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Brother Cleve's Tall Cocktail Tale of the Day: The Case of The Wisconsin Pickled Mushroom Garnish

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Photo: Brother Cleve/Aaron Kagan

Welcome back to the latest tall tale from local cocktail legend Brother Cleve as part of Cocktail Week. This time Cleve, a musician and cocktail consultant, journeys to the bizarre land of Wisconsin, where he finds something unusual bobbing in his drink.

I was talking to Jim Meehan from PDT the other day about this, because he's from Wisconsin, and he used to bartend at this pub in Madison that Combustible Edison [which Cleve used to tour with] used to play at pretty regularly. One time we were on tour in Milwaukee, staying in some old hotel downtown, and when we get back from the show, the bar was still open, so the guitar player and I - The Millionaire is his name - we decided to go in and have a drink. That's not a surprise! We sat at the bar and we're sitting there and we'll have two martinis, please. The bartender just got out a bottle of gin and didn't ask us the old gin or vodka question, but then she asked us a most curious question. She said "what garnish do you want? Do you want an olive, a twist, or a mushroom?"

We both looked at her and said "mushroom?" She says "you want a mushroom?" And I said I'd never heard of anybody using a mushroom as a garnish in a martini, and she just looked at me and said "Where ya been?" When I told this story to Misty Kalkofen, who is from Wisconsin, she said "Oh, god, that is so Wisconsin."

We were always up for a new experience, so we said "Sure, mushroom it is!" It turned out it was a pickled mushroom, and this actually is indeed a Wisconsin thing. It was fairly large; it essentially took up more room in the glass than any garnish I've ever seen in my life anywhere. It wasn't... bad... it was weird, though. Because it was pickled.

I told Jim Meehan that story and he said the other big thing in Wisconsin was pickled mushrooms in an Old Fashioned. And I said, wow, that I've never heard of. Did you muddle the mushroom? Like a cherry or something? But no, it was just a garnish in the glass, these pickled mushrooms. I saw Misty a couple of days later and I mentioned that to her and she said "Yeah, didn't I ever tell you about that? I grew up drinking Old Fashioneds with pickled mushrooms! You got me with the martini one, but that's a big Wisconsin thing."

Evidently it's a specific kind of pickled mushroom that you can only get in Wisconsin. I've got her working on this: I've got to try this one. I've had the martini but I'm ready to try to the mushroom in the Old Fashioned. I was thinking if we can find something close or similar maybe if I go to some gourmet shop, like Sid Wainer's down in New Bedford, maybe they have some sort of pickled mushroom that's going to resemble this Wisconsin one, and I can get this on an unsuspecting New England bar public here, maybe put it on my next drink list somewhere.

I don't know. I'm thinking it might be better with whiskey than it was with gin. But that's one of the more unusual garnishes that I've ever run across in my time.

Brother Cleve is currently bartending at the "Speakeasy to Repeal" parties at Noir, in the Charles Hotel, on Wednesdays from 6pm to 8pm. He also plays the monthly Jive Party at An Tua Nua on the first Friday of every month, featuring Electro Swing music and classic-influenced cocktails.

· PDT's Jim Meehan on Cocktail Books [Eater National]
· All coverage of Cocktail Week on Eater [~EBOS~]
· All coverage of Brother Cleve on Eater [~EBOS~]