Food & Drink | November 11, 2022 6:00 am

This Chicago Duo Wants Your Cocktails to Be Just a Little Bit Healthier

The perfect liqueur for a nightcap at the fire, inspired by your morning coffee

Dottie May's Cream Liqueur
Dottie May's Cream Liqueur
Brad Danner

Whether it’s facial tissue, transparent adhesive ribbon or cream liqueur, some product categories are barely comprehensible without the brand leader’s name (Kleenex, Scotch Tape and Bailey’s, for what it’s worth). But at least in the case of the latter, that might be changing thanks to Dottie May’s, a vegan answer to Bailey’s that’s taking Chicago by storm.

Industry veteran Kevin Burke recalls the eureka moment that would lead to the creation of the brand, which took place, appropriately, while sitting at the bar with design entrepreneur and co-founder Paul Earle.

“I’d been following the rise of oat milk category,” Burke says, “and one day, with my business partner, we were having a couple of drinks and looking at the back bar and just thought, ‘Wait a minute, no one is doing sort of dairy-free cream liqueurs yet.’”

Dottie May’s was born in October 2021: a combo of oat milk blended with American whiskey, sweetened with maple syrup and flavored with all-natural cocoa and vanilla powders. The result is gluten- and nut-free, not to mention lower in sugar.

“We know it’s a sweet category, and we know that it’s an indulgent pour,” Burke explains. “But if we could at least make it with clean ingredients, versus using some of the typical, less-good-for-you sugars out there, that would help us meet our goal.”

The liqueur is ideal in cocktails, coffee drinks or even desserts.

“I’ve been drinking it all summer and then through the fall with cold brew,” Burke says. “And then in the winter, I actually like it just on the rocks, like when you’re sitting by the fire. It’s really nice just neat.”

It’s now available in 30 states via ecommerce, not to mention in bars, restaurants and shops across Illinois and Wisconsin.

Burke, who is originally from the East Coast, has been based in Chicago for five years. Here’s where he hangs out when he’s not disrupting the legacy world of food and beverage.

For coffee:

“So I live in Bucktown, and I like to walk up to a place here called Royal Grocer. They’ve got a killer bar scene with a great brunch, and a great coffee scene. Getting over there and having them pour me some Dottie’s in their coffee has been really, really nice. That’s sort of my local spot.”

For cocktails:

“My favorite cocktail bar would probably be Lone Wolf in the West Loop. It’s kind of a cocktail bar that still feels like a local dive bar. They feature really great craft beers, wines and an amazing cocktail list, but you don’t feel like you’re in a terribly pretentious setting. You’re just there to relax.”

For brunch the morning after:

“Brunch, I’d have to go with Summer House, Santa Monica. It’s run by the Lettuce Entertain You Group. Lots of big tables. Lots of people. We have a pretty good time there.”