Maestros of Mead
In recent years, Michigan has seen the popularity of mead expand exponentially. With B. Nektar and Schramm’s Meadery, metro Detroit now has some of the best mead available. For B. Nektar, it all started as a wedding toast at co-owners Kerri and Brad Dahlhofer’s nuptials. After the two were both laid off of their respective jobs, they teamed with friend and fellow homebrewer Paul Zimmerman to open a meadery of their own. With a recent expansion, now is the time to visit B. Nektar and explore the delicious carbonated and uncarbonated concoctions at one of their in-house tastings.
Ken Schramm of Schramm’s Meadery wrote the book on making mead — literally. You can buy it when you visit the Ferndale meadery. Schramm believes that using the best ingredients available is what makes for a truly great mead, which is why he harvests fruit from his own orchard and berry patch to create his flagship mead, “The Heart of Darkness.”
Detroit has had a sordid past with liquor since the Volstead Act was passed. The city became a hotbed of criminal activity, with bootleggers, rum-runners and speakeasies. Even after Prohibition was repealed, regulations on distilling were very tight, and Detroit didn’t have a licensed distillery for another 80 years. But now metro Detroit can take pride in two local operations: Two James Spirits and Valentine Distilling. Two James, located in Corktown, was founded by good friends, David Landrum and Peter Bailey, who set out to make small-batch spirits with local ingredients. Their products, such as the 28 Island Vodka, Old Cockney Gin and Grass Widow Bourbon became instantly popular upon release, with rye dog and single malt whiskeys coming in the future.
Valentine Distilling founder Rifino Valentine has an classic approach to his operation, “I have a simple philosophy: Everything that I do must be done with quality in mind above all else.” Valentine is taking a stand against mass-produced liquors with hands-on, traditional techniques and small-batch production. Valentine’s tasting room in Ferndale offers hand-crafted cocktails and carefully prepared infusions featuring their original vodka, White Blossom Elderflower Vodka, the Liberator Gin, the Liberator Old Tom Barrel Aged Gin, and Woodward Ltd. Whiskey.
Old World Charm
Few area bars have as much character as Cadieux Café. This bar on Detroit’s east side allows patrons to easily adopt the Old World customs the Devos family has worked hard to preserve. It’s a great place to catch live local music, as well as grab a bite — their kitchen is famous for its mussels. Best of all, it boasts quite an impressive beer menu, including such Belgian favorites as Affligem, Chimay, Corsendonk, Delirium Tremens, Duvel, Lindeman’s and Piraat. Besides, where else can you go feather bowling?
You can have also enjoy a bit of New World savvy at Jolly Pumpkin Café and Brewery in Ann Arbor. This brewery captures the flavors reminiscent of Belgian, Flemish and French beers that fall on the sour side. In fact, sometimes beers from Jolly Pumpkin outrank actual Belgian beers in international competitions. Drop in at their Ann Arbor location, or pick up a sixer at specialty liquor stores.
Fraternal Order of Beer
Out of hardship often comes something beautiful, or delicious in this case. Brothers Bret and Eric Kuhnhenn owned and operated Lutz Hardware Store in Warren, which struggled against the monolithic chain stores, but with a stroke of brilliance, the already talented homebrewers repurposed their facility into a brewpub. Today, Kuhnhenn’s is one of the most celebrated microbreweries in the state, offering excellent beers that cover the spectrum of taste profiles, like their hefeweizen, a wheat beer with a malty body and a fruity sweetness, or if you’re a hop head, you must try the award-winning DRIPA.
In 2011, Sandy Levine turned a former sushi bar into what would become the Oakland Art Novelty Company, a popular destination for the discerning drinkers and hipsters of the metro Detroit area. The craft cocktail trend had been spreading across the country for years, and “the Oakland” offers proof that it has finally arrived in town. The contemporary speakeasy décor, coupled with early 20th century blues, bebop and cool jazz, creates a luxurious ambience. A truly unique feature is the Oakland’s Priceless Spirits menu, where patrons can pay top dollar to sample dusty bottles of hooch.
