Tag Archives: Distillery

Detroit: Just A Taste

31 Jan

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Detroit has always been a city of makers; today’s subject is booze. Alcohol was big business in Detroit; in 1850 Stroh’s produced an annual capacity of 500,000 barrels of beer.  The largest distiller was Hiram Walker, (yes he was an American and a Detroiter) he started out as a grocer distilling cider vinegar in 1830, he moved on to whiskey 1854. During prohibition Detroit became a bootleggers paradise, the Detroit River is less than a mile across in some places making Canada a short trip by boat, sled or automobile. It’s estimated that the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River carried 75% of the liquor supplied to the US during Prohibition. Bootlegging, smuggling, rum-running, whatever you want to call it, was Detroit’s second largest industry in 1929. 

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Two James Spirits has the unique distinction of being the first licensed distillery to open in Michigan since Prohibition. Today we’re doing a tour, grab yourself a drink and c’mon along. Founders David Landrum and Peter Bailey opened the distillery and tasting room in 2013. The name comes from the coincidence that both of their fathers are named James. The building is an oldie, a Dodge/Chrysler dealer in the ’20’s, an auto repair facility & cab company later in life. We have about 30 minutes to kill before the tour  starts, just long enough to enjoy a Nutty Irishman. Andreas places the cocktail on the bar, a layer of half and half floats above the dark brown spirits, I combine the layers, stirring gently with my straw; I love the way it looks as the cream swirls in the glass. Kris and I chat as we watch lemons and limes being sliced, egg whites dropped into shakers and cherries being skewered; all for your drinking pleasure.

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Our glass is empty, time for the tour. We cross from the tasting room to the distillery, the temperature drops noticeably. My attention immediately goes to the 500 gallon custom-made copper pot still,  it’s a real showstopper. We’re surrounded by heavy-duty shelving stacked with American Oak barrels, stacks of cardboard cases on pallets, tanks, hoses and pipes.  Up first, 28 Island Vodka. The name references the 28 islands in the Detroit River that served as a safe-haven for Detroit’s clandestine distillers during Prohibition. The Barrel Reserve Old Cockney Gin lets the gin rest in new American Oak for a minimum of 6 months before being bottled.  How about a little rum? Doctor Bird Jamaica Rum  is actually made in the Caribbean then blended and aged in a special moscatel barrique in Detroit.

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Whiskey anyone? Try Grass Widow Bourbon, Rye Dog, Catcher’s Rye or Johnny Smoking Gun. The newest spirit in the arsenal is J Riddle Peated Bourbon. Look at the label for a minute, see that cute little ‘red fox’? Hhmm, J Riddle, could that be James Riddle Hoffa who disappeared from the Machus Red Fox in Bloomfield Hills? I’m not tellin’. The Nain Rouge Absinthe Verte starts with the traditional 19th Century French recipe and then gets Two-Jamesd. It has great depth of flavor and a pretty green color, I’m a fan of licorice so I really like it. We scope out the production area learning about the distilling process, different grains used and the bottling process. Up a few stairs we have an up-close view of the mash tub, the yellow-ish goop inside bubbles and pops, we even get to taste it. Pipes lead to fermentation tanks, finishing tanks and the gravity bottling machine; It’s all very technical. 

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In 1993 Joe Mifsud purchased the building that now houses Two James and his recently opened restaurant Cork and Gabel. We’ve admired this building for years and are really excited to finally go inside. Joe has a deep affection for these old Detroit buildings, he likes to re-use what’s there in addition to adding other Detroit found objects–like the giant oil drum used for the entryway to the restaurant. What a super-cool way to enter a building, I like the graffiti. I’d describe the interior as rustic industrial, there are old pulleys and other things left from the building’s automotive days, there’s an old bell, even the light fixtures were rescued from an old structure. Chairs are mis-matched, tables are made of old bowling lanes, can you find the Easy Bake Oven? An eclectic blend of old and new giving the place a modern, cozy feeling.We sit at the bar only to learn the kitchen doesn’t open for another half hour, so we order a cocktail… The menu is a fusion of Italian, German and Irish offerings, everything sounds good. When the time comes ours is the first order to reach the kitchen. We start with the Caprese Salad which can be a no-no in January, the tomatoes are ripe and tasty, nice slices of mozzarella drizzled with balsamic vinegar, set upon pesto; well done and a nice surprise in January. The Schnitzel BLT is huge! A crispy, well seasoned, breaded slice of pork loin sits atop Ma’s rye bread (made in house, it’s fabulous!), slices of crispy thick-cut applewood smoked bacon, bibb lettuce, tomato, the other slice of bread is finished with boursin cheese. Yum!

