Blue Bat Kitchen & Tequilaria, one of the newest restaurants in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward, offers more than just the 160+ tequilas you see on the menu. Each drink has a flavor, an age and a hint of history waiting to be told.
Blue Bat’s tequila expert, Mike Guardalabene, can tell you about not only the kinds of tequilas you’re ordering, from blanco to reposado, but also how tequila is distilled and how it has grown in popularity over several centuries.
“It’s been around in some form or another for several hundred years,” Guardalabene says. “But until the Spanish came to the Americas, there wasn’t a distillation process… once that happened in the town of Tequila, Mexico, they started taking a specific kind of agave and fermenting it, distilling it down, and it became what is known as tequila.”
If you’re not an avid tequila drinker, it can be a little intimidating looking at a lengthy list of tequilas, especially when your exposure to the drink is pretty much just Jose Cuervo… and yes, admittedly, that was pretty much the only kind I drank in college. Luckily, Blue Bat’s team stresses that even experts had to start somewhere.
“I didn’t have an appreciation for tequila until I started to expand out past Jose Cuervo,” Guardalabene admits. “Once I started tasting, I got the full scope on what there is to offer.”
With that in mind, Guardalabene encourages patrons at Blue Bat to take risks when it comes to trying tequila – although he tells me that some people have taken risk-taking to a whole new level when it comes to ordering tequila. We’re talking three $150 shots in one night… to impress a date!
I ask if people are downing the expensive shots or sipping them.
“I always recommend savoring them,” Guardalabene says. “We definitely have some shots that are for just knocking them back, and we can do that if there is a birthday party or bachelorette party or wedding… but if someone is coming in and really wants to try something… it’s more of taking a sip, letting it sit and seeing what you think.”
When it comes to navigating the drink list, Guardalabene says there are two different ways to attack the menu.
“There’s the horizontal flight, which is three selections of the same age bracket,” he explains. “There’s also vertical flights for if someone likes a specific kind of tequila and wants to see the differences in aging… it’s kind of an interesting contrast if you want to see a blanco, which is un-aged, and then extra Añejo, that’s aged for years. For anyone who says tequila’s just tequila and it’s not for me, I think that’s the wrong way to look at it, because I think there’s absolutely something in it for everybody.”
Along with drinks, appetizers, tacos and bowls, Blue Bat also serves up conservation efforts. The restaurant supports the Tequila Interchange Project (TIP), a non-profit organization that advocates for the Greater Long-Nosed Bat.
“These bats, they pollinate the agave and then they eat the insects off the agave,” John Walch, the president of the Restaurant Division at Marcus Investments, explains. “When tequila was really taking off, they were cutting off all the flowers and not allowing it to bloom and the bats were suffering. So, part of this process is they set aside five percent of their crop every year that they’re not going to harvest and cut off the flowers. That allows the bats to thrive and they’re no longer endangered.”
The following tequilas have been designated as TIP partners: Ocho, Siete Leguas and El Tesoro.
Blue Bat is located at 249 N. Water Street. It opens at 11:00am daily.