As pretty much all of you know, summertime in Milwaukee is pretty much magical. The front page of this very site at any moment between the first 69 degree day (nice) and the Packers kicking off on a not-yet-frozen tundra showcases what makes it so special. We love our summertime festivals, concerts, road construction, frozen custard, burgers, patios, baseball, platters, and drinking of adult beverages.

With drinking adult beverages and telling people about it being a particularly favorite summertime activity of mine, I rounded up some new products, old products in new clothing, and a few takes on the iconic Brandy Old Fashioned in premixed and ready-to-drink (a.k.a. “RTD”) form to tell you all about. For review purposes today, I selected eight locally-made canned beverages, chilled them to an icy cold cooler temp, cracked ’em open, and drank them right out of the can as many would do with such a perfectly portable drinking vessel.

Our first three tipples involve four summertime favorites not listed up in that introductory paragraph. Golf, tea, lemonade, and craft beer. In a nod to efficiency, MKE Brewing’s 19th Tea has combined them to be enjoyed all at once. There is a long and complicated history to these four things belonging together in this soon-to-be Milwaukee summertime favorite, but a full explanation would cut into time spent drinking, which is a Milwaukee summertime faux pas, so we will keep to the absolute basics of it:

Arnold Palmer was a famous golfer who liked to drink a mix of lemonade and ice tea (as explained by this 17-second ESPN documentary on the subject). Milwaukee and its metro area has an ample amount of craft breweries, quality golf courses, and is home to the world-class tea purveyor, Rishi Tea. When all such parts combine, you end up with…

MKE 19th Tea Hard Tea & Lemonade (malt beverage with Rishi Black Tea, lemon puree, and natural flavors)
Launched in 2023, the Hard Tea & Lemonade is the OG (but not the O-Gii) in the 19th Tea field. I cracked a cold can and was greeted with the liquid that could quite possibly be the easiest I have ever had the pleasure of writing out tasting notes for. It tastes like Rishi Black Tea and lemon with a slight effervescence. No muss, no fuss, and not a hint of alcohol burn. It’s just a straightforward tasty summertime drink with the flavors delivering as advertised.

MKE 19th Tea Peach Tea & Lemonade (malt beverage with Rishi Peach Tea, lemon puree, and natural flavors)
New for the 2024 mixed 12-pack, the Peach Tea & Lemonade delivers much the same as the original. Peach and lemon combine in a pleasant and not overbearing way, while allowing the tea element to shine as well. While approaching the end of this second can, it becomes easy to truly appreciate that these are not packed with sugar.  This very much falls in line with how Mr. Palmer was said to enjoy his namesake, a mix ratio of three parts unsweetened tea to one part lemonade. The ease of drinking and the tea-forward approach left me more than ready for a third can which was…

MKE 19th Tea Hibiscus Tea & Lemonade (malt beverage with Rishi Hibiscus Berry Tea, lemon puree, and natural flavors)
The other new for 2024 flavor in the conveniently sized 12-pack features Rishi’s Hibiscus Berry Tea as the headline ingredient. Unlike the other two flavors, there is no doubt what this one is all about: Hibiscus…and plenty of it. Rich, floral, fruity, and yet still refreshing, hibiscus and fruit elements from the tea dominate from the first sips to the pleasant lingering finish in the best way possible (if you are into hibiscus sorts of things).

Overall the mixed 12-pack gives consistent quality, a variety of flavors, and is a very sessionable locally made cold drink option to enjoy at any or all of your Milwaukee summertime activities. Some might say the lemon flavor is too muted and there isn’t enough sugar to use the term lemonade as a descriptor… but eh, no complaints here. And the detractors can add a lemon slice and a sugar cube if they so wish.

MKE O-Gii (tea-infused wit beer “shortie”)
Oh Gee! You can’t talk MKE and Rishi without a sampling of the OG Rishi and MKE combo…O-Gii! New for summer, this monstrous Imperial Wit is now available in a less than monstrous (perhaps even sessionable?) 12 oz. can. Despite its smaller packaging, O-Gii is still a full-bodied wheat beer at 9.2% ABV that is quite capable of luring an unassuming tippler into having a few too many. The beer drinks far too balanced and is far too refreshing to lead someone onto its true potency. From the first sip the rich wheat character coats the palate and brings with it a mild sweetness and faint tea notes, which become more and more apparent as the beer warms from icy cooler temps to holding in your hand in summer temps. It was almost certainly a disservice to this beer to drink it cold and fast. A more reasonable approach would have been to pour a pint and let it warm a touch so the aromatics and flavors could fully do their thing…but I got lost in the moment.