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Have you ever heard of Brew Detroit? They have a 68,000 sq. ft. facility in Corktown. In addition to brewing their own beer they are a contract brewery, making beer for Stroh’s, Motor City Brewing Works, Bad Ass Beer, Lake Brothers Beer Co and others. Guess what? They do tours too! We pay for the tour and choose our ‘walking beer’, this is the one we get to take on the tour; Kris chooses a stout made with Germack coffee, I’m drinking the East Sea Baltic Porter, it’s delicious. The production area is home to eleven 400-barrel and two 200-barrel fermentation tanks, they’re gigantic. Our guide talks about tanks, vessels, grain, fermentation, temperature-controlled yeast propagation, spectrometer, alcolyzer and all kinds of other things I’ve never heard of while Kris and I just look around and think, WoW! The place is huge, the tanks are enormous, there’s just so much BEER! We have journeyed from the brewhouse to the canning and bottling line or as they say, from “hops to glass”.

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The tour ends in the merchandise area where we are given souvenir Brew Detroit pint glasses and wooden tokens good for a beer in the tasting room. Taking a seat at the rectangular bar we enjoy a beer while checking out the selection of 30 rotating draft taps of beer, wine, cider and meads. There are pinball and air hockey machines, arcade games, shuffleboard, darts, billiards and foosball spread out over two floors. This place is definitely worth seeking out for a beer, tour or just to hang out with friends.

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It’s dark and it’s cold but we can’t leave Corktown until we check out Winterfest at Michigan Central Station. Ford has put together a celebration of the to-be-restored 1913 train station that includes a 3D light show, fire pits to keep warm and roast marshmallows for S’mores, food trucks and an exhibition of “found” objects from the building. We park on the street and make the trek to the building, a crowd of parka-wearing, scarf and mitten laden pedestrians have gathered around heaters and fire pits to watch colorful images flashed upon the 18-story building. Magically the building comes to life, the past and future splashed across the surface, a train thunders by. It’s graffiti covered, draped in newspaper then covered in blocks of colors, windows appear to light up, a hand draws the Ford logo; it’s a constantly changing canvas of amazement. As much as I’d like to stay, my face is frozen and I can’t feel my toes; it’s been fun.

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Eastern Market: More to Come…

28 Sep

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 It’s 85 degrees on a Thursday evening, artists from Detroit, the nation and around the world hit the streets September 15, armed with brushes, rollers, spray cans and gallons; their visions will transform building walls around the Eastern Market District. Their goal: to expand Detroit’s legacy of public art by adding 35 new murals by 50 artists in 9 days! Events throughout the year in Detroit focus on the city’s art, culture, designers and new business. Murals in the Market and Detroit Design Festival overlap in mid-September, Eastern Market After Dark gives us a chance to see the best of both events and affords us a sneak peek of to come in the Market. We start on Gratiot, New York artist Kevin Lyons is perched high in the bucket of a lift putting the finishing touches on his mural.  Round-eyed, goofy creatures in shades of turquoise and coral smile at us revealing names of Detroit Jazz giants in their teeth, Aretha Franklin, Dilla, T3, and Ron Carter are just a few represented. A block down Dalek has created a study in perspective using shades of red, black and blue; a pair of hands reach out from around the corner of the building.

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Further down Gratiot we park near the Maple Substation, Hueman has finished her piece; a mix of warm colors on the right, cool on the left, joined by a face, a hand seems to be brushing away a tear, images are layered one upon another. Nearby, a character rides his bike carrying water to those in need; it’s a magnificent scene. Around the corner a trio of artists are in the process of completing the word “Detroit” on an old Honey Bee Hardware warehouse. Black and white letters are splashed across the brick wall, pastel colors take over on the roll-up door. A few yards over NNII works his roller into gray paint blocking in large sections of his design. Everywhere I look something is happening, murals seem to be growing among the weeds and vines that have claimed the long-vacated area. Pixel Pancho’s old-fashioned portrait high upon a corner looks like it could have been here a century ago.

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We walk down alleys and streets not wanting to miss a thing. Two women sit on the ground filling in the final section on a wall that puts me in the mind of a kaleidoscope; blue, yellow, green and purple designs cover one area; red, pink, yellow, orange and lilac fill the other. We stop and talk, Kristin Farr is based in CA, her fellow artist formerly from Toronto lives here now. So far we’ve chatted with artists from NY, CA, NC and Canada; everybody is having a good time.

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An attractive group of Art Deco style buildings on the east side of Gratiot are slowly being restored; Inner State Gallery, a sponsor of Murals in the Market, has been one of the anchors as other businesses slowly open. The gallery is buzzing with activity tonight, the current exhibition features the art of the muralists working in the district. Outside, white lights are strung under an awning, Cyberoptix is hosting a soft opening of their retail space set to open in November. Inside, the tie lab displays original designs on neck ties, bow ties and scarves; Well Done Goods is also selling jewelry in the space, their retail space in the same building is currently in the works.

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SMPLFD, a Detroit-themed apparel manufacturer is the most recent shop to open. Selling unique designs focused on Detroit sports teams and cultural icons, items include t-shirts, tank tops and super-soft sweatshirts; everything I looked at was Made In The USA. They also sell headwear, sunglasses and tote bags. The building is beautiful, the space is beautiful, clothing is high quality, attractive and clever; a great addition to the neighborhood.

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We drop in at People’s Records, this is one of those shops that’s always fun to have a peek; I love the old black and white portraits that fill the wall, boxes and crates are maxed out with old vinyl. The next building is a fabulous example of Art Nouveau, the former TransLove Energies space is now Detroit Life; same owner, same great art, music and design. We traverse the building from top to bottom taking in photos by famed Detroit photographer Leni Sinclair, posters by Gary Grimshaw, both share an interesting history with the space. The second floor has a fantastic view of Gratiot, the city and the market district; darkness has fallen, traffic lights and headlights fill the lanes, buildings are dresses up in special lighting, storefronts are awash in light; I think to myself, this is so cool… The venue is constantly hosting live music and art exhibitions, we’ll be back.

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We cross Gratiot, it’s got to be 80 degrees still, the night is humid. Murals from 2015 cover several walls, tonight a gorgeous piece with 2 Native Americans is being finished, the artist working by spotlight up on a lift. We watch in amazement as he works. Walking on gravel between buildings we think we’ve covered everything new in this area. Now it’s time to head into the belly of the beast, events are going on all over the main market area; I’ll tell you all about it in the next post.

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DETROIT: Far East Southwest ??

2 Sep

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Today we are in East Southwest Detroit; the tiny section of Mexicantown east of I 75. I need a few things from the store so our first stop is Honey Bee Market . There are so many things I like about shopping here: the space is brightly lit, pinatas fill the top shelves surrounding the aisles, produce is fresh, colorful; my favorite thing, of course, is the guacamole. As soon as I step in the door, tubs of guac, pico and salsa are being chilled on ice, bowls of chips are plentiful, allowing one to sample freely. If you can walk away without a bag of chips and a container of dip, you have much more willpower than I! Avocados and tomatoes are piled high next to tomatillos and jalapenos, in case you’d like to make your own tasty dip. The first section is venduras frescas-fresh vegetables, along with everyday items, you will find a huge assortment of peppers, varieties of cactus pieces and yucca root; it’s all so appealing. Cheese is next; it’s fun to try a different kind from time to time, haven’t found one yet that isn’t tasty. Corn chips come in blue, salted or unsalted, the list of tortillas is long; flour, corn, crunchy, soft, in a multitude of sizes. Thirsty? How about some coconut or cactus water? If you’re looking for something fruity try a juice or nectar from Jumex or a Jarritos Mexican soda; hibiscus, strawberry and tamarindo are just some of the thirst quenching flavors.

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Signs hanging from the ceiling are written in Spanish and English, brings back a little of my high school Spanish; funny how some things stay with you. The meat counter is huge; beef, chicken, pork, marinated or plain. The chorizo is made from scratch using a secret family recipe; try it in tacos instead of ground beef-yum! The store is filled with Central American ingredients; beans, mole, dried peppers, unique spices…..this aisle smells so good. Much of the packaging is written in Spanish, many have their own characters affiliated with the product; a cute little bear adorns cookie and snack wrappers. Prepared foods are available for take-out or you can eat at one of the picnic tables in front of the store, they also carry items from Michigan’s own Calder Dairy including ice cream and the most incredibly delicious chocolate milk you will ever drink…….just sayin’.  I check my list before we check out to make sure I have everything; we’re good to go.

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Looking at all that good food has given us quite an appetite, Mexican Village is just down the street, sounds good doesn’t it? This is the oldest Mexican restaurant in Mexicantown, it definitely caters to area visitors. Inside, a beamed stucco ceiling, archways and wrought iron sconces and chandeliers are intended to put one in the mindset of Mexico; it’s lovely. The space is large, yet charming; murals and sizable paintings fill the walls, there are several dining areas in addition to banquet rooms. As we are led to our seat servers carry trays of chips and salsa to surrounding tables, the menu is vast, filled with mouth-watering selections. The best way to try a bit of everything is a combination plate; once our order is taken, we have to restrain ourselves so we don’t fill up on chips and salsa; not an easy task. Food arrives quickly, the village combination comes with 2 beef tacos; one flour, one corn, a chicken flauta, bean tostada and cheese enchilada. We also asked for a tamale, rice and beans. Everything is tasty; we both agree we like the cheese enchilada the best.

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There’s a neighborhood market right next door: Algo Especial Supermercado; we take a peek inside. There’s a little bit of everything tucked into the narrow space; souvenir-type items, trinkets, produce and tortillas greet us near the door, along with festive pinatas that hang from the ceiling. Up a couple of steps, a small area is host to CD’s and DVD’s by Mexican artists, lovely, authentic costumes hang from a rack, American and Mexican flags are side by side. Just a little further you’ll find the meat counter, household items and the noteworthy tamale counter; be sure and take a few home. We walk back to the front passing tons of loose spices and teas, many I have never seen before. It’s always a fun adventure when exploring another culture!

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Until recently, Detroit hadn’t distilled a drop of spirits since prohibition; next we are stopping in at the city’s newest vodka producer, Our/Detroit Partners Kate Bordine and Sara Aldridge have teamed up with Pernod Ricard Vodka, who supplies the recipe and distillery. The all-female-owned and operated end of the business is in charge of sales, marketing and most importantly production. This is global vodka made by local partners, using local ingredients, giving the spirit a unique taste from city to city. In Detroit, cocktails are created using products from local businesses such as Mc Clure’s, Mc Clary Bros. and Wolf Moon Mixers; it never ceases to amaze me the way in which the business community here supports one another!

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The building itself was formerly the Bagley Billiard Center, it sat vacant for a number of years before its current incarnation as distillery and tasting room. Fresh white paint and a cool mural by Ndubisi Okoye covering one side of the structure peak the curiosity of passersby; many peer in the front windows to see what’s going on inside. The decor is simple and elegant in black and white, art is the work of local artists. The tasting room has a chill vibe, shelves are filled with bottles of vodka and mixers, a well-placed window affords patrons a view of the working distillery. We sit at the counter, glancing at the menu, it doesn’t take long to decide, I’m having a vodka tonic with lime and Kris is having Summer in the City, a refreshing combination of vodka, lemonade, blueberry-nutmeg simple syrup and a splash of sparkling soda; it tastes even better than it sounds. The drink menu is seasonal, it will change quarterly; can’t wait to try out Autumn’s offerings!

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DETROIT: It’s getting better all the time….

