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Cheers! Michigan bourbon, Michigan soda, and Michigan strawberries = Kentucky (?) Buck

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
A couple of the Michigan ingredients to go into the Kentucky Buck.

The bourbon bottle on the table looked familiar. Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings was setting out the ingredients.

We’d visited that distiller, Motor City Gas.

“I just found out that they won a big award,” Tammy said.

The craft distiller that Cheers! featured last year won best bourbon in an American Distilling Institute competition for its Bumper Bender Bourbon. Since Rich and Tonya Lockwood only produce one barrel of whiskey at a time, that award-winning bourbon sold out quickly.

“I’ve got their Belly Up Bourbon,” Tammy said, adding she was going to use it and another Michigan product, St. Steve’s Ginger Soda made in Hudsonville.

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Tammy Coxen pouring the shaken ingredients through a tea strainer to remove the "floaty bits" from the strawberry pulp.

Tammy was mixing a Kentucky Buck.

“It’s from a guy named Eric Castro out in San Diego. And it’s a drink that’s been floating around for a while and is always a great crowd-pleasing cocktail,” Tammy said.

It starts with muddling a couple of Michigan strawberries, add a couple ounces of bourbon, some lemon juice and simple syrup and a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters to add a little complexity to the drink.

Stop there.

You don’t add the ginger soda to the mixing cup because you know what happens when you shake up fizzy stuff.

Tammy says it’s okay if you want to use some other ginger soda or a ginger beer, but add a little less than the recipe (below) calls for. You can adjust the sweetness of the drink by adding more if you prefer it.

She also suggests adding the ginger soda/beer before you put in ice cubes.

“I don’t want the soda to just float on top and the heavier part of the drink be at the bottom,” she explained. You want it all to mix a bit. Then add ice.

This is the kind of bourbon drink that even people who say they don’t like whiskey will probably like.

After a sip, I didn’t have to think about whether I liked it. It was an immediate, “Wow!” It was that good.

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
The Kentucky Buck nestled in a Michigan strawberry bed.

Kentucky Buck
1-2 strawberries
2 oz bourbon (Motor City Gas)
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
3 oz ginger beer (St Steve's Ginger Soda)
Garnish: lemon wheel and/or strawberry
Muddle strawberry in shaker. Combine remaining ingredients except ginger beer in shaker with ice. Shake well, double-strain into tall glass. Top with ginger beer then fill with ice. Garnish.
(Erick Castro)

Tammy Coxen and Lester Graham are the authors of Cheers to Michigan: A Celebration of Cocktail Culture and Craft Distillers from the University of Michigan Press. The book is based on the Cheers! episodes heard on Michigan Radio.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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