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Lester Graham

Reporter/Host of Stateside

Lester Graham splits his time between hosting Stateside (Fridays) and reporting for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative (DJC). He was formerly the Senior Editor of The Environment Report, the environmental news service based at Michigan Radio, starting with the service in 1998.

He has been a journalist since 1985. Graham has served as a board member of the Public Radio News Directors Inc., and also served as President of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association. He is a member of the Radio-Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), Society of Professional Journalists and other professional groups.

Lester has received more than 100 awards at the state, regional, national and international levels for journalistic excellence, including four RTDNA Edward R. Murrow awards, two of them at the network level.

Twitter: @MichiganWatch

Facebook link

email:  llgraham@umich.edu

Ways to Connect

Courtesy: Valentine Distilling

Detroit is known worldwide for its cars, for its music, and now for its vodka.

The top prize for vodka at the World Drinks Awards in London last year did not go to a Russian vodka. It went to a Detroit vodka.

This cheeky promotional video suggests it was a sad day for Russia.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We headed to the city of Monroe in the southeast corner of the state for our latest Artisans of Michigan. We visited Michigan Musical Instrument Service. Kevin Powers has been repairing instruments there since 1987.

“I do most of the work for the Detroit symphony, all the brass players, the Toledo symphony, some of the guys from Cleveland. Those would be my occasional clients. My everyday ones are the school kids that come in with a dent in the trumpet. That’s who my normal customers are,” Powers

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

In honor of Black History Month, we visited with Amas Muhammad at Selden Standard in Detroit. He has a drink recipe for us below, but we wanted to know more about the role of people of color in developing the craft cocktail industry.

Muhammad says for a craft that’s obsessed with the history of drinks and the bartenders who invented them, his colleagues miss a huge swath of contributors.

“People of color have been instrumental since the beginning of spirits in America,” Muhammad said.

Lester Graham

In Detroit, jobs are scarce. Money is short.

That has led to an underground economy that one Detroit reporter calls a “gift economy.”

Valerie Vande Panne’s piece is titled “Life Without Money in Detroit’s Survival Economy.” 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Cheers! crew hit the road, heading to Ferndale, where one of the very first Michigan craft cocktail bars is tucked away on 9 Mile in downtown.

The Oakland bar’s Chas Williams shared a recipe from the cocktail menu. This one includes not one, but two Michigan-made spirits. The “Minnie and Roman” is named after two characters in the movie Rosemary’s Baby. Why? Because the cocktail includes a sprig of rosemary.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Automakers are celebrating new models at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It seems to us at Cheers! that calls for a drink.

“Since the auto show opened this week, I wanted to find a cocktail that had an automotive connection and I went all the way back to the Packard Twin Six automobile,” explained Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings.

Courtesy: St. Louis Public Radio

Racial tensions between white people and people of color are reaching levels not seen since the 1960s and ‘70s.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

“It’s like Christmas in a glass,” said Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings.

She’s talking about a cocktail invented by the principle bartender at The Last Word craft cocktail bar in Ann Arbor, Giancarlo Aversa.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We live in a throw-away society. Things are made cheaply and when we’re finished with them, we toss them out. That goes for furniture too. People put couches out on the curb. In college towns such as Ann Arbor, at the end of the academic year, there are lots of couches at the curb. 

We used to re-upholster furniture. In fact, some people still do. And in this installment in our series, “Artisans of Michigan” we visit an upholsterer.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

At one time, Detroit’s black families had one of the highest home ownership rates in the nation. Now that rate is among the lowest. Every year in Detroit, thousands of people lose their homes to tax foreclosures. In many cases, it is unnecessary. The city is accused of illegal taxes and denying tax exemptions homeowners deserved.

When I got to Darryl and Alisa Beavers' house, I was greeted by Jackson, their small dog. They’ve been living in a three-bedroom, two bath, 1,600 square foot home on Detroit’s east side. There are a lot of nice houses in this neighborhood.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

December 5 is Repeal Day.

“Repeal Day is sort of an invented holiday,” explained Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings. In recent years, bars, brew houses, and the drinking public have embraced the repeal of the 18th Amendment, which brought in the era of Prohibition.

On December 5, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the 21st Amendment, doing away with Prohibition. He famously said, “What America needs now is a drink.”

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

“Many people seem to be worried about what to serve their guests on Thanksgiving,” said Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings.

She says she’s got a real crowd-pleaser called McClary’s Mule.

“This is just a riff on the classic Moscow Mule,” Coxen explained. The classic drink uses vodka, ginger beer, and lime.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

World War II vintage planes are big attractions at air shows across the nation, but keeping them in the air means repairs and new parts.

That’s where Dave Groh comes in. He operates Yesteryear Aviation Incorporated near Mason, Michigan.

He rebuilds and makes parts for planes that were used to train pilots. He’s got one himself. Their mostly wood and canvas bi-planes.

Why rebuild WWII trainers?

“Because we love aviation,” he chuckled, adding, “and we like World War II aircraft in particular.”

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The “Artisans of Michigan” series visits Lansing’s Old Town neighborhood.

Welcome to Elderly Instruments. If you’ve been a musician for a while, you probably know about Elderly. It became famous because of its catalog and well-stocked store. When the internet came along, the store’s following easily made the transition from flipping the pages to searching the site.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

In 1967, many American cities were rocked by civil disturbances, including Detroit. Black people rose up against police brutality and unfair treatment.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Cheers!

