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Cheers! The world's best vodka is from Detroit

Feb 24, 2017

A banner hangs in the Valentine Distilling's production facility. Last year it won best vodka at the World Drinks Awards in London.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

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.

Valentine Distilling has a cocktail lounge at its old production facility in downtown Ferndale. But, the Cheers! team, Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings  and Lester Graham, visited the current distillery in an industrial area of the city.

“You are standing in one of the largest micro-distillers not just in the Midwest, but in the country,” said Rifino Valentine, owner of the corporation.

Valentine might be best known for its vodkas, but the distillery has won a number of international awards for its gins. Valentine makes several types of each. It also makes bourbons.

“The most recent news is this spring, we’re launching our rye whiskey,” Rifino Valentine said.

Heather DeLiso is the head bartender at the Valentine Lounge, but she trekked out to the production facility to make a cocktail featuring one of Valentine’s gins. It's called an "Old Tom" gin. That's a type of gin popular a couple of hundred years ago. With the craft cocktail movement, it's making a comeback.

Heather DeLiso lights a rosemary sprig to top off The Bettina cocktail.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Bettina

2 oz Valentine Liberator Old Tom gin

¾ oz beet and rosemary syrup (recipe below)

¾ oz lemon juice

3 drops of saline

1 sprig of rosemary

Combine ingredients in a mixing tin with ice. Shake and double strain into a martini or coupe glass. Flame a sprig of rosemary and drop into the drink.

Beet and rosemary syrup

Simmer equal parts of sugar and water until sugar is dissolved. Add five large sprigs of rosemary. Add the juice of three to five beets. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth once cooled.

As Tammy Coxen put it, the cocktail “has a beautiful red color because of that beet.” Regarding the drops of saline the cocktail recipe calls for, Coxen said, “Almost any cocktail can be improved by a little bit of salt. It helps to balance out sweet flavors, bitter flavors and just add a layer of complexity.”

Rifino Valentine said he has two main goals:

1)     To prove the best products are still made in this country (and Detroit)

2)     The end goal of corporations does not have to be solely about profit.

“We focus on quality. You can have both,” Valentine said.  

The Bettina.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio