“There’s something cool about Wisconsin today.”
As my friends and family are probably sick of hearing, I recently found a new drink obsession. No, I’m not a newbie to the Wisconsin-staple Brandy Old Fashioned cocktail. I’ve been ordering these at bars and drinking wedding receptions out of brandy for years. But making them myself at home was something I readily avoided: it’s not that they’re terribly difficult or the ingredients are prohibitively expensive…I’m just lazy.
For a long time the quick alternative has been this soupy, sugary mixture that you still need to add soda and brandy to and ultimately tastes like an Old Fashioned candy. It’s gross. It’s been a hard pass on these shortcuts ever since.
But then I heard of a new Milwaukee company producing a bottled Brandy Old Fashioned mixture, curiously-called SoulBoxer. Honestly, my expectations were low when I finally got the chance to try them at a local event. That was maybe 3 months ago, and I’ve had anywhere between 1-4 bottles in my house ever since.
“We want to own the Old Fashioned.”
I sat down with Doug McKenzie to talk about this new business and product that he and partner Jason Neu started about a year ago. Doug’s excitement was palpable, and with minimal prompting, I got more information than I could include in multiple posts. Both guys have a background in booze, and consider themselves “students of the industry.” Doug was with Wisconsin’s first craft distillery, Great Lakes, since its inception, and Jason bought their first case of Rehorst vodka while a bar manager in town, before he joined GLD himself.
Honing their craft in both the sales and production side of distilling helped Jason and Doug notice the “void in the market for premium bottled cocktails.” “We were too young to not try something new, and too old to work for someone else,” he said. With the help of a few minority partners who are big players in the marketing and distribution industries, word soon got out about SoulBoxer and the void closed quickly.
After six months of production, SoulBoxer was already available at 400 different locations in Wisconsin. By today there’s certainly more. I’ve seen it at big box grocery stores down to neighborhood liquor shops. Their biggest on-premise sales have been at MKE Boatlines, and increasingly they’re being featured at bars around town with thirsty patrons but hurried bartenders. It’s making their jobs quicker and easier without sacrificing any quality or taste. What’s more, it’s about as cheap as purchasing all the ingredients separately! If it sounds like I’m doing a sales pitch, it’s because I am: I truly believe this is a great product and should be purchased.
“We love making something ourselves that others enjoy.”
There’s nothing in SoulBoxer that you wouldn’t find in a fresh-made Brandy Old Fashioned…in fact, it may be better quality than most.
- Door County cherries
- Angostura Bitters (whose caramel coloring is the only thing holding them back from an all-natural rating)
- California brandy
- Cane sugar
- Real oranges
The end. No fake sugar substitute, no factory-made flavoring. It’s distilled, bottled, and packaged by the two Milwaukee-based owners personally using equipment at Off The Clock Spirits at Yahara Bay Distillery in Madison.
“I’m not putting my name on something I’m not drinking myself.”
While I personally have only tried SoulBoxer straight or with soda, Doug listed a number of ideas he’s tried himself with much success:
- With sour mix during the summer, on the rocks.
- In orange or cherry jello shots
- In a steak marinade
“I don’t have a sophisticated palate, but I do have a lucky palate. I make it how I like it.” And trust me, you’re going to like it too. My next concoction will be a SoulBoxer slushie. Stay tuned.