The Honey-Cap is a dangerous drink.
Made with Nathan Greenawalt’s deceptively strong Old Sugar Factory Honey Liqueur, the Honey-Cap imitates a Brazilian Caipirinha, muddled with lime, ice and soda water. Slightly sweet, tart and refreshing, it goes down easy, just as the menu warns.
The Old Sugar Distillery opened about two months ago at 931 E. Main St., where Greenawalt bases production of his liqueur and a new product, Cane and Abe Freshwater Rum. It looks like a warehouse bar, but it’s actually a tasting room, open only from 4-10 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays.
“I’m limited by the city and the state, so I can only serve alcohol that I make,” Greenawalt said. “A lot of traditional recipes will have other liquors mixed into them.”
On your first visit, ask for a sample of either of the two alcohols. The honey liqueur is strong — 80 proof — and dry, made from dark brown beet sugar from the northern Midwest and Wisconsin honey. Cane and Abe Rum, almost like a whisky, is made from cane sugar from Hawaii and Louisiana.
Both are aged in barrels from 5 to 30 gallons arrayed around the tasting room. The larger the barrel, the longer it takes for a finished product — 5 gallons takes four months to age, while the biggest size will take about two years.
Greenawalt’s recently revised menu at Old Sugar Distillery is straightforward, from on the rocks ($5) to a new fall special with rum and Sidral Mundet Apple Soda.
The menu still includes a version of a Dark and Stormy, made with his bourbon-like, smoky rum and ginger beer. A twist on a Cuba Libre substitutes Mexican Coke for the U.S. version (the former is made with cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup, so it’s “less sugary in your mouth”).
The Gringo is reminiscent of a White Russian, made with Mexican horchata and honey liqueur, and topped with cinnamon and nutmeg. All cocktails cost $6; by the bottle, the liqueur and rum cost $30.
“Everyone’s been really happy with the mixed drinks,” Greenawalt said. “The honey liqueur has a mild flavor, an oaky taste and the honey flavor. It’s really easy to put it in drinks — it seems to go well with everything.
“I’ve got quite a few regulars already.”
Greenawalt keeps the atmosphere friendly with frequent “tours” (mini-lectures) about how the alcohol is made, and free baskets of chips and salsa for steady patrons. He currently has no plans to expand into food or full-time bar hours.
“People here are very into buying local, and I’m trying to use as (many) local ingredients as I can,” Greenawalt said. “People love their beer and have gotten into wine; Wollersheim has gotten very popular. It’s a matter of time before the microdistilleries are a household name.”
Find Old Sugar Factory Honey Liqueur locally at Star Liquor, Woodman’s Food Market and Steve’s Wine Market. Supplies could be temporarily running low, but Greenawalt expects to have more bottles on the shelves in a few months.
“My primary expansion goals are just to get it wider distribution, all around the Midwest and possibly all around the country,” Greenawalt said. “The original goal was a good wholesale business.”