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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

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Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

  

Constantly in search of new Michigan products for cocktails, Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings found a liquor that was new to her. It’s actually been out for a couple of years. It’s Coppercraft Distillery’s Applejack. Coppercraft is in Holland and has been around since 2012.

The cocktail she decided to mix is the Jack Rose. It’s a classic cocktail which was really popular in the 1920s and 30s. “While other cocktails from that period such as the Martini or the Manhattan have come roaring back, the Jack Rose is still a little bit of an underdog,” Coxen said.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Scott Smith Pipe Organs in Lansing repairs, restores, installs, and builds pipe organs. However, Scott Smith says his profession causes confusion for some people, such as a guy he was talking to at a party.

A bottle of sweet vermouth, half a lime, and a cocktail.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Cheers! crew is always looking for new Michigan products for cocktails and other drinks. Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings hunts high and low.

“This is one of the most unique products I’ve come across recently,” she said. “It’s a Michigan-made sweet vermouth,” she explained, holding up the Brengman Brothers Piccolo Dito Vermouth. Brengman Brothers is based at the Crain Hill Vineyard near Traverse City.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

For several months now, we’ve been traveling around the state, talking to people who make useful things with their hands. We’re calling the series Artisans of Michigan.

This time, we found ourselves in Tecumseh, in Mike Thomsen’s garage. Some people call him “Canoe Mike” because, among other things, he makes wood canoes.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Many Detroit neighborhoods need help. A lot of blocks are little more than a couple of occupied homes, a few abandoned houses, some burned out structures, and overgrown vacant lots.

Between 1970 and 2010 Detroit lost more than 228 thousand occupied housing units according to a recent report by the Urban Institute. 

nico7martin / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

I was sad to hear about Chuck Berry’s death last weekend.

When I worked in St. Louis two decades ago, getting an interview with Berry was a challenge for every reporter in town. He hadn’t given an interview in more than two years when I decided to give it a shot. The owner of a venue where Berry played every couple of months suggested I come to the 40th anniversary of Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode. The idea was the club owner would help me get an interview before the show.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Since it’s National Cocktail Day, Cheers! is mixing up a cocktail.

“I don’t know who comes up with these days, but I’m kind of glad to have an occasion to celebrate,” Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings said.

The Cheers! staff is up for a celebratory cocktail just about any day, but it would seem to be necessary today since it's a national holiday.

Alex Porbe / Incite Design

There are people in Michigan who are quietly making pieces of art with a purpose beyond art. 

One of them works in Detroit at a nondescript shop on Mack Avenue. Alex Porbe is with Incite Design, a  fabrication and custom design firm.

Porbe works with architects and project managers, working up designs to complement existing architecture or making a design statement.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It's nearly spring, and the sap is running. Maple syrup makes a good choice for a sweetener in our pick for a cocktail.

“This is just a little whiskey sour variation,” Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings explained.

“When I was a kid we would go every year as part of a school trip and I remember loving to see the maple syrup boiling down,” Coxen said, adding, “It’s a really great memory for me and I love maple syrup because of it.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Fritz Swanson is a writer. But he says even when he was little, writing alone just wasn’t the end of it. It had to be printed. It had to be a book.

“Writing the story and then making the way that it’s communicated seemed essential to me, seemed all to be part of the same game,” he explained.

When his dad took him along to help a friend fix a tractor, he found something that changed his life.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Downtown Detroit is in a revival, but neighborhoods across the city are still declining. One of the reasons is the onslaught of tax foreclosures.  Those foreclosure mean more vacant houses. Soon the homes are stripped by scrappers, and the destruction can affect the whole block.

Ulysses Jones drove me around his neighborhood, MorningSide, on Detroit’s east side. He’s with a community organization also called MorningSide.

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.

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