Cheers to Michigan

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It is hard to believe that 100 years ago, the prohibition of the sale or manufacture of alcohol was enshrined in our Constitution. The Eighteenth Amendment lasted fourteen years and proved impossible to enforce. This was especially true in Michigan, with its inviting proximity to Canada's legal and freely available intoxicating products.

The futility of Prohibition serves as the colorful introduction of "Cheers to Michigan: A Celebration of Cocktail Culture and Craft Distillers," by Ann Arbor cocktail maven Tammy Coxen and Michigan radio journalist Lester Graham (University of Michigan Press). They recount the hopeless efforts of law enforcement to outsmart a population that was determined to drink, especially when the Great Depression rolled around. (They quote author Scott M. Peters, "The joke at the time was that the twenty-eight miles of the Detroit River was the 'Detroit-Windsor Funnel.")

Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran for president promising to end Prohibition if elected, famously proclaiming, "What America needs now is a drink." In 1933, the year FDR took office, the 18th Amendment was repealed.

But, as Coxen and Graham describe, it took a while for drinking to shed its underworld association. Dark, smoky bars were dominated by brooding men. "Cocktail parties" flourished in the '50s and '60s as a way for men and women to drink together, and the fern bars of the '80s were designed with women in mind.

Yet cocktails remained stubbornly banal. Bars carried one or two brands of each type of liquor. Mixers were largely restricted to sodas, tonics, and puckery sour mix of suspect origin.

But not all bartenders went along with the program. Coxen and Graham tracked down Michigan's innovators, who were willing to experiment, from the Caucus Club's "Bullshot" (vodka and beef broth) to the Bayview Yacht Club's "Hummer" (ice cream with rum and coffee liqueur). Today, Michigan mixologists are refining their art with fresh juices, homemade bitters and "shrubs" (fruit and vinegar concoctions). Craft cocktail bars abound, exemplified by Ann Arbor's "Last Word," which opened in 2012, employing bartenders with national reputations.

Coxen now teaches cocktail classes for a living, but I attended her very first one in 2011, dedicated to making the perfect stirred martini. (She subtitled her class, "James Bond was wrong.") Graham and I were among the few in attendance. Eight years later, I caught up with both of them at their smashing book release party, with over 100 people crowding the Last Word to celebrate with them.

The book's recipes are guaranteed to intrigue you and offer suitable refreshment, such as an herb-spiked Bourbon Fruit Smash for summer days, or a Michigan Hot Toddy - flavored with apple cider and maple syrup - to comfort you on cold winter nights.

Coxen and Graham open the recipe section of their book with competing versions of the classic martini. Having offered Tammy's in a column in 2011, I leave you with Lester's take:

Martini

Ingredients

2 1/2 oz New Holland's Knickerbocker gin

1/2 oz Vya extra dry vermouth

1 dash Fee Brothers orange bitters

Garnish with an orange or lemon twist

Instructions

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir very well. Strain into a martini or coupe glass, garnish. (Note: this makes quite a small drink but Martinis are potent and should be drunk while they are very cold, so it's better to make a small one and then mix a second one if you want more!)

In closing, Coxen and Graham urge readers to "push the envelope" and adventure beyond what may be familiar, and enjoy awakening to new tastes.

As for me, I have nothing to add except this inevitable "last word:" Cheers!

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Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and wrote a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at Twitter @nickroumel or Instagram @nroumel, or see fortyyears acrossamerica.blogspot.com.

Published: Mon, Sep 23, 2019