By Will Stahl
Quick, what’s the signature drink of the Wisconsin bar scene? Well, of course, beer, but past that? If you didn’t say “Old-fashioned,” you don’t live here. Does it even have a close competitor?
No, that’s what Ryan Mijal and his uncle Timothy Pappin realized one day in 2010 after a night when they’d had a “few” Old-fashioneds. In a world of instant everything, no one was making a bottled Old-fashioned, available anytime, anywhere.
Since then they’ve been working on bringing this idea to market, getting government approvals and testing recipes. Quitting their jobs in April 2012, they launched in July from a building Tim said barely qualified as a “shack.” “We began with a fifty-gallon barrel of liquor and a palette of bottles,” Ryan said. That lasted two weeks.
From there they have moved to a former warehouse in Clintonville and expanded their distribution into five states, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and now Nevada.
Now they buy liquor in 250-gallon “totes” and bottles by the truckload.
They started with the brandy old-fashioned sweet, progressed to the whiskey old-fashioned sour and added the whiskey old-fashioned sweet. But the taste for the Wisconsin-style Old-fashioned is very regional. Outside the state they are not made or made very differently.
Ryan and Tim decided to expand the line, adding first the “Moscow Mule” a retro drink from the 40s and 50s, consisting of vodka, ginger beer and lime. Currently, they are readying a Bloody Mary, a drink that has many variations, and they are trying to perfect their own.
Ryan does the production and testing and Tim does the sales and accounting, an arrangement that seems to be working well. They have three full-time employees, kept busy blending, bottling, and cleaning. They have now at least 700 retail locations, ranging from gas stations to local retailers to big chains.
When they started, they had thought they would perfect a recipe and find someone to bottle it under contract. When they couldn’t find anything satisfactory, they decided to do it themselves. Now they are looking at making drinks under contract for others, for example, Modern Martinis, an Oregon company that never got to market on its own but has drink recipes that could be successful.
They have developed a passionate following. “People who try it, they love it.” Some tinker with the bottled cocktail, add more liquor or something else.
“We want to make drinks that have history behind them,” Tim said. “The Old-fashioned was the first cocktail, dating from the 1800s.” They are working to create a product that offers convenience and consistent quality. Looking to the future, they plan to keep expanding, maybe Indiana next, and then, who knows?
Arty’s Legendary Cocktails are available at many local stores at $7.99 for a six-pack.