New book salutes Michigan cocktail culture

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

This year, forget the Champagne. Shake up something new.  

Wow your New Year's Eve guests with Michigan-inflected craft cocktails from the new guidebook, "Cheers to Michigan: A Celebration of Cocktail Culture and Craft Distillers" (University of Michigan Press, $19.95).  

The book by Ann Arborites Tammy Coxen and Lester Graham features 45 cocktails, all of which were birthed during the Friday "Cheers!" segments on Michigan Radio's "Stateside" program (WUOM - 91.7 FM). 

A new cocktail guide, "Cheers to Michigan," arrives just in time for New Year's Eve.

Coxen, a cocktail artist and instructor who owns Tammy's Tastings, heard a station in Cincinnati was doing segments on cocktails, and suggested the idea to Graham, who's a reporter at Michigan Radio and the Friday "Stateside" host. 

"So I took the concept to my boss Zoe Clark," Graham recalled, "and she said, 'Great - but you need to use Michigan ingredients.' And that gave us the focus we needed."

There followed a fizzy parade of cocktail features stretching over four years that took Coxen and Graham into craft bars, distilleries and restaurants all around southern Michigan in search of inspired concoctions.

Among the resulting treats are the Apple Cinnamon Mule, made with Ginger Devil spiced whiskey from Dearborn Heights' Rusted Crow Distillery,  as well as the Maple Whiskey Sour, which relies on bourbon-barrel-aged maple syrup from Grand Rapids' BLiS. 

An Apple Cinnamon Mule from the new cocktail guide, "Cheers to Michigan."

The book also features drinks that virtually disappeared in the 1970s and 80s -- what Coxen calls "the cocktail's Dark Ages" -- including The Last Word, first whipped up at the Detroit Athletic Club in 1916, but which even that august institution had forgotten. 

Happily, an enterprising bartender in Seattle named Murray Stenson found the drink in a 1951 bar manual, "Bottoms Up," and brought the Detroit original -- made with equal parts gin, Green Chartreuse, Maraschino liqueur and lime juice -- back into the daylight. 

Coxen's business focuses on hands-on cocktail classes, so she was always the expert in the pair.

"Before I met Tammy, what I knew about cocktails would fit in a shot glass," said Graham. "In my family, a cocktail was probably Jack Daniels and a little bit of Squirt. But," he added, "like a lot of mixologists, Tammy is a foodie, and can really make those flavors work off each other." 

Not that Coxen came from a family of cocktail daredevils.

"I grew up in Canada," she said, "so my dad was a rye-and-ginger person -- Canadian whiskey with ginger ale. And that was as fancy as we got. My parents had a bar, but nobody was mixing anything up."

Asked what's their favorite beverage in the book, which is now in bookstores and on Amazon, the co-authors both came down hard for The Last Word.

"I really like The Last Word because it's a Michigan drink," said Graham, "and darned tasty." 

With the Acquavit Gimlet, don't forget the mint leaves.

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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy 

'Cheers to Michigan: A Celebration of Cocktail Culture and Craft Distillers'

By Tammy Coxen and Lester Graham

University of Michigan Press


"I like to describe the book as a love letter to Michigan in cocktail form," Coxen said, an Ontario native who's made her home in the City of Trees for the past 12 years.