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Metro Detroit moves to craft cocktails at home

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published April 13, 2016

 Drink blogger Nick Britsky, of Royal Oak, whipped up a selection of summer drinks for C & G on his patio last year.

Drink blogger Nick Britsky, of Royal Oak, whipped up a selection of summer drinks for C & G on his patio last year.

File photos by Donna Agusti


METRO DETROIT — The days of fishing a slippery can of beer out of an icy cooler are so over.

Well, maybe not totally over. There’s still a place for easy libations during backyard barbecues, according to Royal Oak drink blogger Nick Britsky. But these days, he said more hosts are opting to ramp up their outdoor entertaining with exciting — and sometimes complex — cocktail options.

“I was talking to a couple of (bartenders), and they said people have come to expect these kind of cocktails when they go out. They don’t want to see martinis and Old Fashioneds, though people still appreciate those. But they want to see what’s unique and what skills the bartender puts into their drink,” Britsky said. “So if that’s what’s happening at the bar, that’s going to rub off into the home. Friends of mine are already doing that at the home-enthusiast level.”

The craft cocktail movement made its way to Detroit several years ago with places like The Sugar House in Detroit and The Oakland Art Novelty Company in Ferndale, where well drinks are replaced with handmade concoctions created with fresh, premium ingredients and careful technique.

The trend has caught so much attention that many local bar patrons have curated their own home bar to include artisanal cocktail gear. To that end, Britsky’s brand, Nick Drinks, will host an event this weekend to give professional and amateur bartenders the chance to stock up on the tools they need to make lavish libations.

“I saw the idea of a bartender swap meet out in Austin and I said, ‘Oh, well, we can do that,’” Britsky explained. “It’s like a mom-to-mom sale, but bartender-to-bartender. (Sellers) can rent a table for not a lot of money, and they can sell their gear for whatever they want.”

He expects about 20 sellers to make an appearance at the bartender swap meet, which will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, April 17, at Café 78 in Detroit. Guests can browse the tables filled with cocktail goodies and, for a bit of inspiration, chat with the bartenders selling them.

“Most of the bartenders I know in Detroit have nicer equipment: tin shakers and more traditional things like Boston shakers. Some might have cool glassware like coupes or rock glasses. And I’m sure there will be lots of tools like different spoons, Hawthorne strainers, julep strainers. It just depends on what they have excess of.”

It doesn’t take much to build an impressive home craft cocktail bar. Some devote a nook in their house or a bar cart to storing their gear. Others go all out, according to Adam Rakes, of Outdoor Innovators in River Rouge.

“We usually do a lot of decks, gazebos, pergolas and decks made from PVC or composite. But I’d say about four years ago, we started to do more of the outdoor kitchen and bar areas. That’s what people were wanting, so we had to be able to give them that,” said Rakes.

Outdoor bar and grill areas made from stamped concrete or brick are popular, though pricey, options for homeowners who want to create the ultimate backyard entertainment space.

“It’s definitely not the older generation that’s putting them out there. It’s the younger generation,” Rakes explained. “They may want a grill, a sink or bar area. And because you’re outdoors, you can do them wet — wet bars that are fully functional, even with refrigerators or built-in coolers with drains.”

The outdoor bar spaces are built to be just that — outdoors, so they’re totally weather resistant. Rakes said many even have dry storage space, so you don’t have to worry about ruining your fancy bar gear when it’s not in use.

And most installations are designed to be open and airy, so whoever is grilling or doling out drinks doesn’t feel separated from the party.

That’s good, because Britsky warns that craft cocktails can quickly turn into chore cocktails if you’re not careful.

“Nothing is more impressive than to shake a cocktail in front of someone,” he explained. “But you risk going down the rabbit hole of making drinks all night, which can take you away from your guests. In those times, you might want to start to think about batch cocktails or (minimizing) ingredients.”

Beverage blogger Nick Britsky shares some of his favorite cocktail recipes

Orange Blossom (Nick Drinks Original)

- 2 oz Two James Johnny Smoking Gun Whiskey
- 1/2 oz honey syrup (melt 2 parts honey in 1 part hot water and cool)
- 1/2 oz applejack
- 3 dashes of orange bitters

Add everything and ice to a mixing glass and stir. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with orange peel.

Mai Tai
- 2 oz New Holland Brewing Freshwater Michigan Amber Rum
- 1 oz fresh lime juice
- 1/2 oz orange curacao, or triple sec
- 1 oz orgeat syrup

Shake everything with ice and strain into a tall glass with crushed ice and garnish with tropical fruits and a tall straw.

Gin Rickey
- 1 1/2 oz Detroit City Distillery Railroad Gin
- 1 sugar cube
- 1/2 oz fresh lime juice

Build everything in a tall glass, crush the sugar with a muddler and top with soda water. Technically no ice, but for the summer I would ignore this.

Pimm’s Cup
- 2 oz Pimm’s No. 1 Liqueur
- Top with ginger beer or ale
- Fill glass with ice, add Pimm’s, then top with ginger beer. Garnish with cucumber, mint and citrus. Give a quick bottom-to-top stir.

Moscow Mule
- 1/2 oz American Fifth vodka
- 3/4 oz lime
- Top with ginger beer or ale

Fill a copper mug (or any mug) with ice, add spirits and lime, then top with ginger beer. Give a quick bottom-to-top stir.