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craft cocktails

Nic Morgan holding drink
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It’s hard to find. The address is 80 Ottawa Avenue NW in Grand Rapids.

But unless someone has told you about it, you probably would never realize that once you take those concrete steps down from the sidewalk, enter a door into an entryway, turn your back to the pizza place, and enter yet another door, you’ve arrived.

This is SideBar. It’s a tiny 18 seat bar where people who love craft cocktails gather.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Bourbon Fruit Smash

1-2 slices ginger (optional)
Fruit (8-10 blueberries, 2-3 strawberries, 4 peach slices, etc)
3-5 leaves mint or other fresh herb
2 oz Bourbon
1/2 oz lemon juice, or to taste
1/2 oz simple syrup, or to taste

Muddle ginger well (if using), then add fruit and herbs and muddle again. Combine remaining ingredients in shaker with ice. Shake, strain into ice filled old-fashioned glass.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

For more than a year-and-a-half, Tammy Coxen with Tammy's Tastings and Lester Graham have been bringing you the Cheers! segment on Stateside.

Every other week Cheers! tells you about a craft cocktail or about Michigan-made spirits and products. Sometimes we visit a craft cocktail bar or a distillery. The team was recently in Grand Rapids, also known as "Beer City."

And so of course Cheers! had to visit the series’ first brewery for a report. Take a listen!

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Cheers! team visited the Grove restaurant in Grand Rapids to learn about an old cocktail the restaurant is taking one step farther..

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This week, Cheers! is out of the studio and on the road. We visited Reserve Wine & Food to learn about a new addition to its cocktail menu.

Rob Hanks named it the “Lovers’ Quarrel” because he and fellow bartender Megan Knapp had a spat about whether to add a vodka cocktail. Some bartenders are not fond of vodka because it brings no flavor to the drink, just alcohol.

“(I) fought her tooth and nail,” Hanks said, adding, “Then I got bored one night, started using some stuff left over in the kitchen and here we are.”

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Bullshot just might be the most popular drink to ever come out of Detroit. In the 1950s, it was even more popular than the Last Word from the Detroit Athletic Club or the Hummer from the Bayview Yacht Club.

A mint julep sitting on a red napkin with a bottle of bourbon in the background
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Saturday is the Kentucky Derby. There’s a traditional drink for the “run for the roses.” It’s the mint julep. But finding a well-made mint julep is difficult. So, you should make it yourself.

“The mint julep is all about technique,” said Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings, adding, “You really want to pay attention while you’re making this drink.”

Even at the Derby, it's hard to find a really good mint julep.

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.

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

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.

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

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 / 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.

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

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

“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.

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.

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

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. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Whiskey Sour

2 oz. bourbon or rye

3/4 oz simple syrup

3/4 oz lemon juice

1 tsp egg white (or more as preferred)

Combine all ingredients in shaker without ice. Shake for several seconds, then add ice and shake again. Strain into any glass you like.

"Who wants the hand that rocks the cradle mixing whisky sours?"

That little gem was one of the arguments to make it illegal for women to tend bar. That's after they'd been slinging drinks throughout World War II. Many of the male bartenders were in the military.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

  

Love Interruption by Liz Cosby, beverage director, Rock City Eatery

2-3 sprigs thyme

1/2 oz simple syrup

1-1/2 oz White Blossom Vodka (this is an infused vodka; other vodkas will change the taste)

1/2 oz Cointreau

2 oz grapefruit juice

Muddle two sprigs of thyme with simple syrup. Add remaining ingredients to shaker with ice. Shake, strain into ice-filled highball glass. Garnish with remaining thyme.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Thinking about the upcoming Mackinac Island Policy Conference, Tammy Coxen with Tammy's Tastings offers a new riff on the cocktail called the Conference. The original Conference cocktail originated at Death and Co. in Manhattan's East Village. In turn, that drink is a spin off of the classic Old Fashioned.

The changes made to make the Michigan Conference include substituting Michigan maple syrup for the sugar in the drink, and using chocolate bitters as a playful nod to the fudge shops found on Mackinac Island. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Mojito recipe:

  • 2 sprigs of mint
  • 1 oz. simple syrup 
  • 2 oz. white rum
  • 1/2 lime (quartered)
  • club soda

Directions:

Strip the leaves from one sprig of mint. Place in shaker cup. Put lime quarters on top of mint. Muddle. (Putting the limes on top of the mint helps prevent bruising the mint which causes it to be bitter.) Add simple syrup and rum. Shake. Strain into high ball glass filled with ice. Add club soda until filled. Garnish with other sprig of mint.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

  Sazerac recipe

1/4 oz. absinthe 

2 oz rye whiskey

1/4 oz. simple syrup

3 dashes Peychaud's bitters

lemon peel garnish

Rinse a chilled old-fashioned glass with the absinthe. In a mixing cup, add ice, rye whiskey, simple syrup, and bitters.  Stir the ingredients until well chilled. Strain the drink into the glass. Add the Lemon peel for garnish.

Invented in the 1830s in New Orleans. Up until the 1870s, it was made with cognac and a few craft cocktail bars offer that alternative, but today it’s made with rye whiskey.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Oberon Sour

  • 2 oz Two James Grass Widow Bourbon
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz simple syrup
  • 1 bsp orange marmalade
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • 2 oz Oberon
  • Garnish: orange wedge

Combine all ingredients except Oberon in shaker with ice. Shake, strain into ice-filled rocks glass. Add Oberon. Add Garnish.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Recipe for the Michigander:

 1 ounce apple brandy or applejack

1 ounce Cynar

3/4 ounce lemon juice

3/4 ounce honey syrup (2:1 mix)

1 twist of grapefruit peel for garnish

Shake with ice, strain, pour over rocks, garnish.

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