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Cheers! Don't let the blue color fool you, this is NOT that kind of drink

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Don't let the blue color fool you. This tiki drink has a lot of complex tastes that are not all about sugar.

“I don't think I've ever had a really blue drink before,” I said warily as Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings pushed a coupe full of liquid the color of blue cotton candy across the table to me.

“At least not from me,” she said with a sly smile.

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Tammy Coxen shakes up The Lake at Night.

For almost seven years she’s offered drinks for me to taste for the Cheers to Michigan segment on Michigan Radio. She has a good track record, so I hesitated only for a moment and took a sip. It didn’t taste blue. There was a lot going on in that sip and I couldn’t really describe it. But, it was tasty.

“So, this is a drink called The Lake at Night. It comes from the book "Tiki" by Shannon Mustipher,” Tammy said.

I should have guessed it was a tiki drink just by the color. But, it didn’t really taste like any tiki drink I’d had before.

“Because what you're tasting there is a smoky flavor,” Tammy said.

The recipe (below) calls for lapsang souchong tea infused vodka. Lapsang souchong gets its smokiness from a pine fire.

“So, very resinous and, you know, has this really, really strong flavor. And it's a hard tea to love as a tea, but even just a tiny bit of it can add a lot of flavor,” Tammy said.

The vodka she used was Eight Mile Vodka from Detroit.

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Lapsang Souchong tea steeped in vodka is one of the key ingredients in The Lake at Night. Tammy used Eight Mile Vodka from Detroit.

It also had another ingredient I’d never tasted: cardamom bitters. That added a really nice spice to the drink. The other ingredients include lemon juice, and honey syrup.

Tammy said one of the notable things about this recipe is that it came from the first cocktail book by an African American bartender in more than 100 years. As she mentioned before, "Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails" by Shannon Mustifpher.

The last black bartender to be published was Tom Bullock with the 1917 book titled "The Ideal Bartender." The New York Times has a nice review of the republished book.

So, where does The Lake at Night get its blue color? From blue curacao, which to my mind doesn’t have a great reputation. Generally, it’s cheap orange liqueur dyed blue. Tammy says when it comes to fruit tasting liqueurs, go for the French products. They taste like actual fruit.

Pro tip: You can put a drop or two of blue food coloring in your favorite orange liqueur and you’ve got your very own blue curacao.

It was a good drink, if you like that smoky flavor that’s curiously a little bit reminiscent of scotch, but otherwise an altogether new taste experience.

Lake at Night
2 oz smoked tea-infused vodka
1/4 oz blue curacao
1/4 oz honey syrup
1/2 oz lemon juice
2 dashes cardamom bitters
Garnish: orange twist
Combine ingredients in shaker with ice. Shake well, strain into coupe or martini glass. Garnish.

Smoked Tea-Infused Vodka
1 tsp Lapsang Souchong leaves (or other smoked black tea)
8 oz vodka
Steep tea leaves in 2 oz hot water for2-3 minutes. Strain water and discard (or drink). Steep leaves in vodka for 5-7 minutes. Strain and store in a cool dark place away from sunlight. Yield: 8 oz

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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