Friday, December 5, 2014 marks the 81st anniversary of the 21st Amendment. While there’s likely no Google Doodle to celebrate this milestone in American history, we encourage you to celebrate your constitutional right to purchase and consume intoxicating liquors.
Educate yourself on Detroit’s underground history during prohibition, or stop by Out on the Town exhibit at the Detroit Historical Society.
Here are just a few places to imbibe in Detroit:
The Sugar House
2130 Michigan Avenue, Detroit, MI 48216
Havana inspired cocktails and attire
241 West Nine Mile Road, Ferndale, MI 48220
Vintage movies, secret menus, classic craft cocktails and all that jazz! Era clothing encouraged.
Cafe d’Mongo’s Speakeasy
1439 Griswold Street, Detroit, MI 48226
I had never been to the Raven’s Club before, despite many years gallivanting down Ann Arbor’s State Street. Primarily known for their cocktails TRC is finding their place in the ever changing restaurant scene in a city mixed with college students, townies and a slew of transient imbibers. My preconceived notions of TRC being strictly a highfalutin speakeasy were quickly extinguished when beverage director Zack proclaimed “to hell with pretentiousness”. He’s been there since the beginning when TRC opened their doors in 2011 with the goal of “creating the bar I wanna hang out in”. After an evening at TRC, I wanna hang out, too!
Zack’s passion for cocktails was energizing- he explained his love of using great American spirits like bourbon and gin. He was most excited about the Vieux Carre, named for the French Quarter in New Orleans, which they blend in five gallon batches of rye, sweet vermouth, cognac, benedictine, aromatic wine and Peychauds bitters. Draught cocktails can be tricky to pull off, but I found the Vieux Carre to be quite balanced. I could tell it was a little strong for the others in the group but as a lover of the brown liquor, I thought it was great.
In addition to perfecting large batches, TRC is also paying attention to the little details that can make or break a cocktail. They make their own bitters, ginger beer and tonic, which Zack insists should be “bitter, bubbly and herbaceous”. I tried the Five Parts with Two James, a grapefruit and gin concoction garnished with a surprisingly aromatic grapefruit peel. It was indeed refreshing and felt like a burst of spring, despite it being a rainy autumn night.
With over a hundred whiskies available, including two dozen bottles of rye, I’m sure I’ll be back to try what else Zack and the gang have in store. Check them out yourself:
The Raven’s Club
207 S. Main Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Tickets are still available for Whiskey Business this Friday, November 7 at the Royal Oak Farmer’s Market. For $50, you get a cup and 10 tasting tabs to sample over 100 whiskey brands from around the world. If 10 samples isn’t enough for you lushes, consider the VIP option at $70 which gets you 15 tasting tabs with the bonus perk of getting in an hour early for a meet and greet with your favorite whiskey peddlers.
The whiskey list includes distilleries from around the world, but also includes some local-ish craft spirits from Two James, New Holland and Grand Traverse. We’re crossing our fingers that Two James will bring their new Johnny Smoking Gun!
Additional servings can be purchased when you run out of tabs; food will also be available for purchase.
Last year’s event sold out so get your tickets before they run out and see whiskeybusinessmi.com for more info.
What: Whiskey Business
Where: Royal Oak Farmer’s Market
When: Friday, November 7, 2014 (VIP admission 6:30pm; general admission entry 7:30pm)
Tickets: $50 general admission; $70 VIP
While there’s no shortage of breweries in Milwaukee, Brew City is also home to Wisconsin’s first distillery since prohibition: Great Lakes Distillery. What began as a passion project of manufacturing entrepreneur Guy Rehorst, the Great Lakes Distillery opened their doors in 2006 and currently produces nearly a dozen award-winning spirits including whiskey, gin, vodka, brandy and absinthe. By focusing on old-world methods and small batches, they’ve successfully grown their craft-spirit following in just a few years.
The tour takes about an hour and includes a visit to see the still in all her steampunk glory, as well as a tasting flight of 7 spirits. While you’re more than welcome to purchase a cocktail at the bar and bring it along with you, you may want to hold off until the end of the tour. After all, it’s nearing the equivalent of 4 oz. of high proof alcohol in the span of 20 minutes.
The still: where the magic happens
Fruit sugars fermenting into what will eventually become brandy
Our tour guide introduced herself as a former teacher, so I’m sure her child-wrangling skills have come in quite handy when corralling distillery guests over the years. She gave us the inside scoop as to why mass-produced liquor often leaves you with a hangover. It’s all about the tails! When collecting the refined alcohol for bottling, craft distillers at Great Lakes Distillery constantly monitor for quality. Perceptive taste-buds can note minor changes in flavor and alert the team to turn off the spigot when the tails become present. The tails (the flow nearing the end of a batch) have a higher concentration of bitterness and can both change the flavor profile as well as cause nasty headaches. The big producers tend to drain the still pot until it’s nearly empty since they’re focused on quantity and not necessarily quality. By paying attention to these details, it’s easy to see how Great Lakes Distillery has become so popular.
Their Kinnickinnic Whiskey has earned multiple gold medals and was also named “Best American Blended Whisky” at the 2013 World Whisky Awards. Blended from their own malt and rye along with bourbon from a larger unnamed American distillery, Kinnickinnic derives its name from an Ojibwe word meaning “what is mixed”. It was great on its own during the tasting but also sweet and spicy in the KK Buck, mixed with ginger beer.
Their neutral grain spirits are also gaining in popularity: their Rehorst Gin took double gold at the 2008 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. While I’m not really a vodka drinker, I could also appreciate the Rehorst Citrus & Honey Vodka made with Wisconsin honey, which also earned a gold medal at the 2009 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Please visit Great Lakes Distillery at greatlakesdistillery.com where you can book tickets in advance and find their up to date tasting hours.
Top shelf spirits and live music in the newly-renovated Garden Theater, need we say more? The $40 admission fee includes 15 beverage samples from some of the hottest bars and restaurants in Detroit, including Two James Spirits, Craftwork, Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company and Rock City Eatery.
Peruse the “Libation Station” and enjoy music from Will Sessions and DJ Bertram Cooper. Get your tickets from detroitcocktail.com
What: Detroit Cocktail Classic
Where: Garden Theater, 3929 Woodward Avenue, Detroit
When: Friday, October 24, 2014 7:00pm
Tickets: $40 in advance; $50 at the door
The Papillon, presumably named after “butterfly” in French and not the toy dog, is a fall favourite that comes to us from Sava’s in Ann Arbor. As it combines bourbon, black rum and a dash of scotch there are infinite variations one can explore.
- 1.5 oz. bourbon (Buffalo Trace)
- 0.5 oz. black rum (Barbancourt 8 Year)
- 0.5 oz. autumn syrup
- 0.25 oz. scotch (Glenmorangie)
- 3 bourbon-soaked raisins
Combine the bourbon, rum, syrup and scotch in a shaker with ice. Strain into a chilled coupe and carefully drop in 3 raisins.
1 part water and .75 parts maple syrup; simmer and stir until mixed; cool to room temperature then store in a sealed glass container for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.