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craft cocktails

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

You know it's summer when you see Bell's Oberon hit your local grocer’s shelves. It’s one of the signs that summer is finally coming to Michigan. One of the very first Cheers! episodes that Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings and I did almost five years ago featured a drink called the Oberon Sour. It was a hit.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Using asparagus in a cocktail seems odd. I mean, if you throw it in with the messy mix of garnish in a garish, way over-the-top Bloody Mary complete with celery, olives, banana peppers, and bacon, okay, it might work. But, really, asparagus as a ‘real’ ingredient in a cocktail? Sounds weird.

Well, weirdly delicious.

Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings had a couple of bottles of spirits, some concoction in a plastic bottle and asparagus on the cutting board.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan distillers are expanding their offerings in many different ways, but recently Ann Arbor Distilling Company took a different direction than most.

Distillers’ tasting rooms cannot use any kind of alcohol not made by the distillery. That’s meant some have come up with some of their own products to imitate the ingredients in classic cocktails. Ann Arbor Distilling took that idea and is now selling it to the public. It’s called Water Hill Apertivo.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

In Ireland, a popular drink is whiskey mixed with red lemonade. What is red lemonade? Well, it’s sort of like Sprite or 7Up, but it’s red.

Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings did not use Irish whiskey or red lemonade in this drink. Instead, she used a blend of Michigan whiskeys and her own riff on red lemonade.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

There was a Cheers! episode back in 2018 which featured a new Michigan version of an ancient Scandinavian spirit called aquavit. (See the story here.) Since then, Norden Aquavit has received a lot of attention and a lot of significant awards. A lot of retailers in Michigan and beyond carry the clear spirit.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Eggnog gets a bad rap because people have not had one made fresh for them.

“These days we think of eggnog as a nonalcoholic drink that you can add alcohol to. But traditionally eggnog was an alcoholic beverage. That's where it started. And it was basically a flip. It's a very, very old classic style of drink,” Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings explained.

“I don’t know about you, but I am so ready to toast goodbye to 2020,” said Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings.”

A lot of people would join in that toast.

Tammy had two different drinks for the toast, but they had one thing in common: sparkling wine.

The first day of winter arrives soon. The chilly fall days will give way to temperatures “so cold they make your face hurt,” as the well-worn meme goes.

So, Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings decided to make a fall drink.

“This is kind of a riff on an Old Fashioned,” she said.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Lester Graham: Uhm, Tammy, (of Tammy's Tastings) you know, I'm not a big fan of egg drinks. You get all that white egg white frothy stuff at the top (YUCK!). You've got a whole egg there. You're going to do one of those?

Tammy Coxen: I am not going to do an egg white drink, Lester. I'm going to do a whole egg drink.

LG: A whole egg? 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It’s hard to keep up with all the new distilleries in Michigan. There are so many around the state. But, that’s not the half of it. These inventive distillers keep coming out with new spins on spirits and different kinds of things to mix with them.

Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings was about to spring a new one on me. She had a bottle from Mammoth Distilling from the small town of Central Lake. The label said “cherry bounce.”

Never heard of it.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings had a couple of cocktail coupes on the table and some small whiskey tasting glasses and a bottle of Grand Traverse Distillery’s Small Batch Rye Whiskey. Obviously, this was going to be more than just mixing up a drink.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

With a few limes in a bag from the nearby supermarket, I walked into Tammy Coxen’s kitchen and found she had green tomatoes and basil on the counter. Whatever she planned, it sure seemed like it would probably be green. The name made it a certainty: Garden Gnome.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

With the COVID-19 pandemic, sometimes we’ve all had to learn to make do with whatever we happen to have at home. That’s what Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings had to do to make a new cocktail recipe she found.

It all started with peaches being in season.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

There are few distilled spirits that have become so infamous that they were banned in countries across the globe. Absinthe is chief among them. In fact, absinthe was banned in the U.S. from 1912 to 2007.

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Today on Stateside, the Michigan Senate will meet in a special Saturday session this weekend to make recommendations for school reopenings. We hear from two reporters about what factors lawmakers are considering as they plan for what a return to the classroom could look like this fall. Plus, a Detroit-born journalist discusses how racial profiling and police brutality complicated his relationship with the cars he grew up loving. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A shaken daiquiri is really simple to make. Making a frozen daiquiri at home can be done, but there’s a trick to making it right as Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings shows us.

