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Cheers! An espresso martini featuring Michigan ingredients

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
The espresso martini.

“You look a little tired, Lester,” Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings said as she was mixing up some sort of concoction.

I’m a reporter. We’re always tired and stressed. Editors, some of the horrible stories we have to cover, and then all the critics on social media. I probably do look tired.

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Pouring out the drink before the froth rises to create a coffee colored drink with a white cap.

“Well, this is great,” Tammy said cheerily.

Uh huh. Sure it is.

“I have a pick-me-up for you,” she said.

Then she revealed that pick-me-up was an espresso martini.

Now, in my experience, espresso martinis are too sweet. The couple that I’ve had tasted like somebody dumped a quarter cup of chocolate syrup in the drink. So, I avoid them.

She wasn’t deterred.

“The espresso martini was invented in the late 1980s in England and was wildly popular,” she said, adding, “This is kind of the very early stage of the craft cocktail renaissance, kind of the proto-renaissance. And it’s having a big revival right now.”

The original was invented by Dick Bradsell. The story goes that a model –who’s never been named- walked into his London bar and asked for a drink that would wake her up and mess her up, except she didn’t say “mess.”

Bradsell had an espresso machine behind the bar. He pulled a shot, added vodka and some coffee liqueur and shook it up with ice. Garnished it with three coffee beans. Done!

That’s not the recipe Tammy decided to use. First, she doesn’t have an espresso machine. Second, she had three Michigan ingredients that would work perfectly for a second recipe by Jeffrey Morganthaler that uses a cold brewed coffee concentrate. She chose the concentrate made by Mighty Good in Ann Arbor. She adds Ann Arbor Distilling’s Spaulding’s coffee liqueur, and a vodka that’s blended by the American Liquor Company in Temperance, just a couple miles or so north of the Ohio border at Toledo.

Tammy said it’s an interesting company started by a guy named Chris Montana.

“They are sourcing different grain distillates from around the state and around the Midwest,” Tammy said.

The blend is a really unique and really popular vodka that combines corn, rye, wheat, and potato distillates all in one.

“A lot of bartenders really like this. It’s very competitively priced compared to a lot of the smaller craft vodkas. So, you’re seeing it in a lot of bars right now,” she explained.

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
The Michigan ingredients in the espresso martini.

She slid the drink across the table to me. Despite my skepticism of espresso martinis, this was really good. The cold brewed coffee taste came through clearly, sweetened just the right amount by the coffee liqueur, and I didn’t even notice that there was alcohol in it. But, then, that’s kind of the role of vodka, isn’t it?

Tammy said you don’t get quite the same smooth foam from cold brew as you would with an espresso and all its crema. But, it’s a lot easier to make at home and there’s still a nice froth to support that coffee bean garnish.

Espresso Martini
1 oz cold brew concentrate
3/4 oz vodka
3/4 oz coffee liqueur
lemon twist
Garnish: 3 coffee beans, floated
Combine first three ingredients in shaker with ice. Express oils from
lemon twist into shaker and discard. Shake, strain into coupe or
martini glass. Garnish.
(Jeffrey Morgenthaler cold brew variation on the Dick Bradsell classic)

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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