilling Co. is recognizable by the handsomely crafted geothermal-powered distilling equipment that is visible through floor to ceiling windows extending up to the second floor.

“Currently we have three spirits in production and available at the distillery,” said Staehly, explaining that they are committed to manufacturing spirits that are 100 percent organic. “With this area being home to the largest organic farming belt in the country, it seemed to us to be a no-brainer to showcase all the wonderful field-to-glass resources we have in our own backyard.”

However, for people like me and my husband who are more partial to beer than spirits, we were grateful to our server who patiently walked us through the drink menu. On her recommendation, we ordered a flight that gave us a 1-ounce sampling of each of the three liquors: Fieldnotes Gin, Fieldnotes Vodka and Limited-Edition House Series High Rye Light Whiskey. (Note that bourbon is also in the works!) 

Since we were novices to the sipping game, Josh Robbins, the tasting room manager, coached us in the proper way to sniff or “nose” the spirits. “If done correctly you’ll be able to identify the different fruit and spice notes used to infuse the alcohol,” he said as we rested our chins on the edge of the glass and inhaled. And he was right; in one sniff we were hit with a full-on olfactory experience that cleared the way to a smooth, clean finish of the spirits we were eager to pair with something off the menu.

For dinner we ordered Papas Machas (crispy gem potatoes, salsa macha, whipped ricotta and sugar-cured jalapenos), Tostada Classica with adobo grilled chicken, and Carne Asada (guajillo-marinated skirt steak with mojo verde). The food was delicious! Prepared by Jorge Guzman, La Crosse Distilling Co. chef and James Beard Best Chef Midwest finalist in 2017, our dinner was bold, fresh and balanced nicely with the two dinner cocktails we ordered: the LAX Mule and High Rye Highball. And, by using many “farm-forward” or locally sourced ingredients, Guzman has joined in the commitment to connect the establishment to local producers.

Though the distillery has a distinctive industrial vibe (two-thirds of the building is used for manufacturing), the tasting room makes use of long, black walnut communal tables and a wood-burning fireplace (also on the patio) to give the space a warm, inviting atmosphere. It is a place that feels exciting and fun. And, since La Crosse Distilling Co. will make its own seasonal beers, we’re certain to make a return visit soon.

La Crosse Distilling Co. is located at 129 Vine St. in La Crosse. For more information, please visit www.lacrossedistilling.co.

High Rye Light Whiskey
Composed of a strong rye backbone supplemented with a portion of wheat, this light whiskey maintains classic rye spice and flavors with a balanced wheat finish.

Fieldnotes Gin
Fieldnotes Gin is made using organic wheat and barley to produce a clean yet fruity base spirit. The addition of botanicals such as lavender, bay leaf, thyme and lemon creates a bright and complex floral experience. 

Fieldnotes Vodka
This refined spirit is a blend
of organic white, yellow and
other regional varieties of potatoes to produce a balanced blend of starch quality and flavor.