1 Dec

 

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These days it seems a new restaurant is opening in Detroit every couple of weeks, as dutiful citizens we must do our part to patronize these independent establishments. I mean if somebody goes through all the trouble to open a place, the least we can do is eat there, right? Today we are having a late lunch at Ottava Via on the corner of Michigan Ave and 8th Street (hence the name). Open just a short time, we are anxious to give it a try. The building itself was built sometime in the early 20th century, brown brick and white terracotta, it began life as the Dime Bank, did time as a bakery and before its current reincarnation was a pawn shop, the red-letter LOAN sign is still attached to the building. The inside has a rustic charm, architectural elements are a mix of vintage and contemporary; terazzo floors, high ceilings, communal tables and a gorgeous clock add to the atmosphere. The menu features Neapolitan style pizza baked in a stone oven, antipasti, share plates and pasta dishes. Our meal arrives quickly, the chopped salad is delicious; the greens are fresh with some crunch, the basil is a nice touch, meat is thinly sliced in bite-size pieces. The vegetarian pizza is flavorful, the crust Neapolitan-style thin, toppings include mushrooms, asparagus, onion and olives laying atop a tasty red sauce, yum! 

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A little way down Michigan Ave Two James Spirits, the first licensed Distillery to open in Detroit since prohibition, is serving handmade spirits in their very own tasting room. Kris and I have a seat at the circular granite bar, the bartender slides a couple of drink menus over and we have a look. Currently the selection of spirits consists of 28 Island Vodka, Old Cockney Gin and Grass Widow Bourbon, all are made in house. I order a vodka and tonic, Kris has something made with bourbon and Faygo Rock & Rye, the cocktails are excellent! The space is really cool, old wooden barrels create a dividing wall between tasting room and distillery, metal globes dangle from a ring above the bar, colorful art decorates walls. The back wall displays bottles of spirits and T-shirts for sale, most patrons are purchasing a bottle to take with them. It’s a great place to enjoy a cocktail and lively conversation.

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Next stop, Detroit Farm and Garden on 21st Street in Mexicantown. Located directly behind 555 Gallery, though it is not exactly gardening season, I love to stop in and see what’s going on at the store. In addition to supplying bulk materials such as top soil, compost, mulch, sand, pea gravel and such to the local community, they offer a nice selection of tools, containers, seeds and fertilizer. Antique and reclaimed furniture pieces are found throughout the space, other items for sale include body products, art, Slow Jams Jam and canning supplies. I check my watch, the gallery is open, time to go.

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Detroit has long been home to art of all mediums. In the last couple of years the art scene in the D has gained notoriety throughout the country and overseas. The 555 Center for Public Arts is a non-profit group serving both emerging and established artists. The current facility holds studio spaces for resident and renting artists, performance space, exhibition and installation space and an arts education studio, even an original Banksy piece from the old Packard Plant has been preserved and is on display. Oh yeah, the building is the former Detroit Police Department 3rd Precinct-complete with jail cells! Today we are exploring the “Eye On The D”, Seeing Detroit With New Eyes. 18 artists express what inspires them about Detroit, how they see the future of the city and what it looks like in their imagination; c’mon let’s have a look.

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Just inside the door people are gathered in clusters, beverages in hand, talking excitedly about the show. A folk singer is entertaining guests in the performance space; open mic’s are held regularly on the first and third Saturday of the month. We avoid the crowd by taking a left, here jail cells are now rented out as studio space, very clever, some are fixed up as little boutiques. Wandering from cell to cell there is a great variety of things to look at; vintage apparel, paintings in oils and watercolors, drawings, photography, ceramics and handmade clothing. A curious group of crows line the floor along the back wall, some have wheels, air pressure gauges, keys and bells attached to them, there’s something about them that I like.

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We cut across the back and find ourselves in the main exhibit space, the work is very personal; paintings, collages convey the artists emotions. One of the featured artists is friend, fellow blogger and a favorite Detroit photographer Amy Sacka (http://www.owenwashere.com/). Amy has three photographs in the show, I am familiar with them, I saw their debut on the Owen blog. She has a way of capturing the spirit and electricity of the people in her photos, it’s like they are live images; Mr. Detroit is my favorite! On the other side of the room an artist has created a series of vintage-looking postcards, each features a well-known image with the words “Greetings From Detroit” across the scene, captions are taken straight from negative headlines such as the bankruptcy. There is a cloth sculpture of a car, another one of a house, a video is projected onto the floor. Near the back a sculpture studio is open to visitors, the work is so life-like we are amazed. A group of heads on wooden blocks rest on a shelf, nearby a larger body waits for a head, the detail is incredible. A full size sculpture of a woman sitting in a chair will have you doing a double take. We browse the gallery one more time before calling it a night. The quality of art in Detroit is truly exceptional, and the number of places to see it continues to grow.

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