Text and Photography By Holly Leitner
Mixology is about putting art and science to work. It’s a delicate dance that commands a knowledge of spirits and flavor pairings. From charcoal to cherries, sea salt to rose vodka and jalapeños, the mixologists of Lake Geneva are all about changing up summer’s go-to drink from a hum-drum gin and tonic to something more exotic. They shop farmers’ markets for innovative ingredients, dream up cocktail and food pairings, and once they start crafting drinks – the magic really happens.
We checked in with a handful of local mixologists in the area to hear what inspires them, and then sampled their summertime concoctions. The resounding result for each drink – fresh is best.
Chaz T. Wagner
BAR: Maxwell Mansion
BARTENDING SINCE: Approximately 2013
I KNEW I WANTED TO WORK BEHIND A BAR WHEN: I always thought the profession looked interesting and fun. Since I started bartending, I have been passionate about learning as much as possible.
I FIND INSPIRATION IN: Creating a unique one-of-a-kind cocktail. I love asking a guest a few simple questions to find out what it is they love and hate in a drink. This process is not always a home run, but more often than not the guest is enjoying the end product and is thirsty for more.
CAN’T MIX DRINKS WITHOUT: I feel comfortable mixing drinks with odds and ends that I can find at anyone’s house, and many times I do. Once you bartend for a while, your “MacGyver instincts” come into play.
IF I WAS A FLAVOR I’D BE: Gin, because it can be super simple or extremely complex. It can be the star of the show or just blend right in seamlessly.
DESERT-ISLAND DRINK: Overproof rum that I would cut 50/50 with coconut water and sip away.
IF MY BARTENDING STYLE HAD A THEME SONG IT’D BE: “Classic Man” by Jidenna
STOP BY AND TRY: Raspberry Mojito (house-made raspberry compote | fresh mint | rum )
BAR: Hunt Club Steakhouse
BARTENDING SINCE: 1985
I KNEW I WANTED TO WORK BEHIND A BAR WHEN: I was 7 and saw my grandmother behind her bar.
I FIND INSPIRATION IN: Patrón
CAN’T MIX DRINKS WITHOUT: Vodka
IF I WERE A FLAVOR I’D BE: Chocolate
DESERT-ISLAND DRINK: Strawberry Daiquiri
IF MY BARTENDING STYLE HAD A THEME SONG: “Smooth Operator” by Sade
STOP BY AND TRY: Chocolate Martini (Godiva chocolate | vodka | chocolate)
BAR: Bar West at The Abbey Resort
BARTENDING SINCE: March 2017
I KNEW I WANTED TO WORK BEHIND A BAR WHEN: I started making drinks at family functions, and then in college I became the party mixologist for all my friends.
I FIND INSPIRATION IN: Current seasonal trends, fresh in-season produce and off-kilter flavors.
CAN’T MIX DRINKS WITHOUT: My hands
IF I WAS A FLAVOR I’D BE: My supervisor says I’d be pistachio, because I’m sweet and salty!
DESERT-ISLAND DRINK: Fresh water! And bourbon — if I’m lucky!
IF MY BARTENDING STYLE HAD A THEME SONG IT’D BE: “Circus” by Britney Spears
STOP BY AND TRY: Cucumber Cooler (muddled cucumber | fresh lime | sea salt | cucumber vodka)
BAR: The Boat House Bar & Grill
I KNEW I WANTED TO WORK BEHIND A BAR WHEN: At age 14 I started working in the service industry and bartending always appealed to me.
I FIND INSPIRATION IN: The bottom of a bottle of Milagro tequila.
CAN’T MIX DRINKS WITHOUT: Playing with my German shepherd, Ruger; doing the dishes; starting the laundry; and going to the gym. Life’s all about balance, just like a great cocktail.
IF I WAS A FLAVOR I’D BE: Curry — sweet and savory, but sometimes aggressively spicy
DESERT-ISLAND DRINK: I’m simple: Milagro tequila and water.
IF MY BARTENDING STYLE HAD A THEME SONG IT’D BE: “Sabre Dance” by Aram Khachaturian
STOP BY AND TRY: Black Lemonade (Milagro mezcal | charcoal | fresh lemon)
BAR: Café Calamari
BARTENDING SINCE: 2008, when I first had the chance. I‘ve been working at Café since May 2015.
I KNEW I WANTED TO WORK BEHIND A BAR WHEN: I was asked to fill-in last minute for a Fat Tire event. I knew I was going to be busy. What I didn’t know was that I’d enjoy the madness so much.
I FIND INSPIRATION IN: My friends. I have friends all across the country who have such passion for this industry. I always love getting a message that says, “Try this!”
CAN’T MIX DRINKS WITHOUT: The right tools. I’d be lost without a sturdy wine key, muddler, and a solid set of shakers.
IF I WAS A FLAVOR I’D BE: Chocolate
DESERT-ISLAND DRINK: Captain and Coke
IF MY BARTENDING STYLE HAD A THEME SONG IT’D BE: “Trouble” by Cage the Elephant. It reminds me to not sweat the small stuff.
STOP BY AND TRY: June & July (basil | lime | gin | Elderflower)
BAR: The Grandview at Geneva Inn
BARTENDING SINCE: College and full-time since 1992.
I KNEW I WANTED TO WORK BEHIND A BAR WHEN: I discovered I could meet women and later when I discovered wine.
I FIND INSPIRATION IN: The ever-changing world of wines.
CAN’T MIX DRINKS WITHOUT: A shaker and cocktail spoon.
IF I WAS A FLAVOR, I’D BE: Scotch Bonnet Pepper
DESERT-ISLAND DRINK: White rum and any fresh fruit juice
IF MY BARTENDING STYLE HAD A THEME SONG, IT’D BE: “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” by Billy Joel.
STOP BY AND TRY: Cherry Phosphate (Door County cherry vodka | house-made cherry juice | Luxardo cherries)