Also opened in 2011, Corktown’s Sugar House has been serving Detroiters classic and craft cocktails, most of which are seasonal in order to use only the freshest ingredients available. The menu is constantly changing, with daily, featured drinks and weekly punch concoctions that are perfect for groups. If one of the house creations isn’t your style, there’s the “100 Classics” list of old standbys. Dave Kwiatkowski runs a tight ship, which is reflected by the friendly, knowledgeable and accommodating staff.
Ann Arbor’s answer to the craft cocktail craze takes its name from a drink created at the Detroit Athletic Club in 1921: The Last Word. This place embraces the venerable history of cocktails but with a modern twist. Possessing an expert knowledge of all things alcohol, the self-proclaimed “beverage geeks” use only the finest ingredients, some of which are made in-house, to create alluring craft cocktails. Like tools on an artisan’s workbench, fruit infusions and herb-filled mason jars line the bar, in an environment that seamlessly blends the classic looks of dusty bookshelves and old artwork with a modern, angular design.
In Vino Veritas
From the eclectic menu to the interior design, Royal Oak’s Vinotecca celebrates wine to the furthest extent. The Jonna family invites patrons to visit their wine bar not only to enjoy wine but also gain an education. The expert staff possesses the knowledge and ability to guide even the most novice of wine drinkers to a wonderful selection. For the more advanced connoisseur, the carefully constructed menus and “flights” of wines offer perfect pairings from across the globe. Whether you’re just looking to relax with a glass of Tempranillo or enjoy a fully interactive wine experience. The family also has another wine bar, Vinology, in Ann Arbor.
For a more urban location, there’s the neighborhood wine bar in the midst of Corktown, Motor City Wine. The owners have combined a wine bar and wine shop, developing a place that satisfies the wine-curious and full-fledged aficionado alike. The inventory features wines from around the world, specifically focused on value and sustainability. The rotating pop-up dinners and music nights are also a draw.
Birmingham’s Griffin Claw Brewing Company may be young, but it is quickly making a name for itself as a premiere brewpub. With brewmaster Dan Rogers at the helm, beers like Norm’s Raggedy Ass IPA and El Rojo are already winning awards at global competitions. The tap room has a low-key vibe with communal seating, your typical chalkboard beer list and an impressive menu of dishes to wash down with American style beers brewed on-site in a state-of-the-art facility.
Tucked away on I-696’s service drive, Warren’s Dragonmead is one of the superior microbreweries. Named in Ratebeer’s list of the Top 50 Breweries to Visit in the World, Dragonmead is a genuine craft beer mecca. Offering nearly 50 beers on tap, all of which are made on-site using regionally specific ingredients, patrons can take a geographical journey by enjoying brews inspired by Old World recipes in a setting that hark back to a time when members of the feudal system would tip back tankards and complain about serfdom.
A Labor of Love
With a motto like, “We drink all we can and sell the rest,” it’s obvious that the folks at Atwater Brewery loves what they do, and the result is some of the finest beer Detroit has to offer. Located in the Rivertown district, Atwater employs a centuries-old technique in order to brew the best possible German-style beers. The brewery’s adjacent tap room gives patrons a look behind the curtain at the brewing process. Embracing the blue-collar ethos of Detroit, Atwater specializes in creating approachable beers with prominent malt character that are the perfect reward after a day of hard work.
A Brewery with Something Extra
Since 1994, Motor City Brewing Works has prided itself on offering metro Detroiters a delicious and fresh product as well as a heaping dose of urban culture. With recipes inspired by destinations around the city and events like “This Week in Art” in which a local artist is spotlighted, John Linardos’ vision of what a brewery could be includes the surrounding community. The tap room, located in midtown Detroit, has a laid-back feel where meeting strangers seems to happen whether you like it or not and local favorites such as Ghettoblaster and Motown Lager complement exquisite brick-oven pizzas.
The Next Whiskey Bar
With the budding trend of craft distilleries and whiskey’s explosion in popularity, local boozeys should find sanctuary in St. Clair Shores’ newest spot The Butter Run Saloon. Proprietor Dave Harden has developed a place that celebrates whiskey where fellow enthusiasts can peruse the extensive collection of bourbons, scotches, ryes and more. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a few fingers of whiskey, whether it’s an old stand-by or a new adventure, or a craft cocktail curated by one of the expert barkeeps.