“If you just take the regular ingredients of a daiquiri: rum, lime juice, simple syrup and put them in a blender and add some ice...When you finish mixing that up, the results going to be kind of watery,” Tammy explained. 

The way to make your own slushy daiquiri at home takes just a little bit of advance prep as Tammy learned.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Lester: Hi Tammy!

Tammy: Hi Lester!

Lester: That's Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings. And you have a bottle there that I really like. We visited Eastern Kille in Grand Rapids a while back. I actually bought a bottle of their rye, which was really delicious. You've got the bourbon.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The distilled spirit pisco has become popular once again in the U.S. because of the craft cocktail movement. Chile and Peru are the countries of origin for pisco, however each country has its own versions.

So, what does that have to do with Michigan?

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Legislation has been introduced to allow Michigan bars and restaurants to sell cocktails to go as a way to help those businesses through the restrictions they face because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Restaurants and bars that serve food for pick-up or delivery already have been able to sell wine and beer by the bottle or can. Many have been asking the government to let them also sell cocktails ‘to go.’

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

You can’t go to your favorite cocktail bar. It's closed because of the COVID-19 outbreak. But, you might have a few bottles in your house. What can you make with what you have?

Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings thinks it’s time to improvise a little. To put her idea to the test, she put a selection on her table and asked Lester Graham to choose some of them and she’d make a drink.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

There's a bracing herbal, minty, chocolaty, funky, bitter Italian liqueur (an amaro) called Fernet Branca. It became wildly popular among people who work at bars. It's often used in cocktails, but if you're a bartender visiting another bar, your colleague might pour you a shot as a greeting, a bartender's handshake. During these days of the COVID-19 pandemic, let's call it a "bartender's elbow bump."

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

You might know New Holland Brewing for its beer, but New Holland also is a distiller. Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings and I visited New Holland’s Grand Rapids brewpub called the Knickerbocker where the company also distills gin.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings and I visited the Grand Rapids distillers at Eastern Kille Distillery. If that name is not familiar to you, you might know it by its old name: Gray Skies.

Brandon Voorhees greeted us in the tasting room which has been described as “industrial chic.” We asked about the name change.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

There is so much to catch your eye: Tiki statues, tiki mugs, tiki décor of every description, and more than a dash of 1960s living room kitsch. Max’s South Seas Hideaway is the newest tiki bar in Grand Rapids and the epitome of a “tiki palace” in Michigan.

Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings sat down with co-owner Mark Sellers in a cozy little corner filled with tiki art and mid-century suburban furniture to talk to him about the two-story tiki bar and restaurant.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Thanksgiving is less than a week away. Yikes!

So what do you offer your guests to drink?

“You'll see a lot of guides of what wine to pair with Thanksgiving dinner. And there's no right answer, right? Because the Thanksgiving table is so diverse, there's so many different food items on it, you're never going to have a perfect pairing. So cocktails can be a different way to go,” Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings said.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The woman was using her muddler like a weapon, smashing something to bits in her tin mixing cup.

“I had some frustrations to work out, Lester,” said Tammy Coxen with Tammy's Tastings.

It turns out she was pounding diced up beet pieces, making mush of them.

“How do you feel about beets,” she asked me.

She already knew the answer. I despise the taste of beets.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

When I walked in, I could see a bottle of rye on the counter. “I can't think that this is going to go badly,” I said to Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings.

“We do both like rye,” she laughed. The name of the cocktail she was getting ready to mix is The Long Arm of the Law.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

When you think of a daiquiri, you might think of summer. Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings thinks the daiquiri has a place in fall too.

“We're in that transitional season. We're still getting hot days but cool nights and so I went with an Autumn Daiquiri today,” she said.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Cheers! episodes have been airing on Stateside on Michigan Radio for more than three-and-a-half years. Many of those cocktail recipes and the history behind them were gathered and accompanied by a history of drinking in Michigan. It’s all in a new book by Tammy Coxen and Lester Graham titled Cheers to Michigan.

“I was looking back through the book and it inspired me to make a cocktail based on the very first cocktail we ever made on Cheers and the very first cocktail that's printed in the book,” Tammy said.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Sometimes summer nights demand a drink that’s not so sweet and not so high in alcohol content. You just want something light and refreshing.

A new line of soft drinks from Casamara Club in Detroit imitates amaros, but doesn’t have the intense sweetness or the alcohol.

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