Here’s something spooky for you. Our craft cocktail from Tammy Coxen at Tammy’s Tastings is perfect for Halloween. It includes pumpkin butter! This drink comes from Jessica Gonzalez at Death & Co, a craft cocktail bar in New York City.

The Apple Business cocktail mixes apple cider with gin. You won't believe how well it works.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

"October is my favorite month," Tammy Coxen of Tammy's Tastings said. "Do you know why? Apple cider!"

Apple cider is a popular ingredient in a lot of cocktails which seem perfect for fall. Often the cider is mixed with bourbon or rum. But this cocktail, the Apple Business, is made with gin.

"I chose Ann Arbor Distilling's Water Hill gin for this drink because of of the spicy garam masala note," Coxen said.

The distiller's website indicates the botanicals used to flavor the gin include Croatian juniper, cardamom, and garam masala.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This is part of an ongoing series on Stateside called Artisans of Michigan.

We are at Voodoo Choppers in Aurburn Hills to talk with Eric Gorges. If that name is familiar to you, you know he’s also host of the weekly national TV show on PBS, A Craftsman’s Legacy. But, we’re here chiefly to talk about his craft: building motorcycles.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

“I was listening to Michigan Radio and I heard about this beer tax being debated,” Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings said as she poured rye into a stainless steel mixing cup for a cocktail. “That tax has a little bit to do with the cocktail I chose today,” Coxen said.

It’s called the sawbuck, which is an antiquated term for a ten dollar bill. If the bill passes, ten dollars would not quite cover the increased tax on a keg of beer.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

One of the constants in our series on cocktails is having a Michigan theme. A Detroit bar is offering a new menu of drinks that features Michigan ingredients. Sugar House in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit is offering a Fall Harvest menu which uses Michigan produce and Michigan spirits.

Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings arranged a Stateside visit with owner Dave Kwiatkowski and asked him to mix us a drink.

A newspaper clipping of Detroit's busing era.
clipping courtesy of Ray Litt / via Detroit Free Press

The U.S. Department of Education says kids at schools with mostly black or Latino students don’t get as good of an education as kids at schools with mostly white students. Generally speaking, their teachers are not as experienced and their buildings are in worse shape.

You can see that in Detroit, Flint, and other Michigan cities.

There was a major Michigan court case that could have ended segregated schools and made it possible for children to have a good education no matter where they lived.

Here's how that court case might have made a difference today.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We’ve been visiting craftsmen and women around Michigan for our series “Artisans of Michigan.” Today we visit Adrian, Michigan.

“I’m making some Windsor Chairs. Right now, I’m fitting the legs into the seat,” Luke Barnett explained. He is the owner of Barnett Windsor Chairs.

Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

Tequila Old Fashioned

  • 2 oz anejo or extra anejo tequila (we used Cabresto)
  • 1/4-1/2 oz simple syrup
  • 2 dashes angostura bitters
  • Garnish: orange peel

Half-fill old fashioned glass with ice. Add simple syrup and bitters, stir to mix. Add tequila and stir well, adding additional ice if desired. Cut a large orange peel over the drink, then twist to express the oils and place into the glass.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We've been thinking about the kind of people you might like to meet. We talk with a lot of authors, musicians, politicians and policy wonks. But, what about artisans.? They're the people who use their hands and hearts to build things that we use.

The next stop in our “Artisans of Michigan” series is Zimnicki Guitars in Allen Park, Michigan.

Many Tiki establishments serve cocktails in Tiki mugs like these.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Test Pilot

1-1/2 oz dark Jamaican rum

3/4 oz white rum

1/2 oz orange liqueur

1/2 oz lime juice

1/2 oz

falernum

1 dash Angostura bitters

6 drops

Pernod

Garnish: whatever you want, but make it awesome! Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker with a big scoop of crushed ice. Shake and pour into a tiki mug, old-fashioned glass or wide brandy snifter without straining. Top with additional crushed ice (if desired) and garnish.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

There was outrage over reports that a farmer near Traverse City was required to dump tart cherries. You can read about the reasons here and listen to a Stateside interview with Bridge Magazine reporter Ron French about dumping cherries when it happened in 2014 here.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

  

Anvil, hammer, and tongs.

It's sooty. It's screams muscle and metal. But, the thing that strikes you is this: A blacksmith’s shop has a smell like no other. It’s the coal in the forge, the odor hot steel.

We visited Waterloo Metal Works to talk to John Rayer. But, shortly after I started poking around he stopped me.

“I did forget to give the safety warning. Everything in here is dirty, or sharp, or possibly very hot,” Rayer said.

Ali Lapetina / Detroit Journalism Cooperative

Attitudes about race have been improving in southeast Michigan, but there are still wide gaps on some issues between white people and black people. Those are some of the findings in a new survey commissioned by the Detroit Journalism Cooperative. 

The survey included people from mostly black communities, mixed communities, and mostly white communities in the Detroit metropolitan area.

When asked to rank the importance of race relations, black and white people ranked that issue below issues such as education and crime.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

 A Washington Post-ABC News poll shows the majority of Americans think race relations are getting worse. Concern about race relations spiked shortly after the reports of white police officers killing black men. Since the poll, two black men have targeted and killed police.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

French 75

1-1/2 oz gin (Detroit City Distillery Railroad gin)

1/2 oz lemon juice

3/4 oz simple syrup

2  oz champagne/sparkling wine

Garnish: lemon twist

Shake first three ingredients with ice, strain into champagne flute. Top with champagne and garnish.

The debate about raising the speed limit on Michigan freeways to 75 miles per hour made Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings think of the cocktail called the French 75. 

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