Leap N’ Lemonade (premium vodka & lemonade)
Another local beverage mainstay is also wearing new clothes for the season. The (according to the packaging) “too smooth to be called hard” Leap N’ Lemonade featuring premixed LeRoy Butler’s Leap Vodka and Robin Yount’s Robinade now comes to you in a four-pack of tall and slim cans. The liquid inside remains the same and is ready to refresh the hell out of you. Not much can really be said that isn’t printed directly on the can. It is indeed a very smooth drinking mix with a very classic lemonade flavor, but it’s a bit too sweet and a bit too sour all at the same time. It is sure to please any vodka lemonade fans out there with its approach to the classic high ball.

Drink Wisconsinbly Brandy Old Fashioned (Drink Wisconsinbly Brandy and natural flavors)
This attractive can with a friendly cartoon beverage on it takes the RTD category to a whole different level with the promise of the can contents being not just ready to drink, but Ready-to-Enjoy. Outside of the instructions on serving (over ice or out of can), the base ingredient (brandy), and the upsetting indication that a “cheese curd is not included,” the packaging doesn’t explain much else about what to expect. So I guess that is my job. Do not expect this to sip for sip replace or imitate your favorite corner bar or homemade concoction. Perhaps it is the lower ABV (7%) or the abundance of carbonation that removes it from that kind of close comparison, but to its credit, the flavors of bar cherries, bar orange wedge, brandy, sweet, and bitters are all present—even if they aren’t to the ratio or levels you might commonly find in a “proper” Wisconsin Old Fashioned. Overall it is a fizzy and more sessionable version of a Wisconsin Style Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet that is in a very portable and “Ready-to-Enjoy” format.

Plain Spoke Brandy Old Fashioned (brandy with Bittercube Bitters, carbonation, and natural flavors)
Our next Old Fashioned comes to us in a plain and tall can from Plain Spoke Cocktail Company, who have also embraced local partnerships and brought local bitters barons Bittercube to the RTD party. Despite the instruction to “pour over ice & enjoy,” I cracked the can and started a-drinkin’ as is the practical process we are exploring. I would not imagine touting the use of Bittercube bitters without making for damn sure people could taste them, and Plain Spoke must certainly agree. Hearkening to the more traditional and non-Wisconsin preparation of an Old Fashioned, this offering relies on brandy and bitters to do most of the flavor delivery with fruit, sugar, and carbonation to be much more of an afterthought…if present at all. I will not go so far as to say “overpowering,” but if you like your Old Fashioneds the more old fashioned way with an extra affinity for bitters, this RTD could be for you.

Central Standard Brandy Old Fashioned Ready to Drink Cocktail (old fashioned with North Wisconsin Brandy)
Another Old Fashioned and another collaboration awaits at the end of this tasting with Central Standard and Leinenkugel’s joint foray into the RTD Old Fashioned world. The devilishly handsome red can promises “two iconic brands” that will bring a “cocktail that is the flavor of the Midwest.” Which it delivers. This really does taste like the later half of a corner bar Brandy Old Fashioned. You’ve stirred it a dozen times with your straw, had a couple two-tree sips, the ice has melted a touch, the flavors have come together, a cherry and orange rind are mingling at the bottom of the glass, and the world is just…right. More than I thought would be possible, this offering gets remarkably close to what a Wisconsin Style Old Fashioned is all about in a not too potent and not too weak 12 oz. can with an 8% ABV.

All sipped and all told, these are just eight of the many great locally made weapons with which to combat your hot weather thirst. Each one is balanced, drinkable, and not too boozy. It is a wonderful testament to the craftsmanship and quality going into the production of them… and maybe just a touch of your old friend Rusty’s long-honed tolerance.

About The Author

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Rusty is a lifelong Milwaukee resident and imbiber who enjoys drinking alcohol and then telling people about it.