The Lincoln Warehouse in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood has become an impromptu incubator of sorts for craft beverage startups in the area.
Four companies that make alcoholic drink products – Bittercube, Enlightened Brewing Co., La Pavia Beverage Co. and Twisted Path Distillery – coincidentally moved into the five-story, 105,197-square-foot space at 2018 S. First St. within about a year of each other. The Lincoln Warehouse, which was built in 1928, houses a variety of small businesses, from a gym to a hair salon to a photography company.
Since realizing they were all in the same building, the beverage companies have collaborated to innovate, test out ideas, market themselves and even share equipment.
“The way I see it is we’re better as a group,” said Mary Pellettieri, co-founder of La Pavia, which makes bitter concentrate sodas under the brand Top Note Tonics.
Pellettieri and Noah Swanson founded La Pavia about a year ago, moved into the warehouse in July and recently finished the $45,000 buildout of a commercial kitchen to bottle the tonics, where it has the capacity to make 500 cases per month.
“It was not at all planned,” Swanson said. “We were certainly happy to hear there was a distillery because our product is a mixer, primarily. I think it’s really kind of unique. I don’t think there are any other places that have that many beverage companies.”
Top Note Tonics are distributed in Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis, Denver and Seattle, and have been sampled and used at local farmer’s markets, distilleries, breweries and bars, Pellettieri said. La Pavia, which produces about 20 cases of tonics per month, recently enrolled in FaB Milwaukee’s FaBcap accelerator program, and has been networking with even more established beverage companies and working to strategically expand its reach.
Bitters manufacturer Bittercube, which was founded six years ago in Madison but moved to the Lincoln Warehouse last year, has also been a source of wisdom for the three younger companies.
“We’re kind of leaning on each other,” Pellettieri said. “We look to Bittercube as kind of the senior business within this cohort, so they are a good resource. There’s some synergies there that didn’t exist before. We’re able to innovate more, we’re able to play with some recipes”
The companies cross-promote each other’s products, use them to experiment, and host private tastings in a cocktail lounge at Twisted Path, which is expected to open to the public on Jan. 2. The hope is the Lincoln Warehouse and the tasting room become a destination for craft beverages, said Brian Sammons, founder and distiller at Twisted Path.
Sammons wasn’t happy as an attorney, so he left his job at von Briesen & Roper S.C., raised some funds from family and friends, and went to work getting the permits and building the equipment to start a distillery. He even has a patent pending for a warming mechanism he invented as he built the stills.
The distillery makes vodka, white rum, dark rum and gin. Sammons is working on a few other ideas, including a barrel-aged rye whiskey, brandy and a coffee spirit.
“It’s been word of mouth so far, primarily,” Sammons said. “I think it’s been a mutual benefit that we all kind of plug each other and we all have different networks of people we know. They work really well together – Top Note and Bittercube are really good for cocktails.”
The companies have found some similarities in their work ethic and dedication to craft-style products, he said. For example, Twisted Path makes its alcohol “from grain to glass” instead of buying bulk mash or spirits and adapting them.
“Bittercube is the same way where if they want their orange bitters to taste like orange, they get a bunch of boxes of oranges and they sit there and zest oranges all day,” Sammons said.
Bittercube moved to the Lincoln Warehouse because owner Ira Koplowitz lives in Bay View and the company was outgrowing the space it shared with Madison distillery Yahara Bay Distillers Inc.
Now, the company has quadrupled its space with a 4,000-square-foot suite in the warehouse.
“It just gives us the ability to oversee all aspects of the bitters-making process,” Koplowitz said.
Bittercube will sell more than $1 million in bitters this year. It now has eight varieties, from Cherry Bark Vanilla to Blackstrap. The company’s growth has been driven by increasing demand from consumers for hand-crafted cocktails, he said.
“We just saw a real need in the Midwest for more craft, more bitters, and we just decided to start the company,” Koplowitz said. “We’re by far the oldest and biggest company that’s in the beverage community in Lincoln Warehouse. It’s been awesome to mentor them, and not just mentors, but we’re partners now.”
For example, Bittercube is collaborating with Twisted Path on a dry spiced rum product, and has partnered with Enlightened Brewing to share resources.
“(Enlightened) just bring an awesome energy to the warehouse and they let us use their fridge space, and we let them use our pallet jack,” he said.
Enlightened Brewing, which moved into the warehouse last winter, was attracted to the space because the rent was lower compared to other warehouse and retail spaces and building manager Andy Bandy was flexible with building out and subdividing a space to meet its needs, said founder Tommy Vandervort.
The company has 500 square feet of space and has a half-barrel production capacity, but is looking for a space that’s about 1,700 square feet, with a 3.5-barrel capacity, he said. It makes a variety of small-batch beers, from black wheat to gose.
“The goal is to stay in the warehouse,” Vandervort said. “We want to stay and keep the appeal of this place as an incubator for all kinds of things, but it’s mainly known for beverage manufacturing.”