MILWAUKEE — America's insatiable appetite for convenience has made its way to Wisconsin's state cocktail.
Clintonville, Wis., natives Timothy Pappin and his nephew, Ryan Mijal, have begun bottling and selling their beloved brandy old-fashioneds across the state.
Using the slogan "The New Old Fashioned," their brand — called "Arty's," for their initials R and T — hit stores in metro Milwaukee a couple of weeks ago.
The fledgling booze-bottling business is built on giving folks the ability to take an old-fashioned just about anywhere without having to drag a bar along for the ride: Their six-packs are designed "so that people who go out on their boat or they go camping or they go to a sporting event or a picnic" can have an old-fashioned, Pappin said.
"Convenience is what it is all about — just making it simple and making it available to people who don't want a beer, who want a real cocktail and want it on the fly," he said. "You don't have to lug along all the fruit, all the alcohol, all the glassware. All you have to do is grab a six-pack and pour it on ice."
Their market research included a sophisticated analysis of potential consumer demand: "We'd go out on the pontoon and go out to the sandbar (on the Cloverleaf Lakes chain in Waupaca County, Wis.) where all the Saturday-afternoon people would hang out and we'd be sitting there saying, 'Well, this would be a great place for an old-fashioned,' " Pappin said.
Don't call their product a "mix." That can be downright offensive to brandy old-fashioned aficionados, Pappin said.
"For somebody who knows what an old-fashioned tastes like, you can immediately tell that it was made using a mix," Pappin said. A mix involves using an old-fashioned concentrate and adding whatever spirits you like.
"When you buy an Arty's, you actually get a legitimate old-fashioned," Pappin said. "There's no artificial ingredients. It's a real old-fashioned. That's what's in the bottle. It's the real deal."
It better be.
Trying to get a feeble brandy old-fashioned past Wisconsin old-fashioned drinkers would be like trying to sneak a sunrise past a gathering of roosters. The only state that consumes more brandy than Wisconsin is California, which has seven times more people.
In terms of per-capita consumption in the brandy-and-cognac category, only the District of Columbia tops Wisconsin, according to the 2012 Liquor Handbook, a trade publication.
Wisconsin has the highest percentage of retail spending on brandy in the United States, according to a spokeswoman for E.&J. Gallo Winery, which produces E&J Brandy.
In 2012, California-based Korbel shipped about 324,000 nine-liter cases of brandy. Of those, about 141,000 — 43.5 percent of Korbel's production — went to Wisconsin.
A nine-liter case is equivalent to a dozen 750-milliliter bottles.
In 2012, folks in Wisconsin consumed 641,450 nine-liter cases of domestic brandy, according to the Liquor Handbook.
"Our love for brandy has always been a mystery to me — why not Scotch or gin? — and I've never heard a plausible explanation," Milwaukee-based historian John Gurda said in an email. "I suspect it has something to do with European immigrant traditions, but I don't know which ones."
And our love for brandy, a spirit distilled from grapes or other types of fruit, certainly isn't universal among drinkers of old-fashioneds.
Among highbrow East and West Coast dwellers, "They would know what an old-fashioned is, absolutely. But the difference between the Wisconsin style of old-fashioned and our style is, yours is made with brandy," said Alexandra Sklansky, New York-based director of public relations for the Distilled Spirits Council. "Here, we make it with a rye or a bourbon. That is a huge difference."
Korbel says on its website that brandy "may date back to ancient Babylon." Brandy as we know it, Korbel says, evolved in Europe between the 12th and 16th centuries.
It didn't take that long to bring Arty's to market. It only seemed that way to Pappin and Mijal, who spent two and a half years planning, experimenting, obtaining the necessary permits, lining up investors and securing startup financing with help from Waupaca County economic development programs.
"We found a lot of mixes, but no one that we could find had taken the whole idea and put it into a bottle," Pappin said. "We found that when it comes to the actual packaging and bottling of it, nobody was really prepared to take a recipe cocktail and mix it, blend it and get it into a single-serving bottle. This whole idea kind of started for us when we realized, hey, there's a niche here that nobody's touched."
Pappin and Mijal have backgrounds in manufacturing-operations management.
"Ryan sat down and designed a system for how to batch-produce it," Pappin said. They ordered some custom-built, stainless-steel tanks and found some liquid filling machines on the Internet.
"We kind of hodgepodged this whole concept together, and then we tested it. And it worked," Pappin said.
Arty's is now in nearly 500 retail locations, "and we haven't hit the entire state yet," Pappin said.
Retailers say they believe the brand has great potential.
Patti Schroeder, who operates the Schroeder Shell gas station and convenience store in Clintonville, Wis., said the brand sells well in her store. "I have a customer who comes in every week and buys a six-pack for her elderly mother who loves to have one at night," Schroeder said.
Convenience is a major selling point.
"The ease of use, with just being able to take it as you go without all the ingredients, is a phenomenal convenience for the consumer," said Orey Laev, vice president at Ray's Wine and Spirits in Wauwatosa, Wis.
"There's a lot of premade things. This is more localized, and I think people are really grabbing onto that."
A package of Arty's consists of six bottles, 7 ounces each. The alcohol content is 6.9 percent by volume. A six-pack purchased last week at a Milwaukee-area store was $9.99.
Other retailers say they expect sales to gain as the weather gets warmer.
"If you're an old-fashioned drinker, you probably have all the ingredients sitting in your cabinet at home," said Mark Kovacic, liquor manager for the Fox Bros. Piggly Wiggly stores in Oconomowoc and Hartland, Wis. "But if you're out on the go or you're going on a picnic or something to that effect, that's where this would be the ticket."
"Ya know, it is Wisconsin," he added. "The concept is pretty cool."
The question now, Pappin said, is where does the company go next? The company has invested in new equipment that will boost its capacity from 2,500 bottles a day to about 10,000.
"It doesn't really feel like we are working. It just feels like this is what we are supposed to do," Pappin said. "It's part of who we are now, and we hope it continues.
"It's a lot of risk. It's a lot of stress. But we know there's a lot of happy people out there right now because of it. We just want to keep that going."