leave your inhibitions at the door
Everyone knows about the craft beer explosion and I, for one, am very happy about it. Michigan has been one of the leaders quality breweries, but other states have their share, too. Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot of swill out there – but it’s damn fun determining what’s good and what’s horse piss. All of the brewers I’ve met have been really personable and love the process but, ultimately, they’re in competition and it’s the consumers that are winning.
The next logical step in all of this is with spirits. In the past couple years distilleries have been going up everywhere. If the the same holds true as it did with breweries, then there will be more distillers, more variety, and better quality. Then we all will have something to drink to.
Those of us in Ann Arbor are particularly fortunate as Ann Arbor Distilling opened last December.
I’ve seen their bottles of Water Hill brand vodka and gin everywhere. One of the drivers for opening in Ann Arbor is the availability of great locally-sourced ingredients like corn, rye, apples, pears, etc. They’ve also made key investments in their equipment, which can be configured to make vodka, whiskey, brandy, and other spirits. The combination of local ingredients and the special still allows them to control the process from start to finish. Many other distillers purchase their ethanol from elsewhere and then finish them for retail. For more background on them, read this.
I really love their gin. They use Croatian juniper which gives it a nice floral aroma, and incorporate cardamom and garam masala to give it an exotic nose. Their vodka is also very, very smooth.
Recently, my friends – The Bloodsucking Lawyers – bought tickets to one of the monthly cocktail classes. The female half of the BSLs was feeling under the weather, so I got to fill in. The class was held at the distillery with Ari and Phil (who’s won numerous local bartending awards) demonstrating and serving several drinks. Everything was the epitome of local – they themselves are lifelong residents, all the garnishes (except for maybe the limes) were from around town, and all the tonics and ginger beer were made in-house.
I really enjoyed hearing the histories and back stories to the drinks – esecially the shrub. I’ve seen it on a few drink menus but had no idea what it was. As hil exlained, a shrub was a common way of storing food prior to the invention and proliferation of the refrigerator. Way back when, people used to store fruits and other produce in vinegar for use year-round. After the fruit was eaten, they’d drink the flavored vinegar for medicinal (and intoxicating) purposes.
Here’s what we drank
Not pictured – Heart of Gold – Rum, Rasberry syrup, Kvass (a traditional Eastern European beverage made from bread), ginger beer
Afterwards, we got to hang out in their “office” which had a mini still for research and development.
Overall a terrific evening. We really had a blast hanging out with Ari, and Phil and their products are amazing. If you’re in anywhere near Ann Arbor, it’s definitely worth a visit. Their tasting room features several of the cocktails we had that night and they have bottles for sale.
Stay tuned to see the very special item I bought…